COMMEMORATING 30 YEARS OF TFF

12/10/2020

When I was young, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes was not universally considered to be a classic. For one thing, it wasn’t so easy to see. Plus, despite its enormous initial success in Great Britain, it had wound up in an odd category of films from the 40s and early 50s that were designed to bring high culture to the masses—Fantasia, Carnegie Hall, Invitation to the Dance, I’ve Always Loved You and the Archers’ later Tales of Hoffmann offer further examples. And, on the occasions that it did appear on television and in repertory theatres, the quality of the image was substandard. There were severe problems with the color registration, creating a disorienting halo effect around characters and objects. It’s the kind of thing we’ve all grown used to seeing in before-and-after restoration demonstrations included as supplements on Blu-Rays and DVDs. It was once commonplace.

I used to believe that a great film can shine through all intrusions, limitations and corrosions. But that was before digital restoration tools. To see films like Ugetsu, Pather Panchali, Giant and Detour brought back to life has been a startling experience—as Geoffrey O’Brien once said, you realize that you haven’t really seen these films before. And as Martin Scorsese has pointed out, the poor registration and the lack of definition we used to live with affected the performances—you often couldn’t see the eyes of the actors clearly—hence the emotional impact, hence the clarity of the narrative, hence the film.

I’ve admired The Red Shoes for a long time, but I have to admit that I have rarely been as stunned as I was when I sat down in the theatre in Cannes and saw the UCLA restoration, three years in the making. I immediately forgot that I’d ever seen it before—it was like watching a brand new film, and it made almost everything else around it seem paltry and small. I knew how much work and loving attention had gone into that restoration, made possible by The Film Foundation, the Louis B. Mayer Foundation and HFPA. Bob Gitt and his team at UCLA worked in association with the BFI, ITV and Janus, and Thelma Schoonmaker was closely involved at absolutely every stage.

The film throbs with emotion from the very first frames of the doormen waiting nervously before they open the doors to the waiting horde of students rushing up the stairs like a flash flood to get gallery seats for a ballet performance. The film is about art—making it, experiencing it, living for it and dying for it. Actually, the word “about” is wrong, because it implies a theoretical distance that has no part in The Red Shoes. The passion of art is felt from behind and before the camera, it’s felt in the artistry of every craftsman and every actor, and it’s felt in every cut and every choice made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. And that passion is also felt in the restoration, which is the greatest I’ve ever seen.

- Kent Jones

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THE RED SHOES (1948, dirs. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)
Restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in association with the BFI, The Film Foundation, ITV Global Entertainment Ltd., and Janus Films. Restoration funding provided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, The Film Foundation, and the Louis B. Mayer Foundation.

THE TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951, dirs. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)
Restored by The Film Foundation, in association with the BFI and STUDIOCANAL. Restoration funding provided by The Franco-American Cultural Fund, a unique partnership between the Directors Guild of America (DGA); the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA); the Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Musique (SACEM); and the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW), The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Louis B. Mayer Foundation and The Film Foundation.

UGETSU (1953, d. Kenji Mizoguchi)
Restored by The Film Foundation and KADOKAWA Corporation at Cineric Laboratories in New York. Special thanks to Masahiro Miyajima and Martin Scorsese for their consultation on this restoration. Restoration funding provided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in association with The Film Foundation and KADOKAWA Corporation.

PATHER PANCHALI (1955, d. Satyajit Ray)
Restored by the Satyajit Ray Preservation Project through a collaboration of the Academy Film Archive, the Merchant-Ivory Foundation and the Film Foundation. Funding provided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. 

DETOUR (1945, d. Edgar G. Ulmer)
​​​​​​Restored by the Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation in collaboration with Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Cinémathèque Française. Restoration funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. 

 

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