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Thanks to Paula Vitaris for scanning the article

Cinema Retro

vol. 5, issue #15 2009

Pinewood Past

With Gareth Owen

At this year's Cannes Film Festival, the highlight of the 'Cannes Classics' programme was a digitally restored print of The Red Shoes.

Such was the importance of this screening, the festival organisers switched it to the Debussy Theatre which holds over one thousand more people than the 500 seat Brunuel - the traditional home for the strand in the Festival Palais - and Martin Scorsese flew in from New York to introduce it.

The Daily Telegraph said 'Martin Scorsese is the closest thing to a crowned head of state in the world's film industry, so when he arrived in Cannes at the weekend, it felt somewhat like a royal visit.' As founder and chairman of the World Cinema Foundation, Scorsese spreads the word about the need to rescue lost classic films from all over the world and painstakingly restore them to their original glory. So it was that at an invitation-only black-tie screening, Scorsese introduced to an adoring audience one such film from that remarkable film-making team, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Made at Pinewood in 1947, 'one of the greatest stories ever told' was created on C Stage. Powell and Pressburger, who had initially met at Denham studios, chose the story having completed The End of the River which had been a strange departure for the filmmakers and a critical and commercial disaster. The Red Shoes was a very simple tale of a great ballet dancer and how she is torn between love (with Marius Goring) and her career (with Anton Walbrook) and then driven to suicide when she has to choose between them. Nothing like it had been seen before; the subtle use of colours, the special effects and the wonderful characters and performances all combine to form a beautifully textured film. The Red Shoes received three Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Story and Music. Brian Easdale won in the latter category. Powell and Pressburger were back on form. And of the many new techniques and effects employed in the film, the 'gunshot' travelling matte must rate as the best: Moira Shearer danced with a newspaper.

Editor Noreen Ackland collaborated on all the Powell and Pressburger films at Pinewood and remembers The Red Shoes with particular affection. 'Micky and Emeric were wonderful. Exciting. Everything was new and they made you a part of the whole company making it. I was only second assistant [editor] in those days but was made to feel just as important as the stars. Pinewood was a fantastic place to work - a truly magical film made at a truly magical studio. It will always be my favourite film and holds so many precious memories for me, and whenever anyone mentions Pinewood to me, The Red Shoes always springs to mind.

Sadly cinematographer Jack Cardiff died just two weeks before the Cannes presentation, but his wife and son were in attendance as were Powell's widow, Thelma Schoonmaker, Pressburger's grandson Andrew Macdonald and Mrs Marius Goring. Other celebrity guests included Tilda Swinton, Rosanna Arquette, Harvey Weinstein and producer Irwin Winkler. In his ten-minute introduction, Scorsese said: "My father took me to see it in 1950, when I was eight years old, and I've never forgotten it."

Ironically for such a lauded British film, upon completion the film's financiers - The Rank Organisation - all but disowned the film, fearing it simply too uncommercial and too expensive. It received a small, limited release in the UK. However, the Organisation's US partner thought otherwise and the film took America by storm, prompting Rank to release it on a larger scale in the UK.

The restoration has been several years in the making and was headed by Bob Gitt at UCLA. When the 3-strip elements were initially delivered to Gitt he was horrified to see the film cans in which they were contained covered in rust and mould. Upon opening the cans, Gitt became aware that the mould had eaten through and into the film, damaging many scenes. A painstaking frame-by-frame restoration ensued and the result is dazzling.

ITV Global (who now own the Rank library) announced twenty new DVD deals on the back of the screening as well as a UK Christmas 2009 re-release, along with a French cinema re-release. It was an evening to gladden the heart. So much of the Cannes festival is in the here and now. It's about new films clamouring for prizes, or producers trying to get new films made. This was a welcome respite - a nod to cinema's past glories and a determination to have classic films seen as they were meant to be seen.

Other Red Shoes reviews