Sunday, February 14, 2010

Not Tuesdays With Martin Scorsese-The New Restoration of The Red Shoes

Instead of worshipping cupid this Valentine's Day my heart has been pierced by the Archer Arrow as I spend a little time at the altar of Powell and Pressburger For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon. The event is hosted by The Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films to support the National Film Preservation Foundation.

The National Film Preservation Foundation is the independent, nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America's film heritage. They work directly with archives to rescue endangered films that will not survive without public support.

The NFPF will give away 4 DVD sets as thank-you gifts to blogathon donors chosen in a random drawing: Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934 and Treasures IV: American Avant Garde Film, 1947-1986

One of my favorite films from super duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The Red Shoes, has been lovingly (and expensively) restored by the UCLA Archive thanks to generous support from Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation. It received a star studded premier at last years Cannes Film Festival and was recently screened at the British Film Institute where I saw the new restoration this past December as my farewell to London. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the first night when Scorsese himself was in attendance. These screenings are wonderful because they bring new audiences to old classics.

The Rank gong is on display at the Movieum of London

The original three-strip Technicolor negative, cracked, covered in mould and desperately in need of repair was restored using a new digital process where a high resolution scan of each of the 579, 000 frames was cleaned and reassembled in a new digital master (source). It is a very painstaking and expensive process that could only be undertaken because of the amount of support (aka funding) behind the restoration. For the film purists out there, original prints of the film still exist. The screening at Cannes was a 35mm print of the new digital restoration. I can attest that the result is absolutely breathtaking; the cobwebs have been removed, that's all.

The Red Shoes (1948) was first conceived as the brain child of Alexander Korda because he wanted P&P to make a ballet vehicle for his wife Merle Oberon. When that fell through the pair bought the rights from Korda. Wanting to make a film with dancers who had acting talent as opposed to actors who needed dancer stand ins, a member of the Sadler Wells dance company, flame haired Moira Shearer was chosen to play the beautiful ballerina Victoria Page. But Shearer was not easily convinced. In fact it took a year of convincing because Shearer deemed films a lesser art form. She finally acquiesed and filming began in 1947 at Pinewood Studios, on location in Monte Carlo and various other locales. The film had the added task of trying to make London's Covent Garden look beautiful and vibrant when things were still very bleak and war rationing was still in effect. The shoot itself was grueling.

Wednesday 09 July 1947

Early to bed and early to rise - 5;30 am. to Pinewood Studios for 8am - 8:30 class. the earliest class on record! I was most pleased that massine recognized me and asked "How is your child?". "Very well," I replied "dancing all day long. "Mine too", said Massine. watch 3 scenes 'shot'. One took ten retakes - a rather difficult piece including Tcherina, Shearer, Joan Harris, Massine and Helpman. Moira Shearer is the nicest little thing I've seen since Baronava. Tcherina is beautiful and has good turns. Helpman is amusing. The word for his type of character is, I believe, in theatre terms, 'camp'. One sees him either very smartly dressed or ragged and rolling with jokes but I must say, always quite a good chap. Massine looks tired. it is rather a shock to find him an old man, but still a great character. If Shearer is used well she should develop into a 'Big Star'.

The film, based on a Hans Christina Andersen fairytale, is the story of a ballerina forced to choose between love of a man and love of her art. Unsatisfied with one or the other, she kills herself to break the spell of the shoes. Audiences were also unsatisfied with the films tragic and gory ending, but as has been pointed out it was really a lot less demonic than the original fairytale where the woman's feet are cut off and for the rest of her life she walks on wooden feet as the shoes dance on. In the film both dancer and dance shoes are laid to rest, making the focus not only the obsessive quality of artistic passion, but the ways that this obsession can alter and ultimately destroy a person's life. Unlike the original story, Victoria Page is ultimately unable to divide herself. It is the reality of many dancers caught in the balance between the intense dedication needed to succeed as a dancer and the struggle to maintain a personal life.

The most striking and most talked about portion of the film is the seventeen minute ballet sequence. It was unprecedented at the time and served as an inspiration for ballet sequences in An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain. Unlike past musical numbers in Hollywood set up in a more theatrical space where the camera tends to sit back and relaxes like a viewer in a theatre, The Red Shoes sequence uses every filmic tool at its disposal to make the ballet a one of a kind experience. Though there are unique elements of framing and color, the transitions and manipulations of the film in post-production are what make it so unique. It is dreamlike rather than static, hallucinatory rather than stable.

The thing that I find most striking about the ballet is the fact that it is a move toward a more subjective cinema. It transitions from the dancing shoemaker, established underneath a proscenium arch in a traditional theater to sequences meant to take place in the mind of Victoria Page and in a few instances from her first person point of view, putting a probe into the mind of a ballerina and giving the audience an idea of how dancers must create a world for themselves to effectively convey their emotions to the audience. First person camera was still a rarity, the only example I can think of a brief sequence from the POV of Pip in David Lean's Great Expectations (1946). The shoes take over Page's body and she dances through many foreign landscapes, Shearer's soaring form superimposed on a series of matte paintings that clearly were not present on the stage. At certain points the film speed itself is slowed down to make the dancers seem like they are floating.

