As I have written elsewhere on this blog, I am a huge fan of The Archers’ films. I first saw The Red Shoes about 15 years ago and I must have watched it dozens of times since then but never on a cinema screen, though I have seen Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp as they were meant to be seen.
The new print is dazzling for its lush Technicolor photography, as bright as a Matisse painting. Indeed, so sharp is the image that the actors’ makeup is all too apparent sometimes. Anton Walbrook’s magnificent performance as Boris Lermontov is reinforced by the close-up shots of his face as his obsession with Vicky turns to paranoia.
The famed 17-minute ballet sequence is an extraordinary achievement and is surely the apotheosis of Powell’s ambition of “total cinema”, merging film, music, art and dance into one medium. It is an ecstatic piece of film and dance, one of the outstanding achievements in British, indeed world, cinema.
The film looks wonderful but the soundtrack is still rather mucky, with a lot of hiss undermining the marvellous score by Brian Easdale. I have a bootleg CD from Spain of the soundtrack and that is no better. But Kate Bush’s The Red Shoes album, inspired by the film of course, is rather better produced!
Dr Herbert Kalmus, who invented Technicolor, and his wife Natalie did not agree on much but they always maintained that The Red Shoes was the finest of all Technicolor films. I agree.