The Masters  
The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by: Roger Mellor

The Red Shoes (1948)
Review of the American release of the DVD
David M. Green

Several years back, Criterion released a laserdisc edition of this film which, like the own companies' Raging Bull, Citizen Kane, and Brazil sets were, and still are, among the finest examples of the art in laserdisc presentation. It, and the massive complement of supplement material that came with it jumped in almost from left field, for as much beloved as the film has remained in the fifty some-odd years since its release, its following is much more in line with a cult audience than the mainstream audience of, say, a Gone With The Wind or Casablanca. Filmmaker Martin Scorsese and his editor (and Michael Powell's widow) Thelma Schoonmaker are most responsible for the lavish attention poured onto the film, and we are certainly the wealthier as enthusiasts for it. Justifiably, I did rave about the laserdisc edition in 1994, and so shall I rave here.

The film does have a sharper image and better color balance than the laserdisc did, but to a much higher degree than the usual Criterion DVD comparison with one of their laserdiscs. It could be because this edition on laser was done so recently, and the mastering equipment was better controlled, but whatever the reason, this is quite simply the best looking vintage color picture yet to come on DVD in my opinion. Sure, Gone With The Wind and some other fine releases are brightly colored and undeniably sharp, but The Red Shoes looks more like film than the video presentation I find many older films looking like on DVD. All you need to look at is the colors and shadow undertones to the Red Shoes ballet sequence and there is a crispness, a truth if you will to the image that reminded me (in thinking of other recent DVDs) of the best of analogue LPs when compared to digital audio. Like the analogue LP, the image may seem at first a tad less accurate before you find yourself immersed in the performance, and note details that seem to be beyond the scope of light or 1's and 0's, never mind a complete lack of artifacts or other anomalies that often give away our manipulation by the technology. A seemingly great mastering like the DVD of Gone With The Wind seems, by comparison, analytical and less involving with its coloring and other 'perfection's' seeming cold, almost unreal. This, to me, was the home video equivalent of the LP/CD comparison of playing a CD after an LP and being reminded of the often heightened naturalness of great analogue sound that 16 bit digital never quite got right in my opinion (1). Criterion's Red Shoes is, in this instance, Gone With The Wind's opposite; lively, warm, and involving.

The audio on the disc is in AC-3 mono and comes through clean and even, maybe with a slight less punch on the bottom octaves than the laserdisc had, but to a much lesser degree than I usually find when comparing laserdisc and DVD soundtracks from the same original source. But between picture and sound, I can't stress enough that this is clearly one of the finest DVD authorings to come along.

The disc includes the theatrical trailer, a Powell and Pressburger filmography which will do nothing but make you want to see the bulk of their work (2), a commentary track that's so blessed great it makes you realize how mediocre most commentary tracks really are, another audio track with Jeremy Irons reading The Read Shoes' novelization, lots of photos and publicity materials, a video trip through Martin Scorsese's Red Shoes memorabilia collection, and lastly, a copy of the drawn storyboards set to the Red Shoes ballet sequence that the filmmakers used as a blueprint for the live action. It is a short film all its own, complete with the music excerpt from Beechams well-conducted score and uses the angle feature to compare side by side with the finished product if you wish. Also, you have the option of hearing Irons read the original fairy-tale while watching the sequence too on track two.

A marvelous disc preserving a truly special film experience that belongs in all serious collections. It is also a welcome reminder of how great the DVD format can be when the product is cared for. Thanks and both of my thumbs up for Criterion.

David M. Green
Laser Tribune, 1999

Of course not all LPs beat out a CD counterpart, but it has been convincingly demonstrated to me, and many others, that CD never really was 'Perfect Sound Forever', but more a marketing hype to re-sell back catalogues and save a dying music industry in the early 80's. They had the right idea, but went too few in bits and gave us another compromise. Even now, in 1999, with DVD audio on the horizon, in my own opinion, the best of analogue playback is easily distinguishable as a more 'musical' and involving presentation over any form of digital audio... and before anyone smirks while disagreeing with me, ask yourself whether you've really heard a great LP playback system from the last decade, they are nothing like the systems you might remember from before 1985.

Black Narcissus, The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp, and 49th Parallel are good places to start, all previously done by Criterion on laserdisc, and hopefully soon to arrive on DVD.

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