The sequence also makes use of the Soviet Montage style of editing, juxtaposing dancers with flowers, birds and clouds. Through a series of cross dissolves, dancers are shown to be delicate beings in a heightened state of beauty that surpasses human existence.

The other wonderful thing about being able to see this film at the BFI, other than the newly restored film itself, was the fact that Scorsese lent items from his personal collection for display at the South Bank Center. Included in the display were the original red shoes, signed by Shearer, (and as I remember) Anton Walbrook and Marius Goring, as well as original art sketches, letters, and a script from the early stages of development when Alexander Korda was still tied to the project. Unfortunately I did not have a camera with me so the details are a bit foggy, but there was a beautiful letter between Powell and Pressburger during their later years of life that expressed a deep love and lasting affection, the deep love Martin Scorsese has for the film, a deep love that I share.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Creative Blogger Award

Thanks Harley for bestowing this awesome sauce award upon my blog. Or my person. I'm not really sure but it places me somewhere within six degrees of creativity which is exciting!

1. Copy the logo and paste it your blog. (Kate's a bad influence, b/c I'm not posting it either...and because neither of them posted it I don't even know what the logo is. So here's a fun picture from no copyright infringement intended please don't burn down my house. Go give them money to make great programs ok? ok).
2. Link the person from whom you received this coveted prize.
3. List seven facts about yourself that people would find interesting.
4. Nominate 7 other bloggers and post links of the one you've nominated.

1. I have considered becoming a nun. This may be more colored by my skewed belief that all nuns do is sing in the hills or pal around with their mother superior who just happens to be Maggie Smith. I also just really like the idea of a life devoted to service of God and man minus the fact that I don't agree with all the tenets of catholicism and wouldn't wish to try to convert anyone or damn those who don't follow my belief system to hell.
2. I am an only child and no I have never asked for a pink pony in my entire life (stupid, I know).
3. I'm kind of obsessed with old ocean liners and would love to take a cruise but know I would be disappointed because it's not the same. The same applies for old trains and train stations. Basically any film involving cruise ships, trains, train stations or the singing nuns outlined in point one will instantly hold a fascination for me purely because of these elements.
4. I really really love collecting photography and fashion photography coffee table books though the collection is building slowly because they can be so expensive even with the glory that is used on amazon. My favorites are Doisneau, Margaret Bourke White, Ansel Adams and Eisenstaedt.
5. I really love school and feel so privileged to be going to university. I've never ever skipped a class because 1) each class has cost some money so it's basically like throwing money into the air and 2) even the classes I haven't been crazy about I figure there is always a chance that I may learn something that astounds me. This may make me a capital L loser (or Laverne, were this L actually pinned to my clothing) but I really don't care.
6. I sometimes wonder what certain stars would do in certain situations or if I have to exude confidence for whatever reason will, for example, think of Meryl Streep. You know, like the terrible musical theatre version of Fame. Because I'm insane.
7. The stars I most identify with for one crazy reason or another are Jean Arthur, Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr. I feel them kindred spirits. Yet again because I am insane. I don't take astrology seriously but I find it interesting that we all happen to be libras. Note: Clearly I do not think myself as amazing as any of these people.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Cary Grant-a definition of a favorite actor

A reporter in search of information wired Grant's agent: "HOW OLD CARY GRANT?" Grant happened to read the message himself, and wired back "OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?" (via imdb)

Cary Grant [arch-i-bald leach]
  1. Entertainer
  2. Actor
  3. Icon
  1. To want to be Cary Grant.
  2. To just go gay all of a sudden.
  3. To remind you of a man (what man?)
  1. "What one would hope a movie star would be like" - Elizabeth Taylor*
  2. A man who wears a suit and doesn't let the suit wear him
*via "Evenings With Cary Grant"


