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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It Takes a Village - The Red Shoes
by: Steve Crook
The Red Shoes (1948) is about many things. It's a love story, it's about ballet, it's about passion for your art and the sacrifices that you must be prepared to make for it. But it is also a tale of collaboration. It shows how many people are involved in the staging of a ballet. Not just the obvious ones like the dancers and the musicians but also the less obvious ones like the designer, the choreographer, the people who do the costumes and make up. And also the ones that hardly anyone thinks about like the people who hire and prepare the theatre, do the posters and other advertising, feed the cast and crew, pay them as well. It takes a village to stage most works of art. Without any one of them it wouldn't work so well.
In the film there was another scene that was filmed but was then cut from the final version. This showed Lermontov the impresario along with designer Ratov, choreographer Ljubov and various others gathered around a table in a café planning things out whilst Ratov sketched some designs on the circular table top. Although the scene was cut, the circular table top can still be seen in Boris's office as Julian plays the piano during Vicky's lunch.
Powell & Pressburger cut this scene because they realised that the whole film was giving this same message. The film wasn't just made by Powell & Pressburger themselves. The Archers were a total collaboration of cast and crew members, most of whom were very skilled and respected in their own field, at the top of their game. Actors, cinematographers, designers, composers, editors and all the others. They all worked together following the basic outline and initial plans as laid down by the impresario(s) but everyone was involved. Not just in this film but in all Archers films. If anyone had a good idea or if a scene wasn't working out as well as they'd hoped then they would discuss it amongst the senior members of the team and would work out a way to do it better. Even where they lodged a "final shooting script" with the BFI archive these often differ significantly from what is seen on screen. It was because of this total collaboration that people queued up to work with The Archers.
So it's appropriate that there were so many people involved in the restoration of this great film. The project was initiated and driven forward by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker but they couldn't have done it by themselves. First there was the funding. The project took a long time and involved a lot of people and a lot of very complex techniques, so it cost a lot of money. The Film Foundation, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Louis B. Mayer Foundation, and many individuals who donated their time and expertise. Robert Gitt of the UCLA Film & Television Archives supervised the actual restoration, with Scorsese and Schoonmaker as restoration consultants.
The restoration was necessary because of the damage to the original Technicolor negatives. They had become scratched and had mould growing on them. The three strips had shrunk and expanded at different rates so would no longer align properly. The colours of the internegs had faded and become damaged. It was impossible to strike another print from them and they couldn't go back to the original negatives and get a new interneg because of the damage to them.
At first they tried to restore it optically & photochemically, but this proved to be impossible. So they digitised the whole film, digitised it at a much more detailed level than is used for DVD or even for most so called High Definition work. That's a film that runs for over 130 minutes at 48 frames per second - with three strips in the original Technicolor negatives. That's a huge amount of digitisation, more than half a million frames. Then they painstakingly restored every frame, cleaning each frame, repairing any damage and realigning each set of three frames from the original three strip negatives. The optical soundtrack also needed cleaning to get rid of some hisses and clicks and to generally sharpen it up.
Then, when they put it all back together as a complete film, the digital print and the 35mm print, they had to decide on things like the colour balance. Films today have a more natural colour than the old Technicolor films. British Technicolor was generally different to American Technicolor. It might have been something in the chemicals used, it might have been something in the water, it might have been the generally more overcast skies to be found in Britain compared to the relentless sunshine found in Hollywood. It is usually quite easy to identify any frame of a Technicolor film as having been made in Britain or in Hollywood. Also, Hollywood Technicolor was usually more tightly controlled by Herbert & Natalie Kalmus. They invented the process and licensed its use. They tried to control how it was used very strictly and their decisions as to the colours used were often more to do with showing off the Technicolor process than with any artistic decision to suit the film. There aren't many Technicolor films that were made in Hollywood that have muted colours.
Marty and Thelma were insistent that what they wanted to do was to restore the film, not to improve or change it in any way. So the colours were carefully chosen to be as close as possible to the original. They also deliberately didn't correct any of the small mistakes that are now a bit more obvious - when you know the film very well. In the ballet of The Red Shoes, when "the girl" is floating through the air, the matte cut-out around her isn't done as well as some of the other matte shots. This could have been tidied up in the restoration, but wasn't. When Vicky goes to see Lermontov and walks up the "fairy princess" staircase there are some bright patches of light on the ground where someone was a bit careless with a reflector. But they left things like this in there as well. The intention was to restore it to how it was originally, not to "improve" it in any way.
With what they have learnt on this restoration, future restorations should be somewhat easier, cheaper and faster. They have already started work on restoring The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
A lot of people worked very hard on this restoration for a long time. They were pushing the technology and their artistic skills to their limits - but the results are wonderful. Just like the Ballet Lermontov, just like The Archers - it takes a village.
The UCLA have produced a PDF booklet about the restoration and there's also a PDF document about Prasad Labs, the Indian company that did a lot of the work.
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