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The Red Shoes: The Criterion Collection

A favorite of such contemporary filmmakers as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, this highly praised 1947 British classic has been released on DVD from Criterion (based on their previous Laserdisc edition) with wonderful results, and if you have yet to see it, you're missing out on a beautiful, groundbreaking bit of cinematic history. Two ambitious artists, composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring) and ballerina Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), gain positions with the legendary Lemontov Ballet Company, under the auspices of Boris Lemontov (Anton Walbrook), a man so committed to his craft that he excludes everything else from his world, including love, which he regards as a false emotional experience that compromises the artistic ideal. Lemontov discovers that both Victoria and Julian are extremely gifted artists — perhaps capable of being among the best the world has ever known — and produces a ballet for both of them to display their talents, The Red Shoes, bringing all of them worldwide renown. But when Lemontov fears that a budding romance between Victoria and Julian may harm the company, a bizarre rivalry develops between the composer and the impresario over the ballerina, as one wants to love her while the other insists she forsake all love and only live to dance. Directed by Michael Powell and Emerich Pressburger, The Red Shoes is a delight on several levels. The script addresses its many themes with a wonderful economy, moving the intricate plot along at a brisk pace, and the underlying issues of artistic commitment, the aesthetic battle between music and dance, and the value of human love offer up timeless debates that the film never tries to solve. All of the performers are perfectly cast, and especially Walbrook, who conveys a cool restraint in all of his affairs that is both intimidating and inscrutable. The early three-strip Technicolor production uses a wide color palette, and Powell and Pressburger's visuals — especially in the 15-minute production of The Red Shoes ballet — are unforgettable, rivaling later Technicolor musicals such as An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain. The solid transfer is from an acceptable source print in the original 1.33:1 ratio and mono soundtrack, and the feature-packed disc includes a commentary track with film historian Ian Christie, stars Goring and Shearer, director of photography Jack Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale, and Martin Scorsese; excerpts of the novelization of The Red Shoes on another track read by Jeremy Irons; memorabilia, sketches, and storyboards (some from Scorsese's personal collection); a gallery of promotional photos from the film; and the original theatrical trailer. It's a film that every budding cineaste should study, and The Red Shoes is simply one of the best Criterion packages yet to reach DVD.

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