1. Debonair 2. Witty 3. Individual 4. Introspective 5. Unsure 6. Matchmaker (see: Rosalind Russell)

Monday, February 1, 2010

new (to me) films watched in 2010

Films Fatales
1. Everything is Illuminated (Liev Schrieber, 2005)
2. Brick (Rian Johnson, 2005)
3. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966)
4. Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)
5. Ballerina (Bertrand Normand, 2009)
6. The Remains of the Day (James Ivory, 1993)
7. Widow's Peak (John Irvin, 1994)
8. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
9. Husbands and Wives (Woody Allen, 1992)
10. Etoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet (Nils Tavernier, 2001)
11. Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
12. Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (Laurence Olivier, 1948)
13. Dil Se (Mani Ratnam, 1998)
14. Khuda Gawah (Makul Sharma, 1992)
15. Sant Tukaram (V. G. Damle and S. Fatelal, 1936)
16. Awara (Raj Kapoor, 1951)
17. A Foreign Affair (Billy Wilder, 1948)
18. Fame (Alan Parker, 1980)
19. The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949)
20. To Each His Own (Mitchell Leisen, 1946)
21. The Anniversary (Roy Ward Baker, 1968)
22. The Young Victoria (Jean-Marc Vallee, 2009)
23. "Hallmark Hall of Fame" Witness For The Prosecution (Alan Gibson, 1982)
24. Ann and Debbie (1985)
25. Prudence and the Pill (Fielder Cook & Ronald Neame, 1968)
26. Count Your Blessings (Jean Negulesco, 1959)
27. Thunder in the East (Charles Vidor, 1952)
28. The September Issue (R.J. Cutler, 2009)
29. An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009)
30. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
31. The Charge of the Light Brigade (Michael Curtiz, 1936)
32. Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957)
33. Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan, 2007)
34. Beloved Infidel (Henry King, 1959)
35. The Proud and the Profane (George Seaton, 1956)
36. This Is England (Shane Meadows, 2006)
37. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
38. Herbert (Suman Mukhopadhyay, 2006)
39. The Name of a River (Anup Singh, 2001)
40. Sholay (Ramesh Sippy, 1975)
41. Deewar (Yash chopra, 1975)
42. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Karan Johar, 1998)
43. Satya (Ram Gopal Varma, 1997)
44. Garam Hawa (M.S. Sathyu, 1973)
45. Hey Ram (Kamal Haasan, 1999)
46. Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)
47. Aparajito (Satyajit Ray, 1956)
48. Apur Sansar (Satyajit Ray, 1959)
49. Hot Millions (Eric Till, 1968)
50. War Dance (Sean Fine & Andrea Nix, 2007)
51. The Snake Pit (Anatole Litvak, 1948)
52. North & South BBC Miniseries (2004)
53. Ralph Nader: An Unreasonable Man (Henriette Mantel & Steve Skrovan, 2006)
54. No End in Sight (Campbell Scott, 2007)
55. Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller, 1957)
56. Hot Enough For June (Ralph Thomas, 1964)
57. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007)
58. The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960)
59. The People Speak (Anthony Arnove, Chris Moore, Howard Zinn, 2009)
60. Bonjour tristesse (Otto Preminger, 1958)
61. Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (Dibakar Banerjee, 2008)
62. Bottle Shock (Randall Miller, 2008)
63. Casino Royal (Val Guest & Ken Hughes & John Huston & Joseph McGrath & Robert Parrish & Richard Talmadge (oh my!), 1967)
64. The Last Station (Michael Hoffman, 2009)
65. The Blind Side (John Lee Hancock, 2009)
66. Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)
67. The Princess and the Frog (Ron Clements & John Musker, 2009)
68. Separate Tables (Delbert Mann, 1958)
69. Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008)
70. Hatter's Castle (Lance Comfort, 1942)
71. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
72. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009)
73. When in Rome (Mark Steven Johnson, 2010)
74. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
75. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
76. Helvetica (Gary Hustwit, 2007)
77. Following (Christopher Nolan, 1998)
78. The Grass Is Greener (Stanley Donen, 1960)
79. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008)
80. Leap Year (Anand Tucker, 2010)
81. Lost in Austen (2008)
82. Mad Hot Ballroom (Marilyn Agrelo, 2005)
83. How About You... (Anthony Byrne, 2007)
84. The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy, 2007)
85. Walk the Line (James Mangold, 2005)
86. The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
87. Is Anybody There? (John Crowley, 2008)
88. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)
89. I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino, 2009)
90. Dirty Dancing (Emile Ardolino, 1987)
91. Ladies in Lavender (Charles Dance, 2004)
92. The Pumpkin Eater (Jack Clayton, 1964)
93. The Front (Martin Ritt, 1976)
94. Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009)
95. The Greatest (Shana Feste, 2009)
96. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
97. The Station Agent (Thomas McCarthy, 2003)
98. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)
99. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2004)
100. The Arrangement (Elia Kazan, 1969)
101. Stage Fright (Alfred Hitchcock, 1950)
102. The Importance of Being Earnest (Anthony Asquith, 1952)
103. Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)
104. The Last September (Deborah Warner, 1999)
105. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982)
106. Curtain Call (Peter Yates, 1997)
107. California Suite (Herbert Ross, 1978)
108. Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)
109. Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943)
110. Our Dancing Daughters (Harry Beaumont, 1928)
111. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955)
112. Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)
113. eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999)
114. Event Horizon (Paul W.S. Anderson, 1997)
115. Burn After Reading (Coen Brothers, 2008)
116. My Blueberry Nights (Wong Kar Wai, 2007)
117. Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006)
118. Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks, 1983)
119. Camera Buff (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1979)
120. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (Judy Irving, 2005)
121. Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (Neil Jordan, 1994)
122. Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992)
123. The King's Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010)
124. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)
124. True Grit (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2010)
125. The Secret Garden (Agnieszka Holland, 1993)
126. Easy A (Will Gluck, 2010)
127. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
128. Kal Ho Naa Ho (Nikhil Advani, 2003)
129. The Reader (Stephen Daldry, 2008)
130. East of Eden (Elia Kazan, 1955)
131. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)
132. Outsourced (John Jeffcoat, 2006)
133. No Man of Her Own (Mitchell Leisen, 1950)
134. Iron Man (Jon Favreau, 2008)
135. Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986)
136. Risky Business (Paul Brickman, 1983)
137. Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)
138. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010)
139. Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002)