This past weekend I watched “The Red Shoes” on my Criterion DVD yet again, as prep for a story I’m writing this week about the movie and its recent restoration. (It will screen, in its beautifully restored glory, at Seattle Art Museum on Wednesday the 10th and at Northwest Film Forum February 12-18. Don’t miss it.) This time, for the first time in probably a dozen viewings, I watched it with the sound off and with the commentary track on, and was fascinated to hear reminiscing from stars Moira Shearer and Marius Goring, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale and film historian Ian Christie. With the exception of Christie, all of these people have passed away in recent years; the commentary track was made up of interviews preserved from the 1990s. I loved hearing Cardiff explain how they got the famous running-down-a-spiral-staircase shot near the end, or Shearer dismissing the film’s script as “sheer women’s magazine,” or Goring explaining how he got some of his character’s mannerisms from the great conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. Though it’s frustrating to see the movie’s beauty and not hear its music and dialogue (really, if you can’t hear “Julian . . . take off the red shoes,” you haven’t really seen it), it was still a lovely way to spend a gray afternoon.
(People ask me all the time what my favorite movie is. I first try to answer that I hope my favorite movie is one I haven’t seen yet, but nobody lets me get away with that. But I do think, most of the time, that my top three would be, in varying order depending on day and mood, “The Red Shoes,” “The Thin Man” and “Vertigo.” Favorite movie made during my actual lifetime? Let me ponder that for a bit.)
DVD commentaries, which I try to check out at some point if I liked the movie at all, can be a frustrating experience. Some are wonderfully educational, such as Roger Ebert’s splendid commentary on “Citizen Kane,” which is almost like taking a film class with a master. Some are delightfuly entertaining, particularly those done by smart actors. (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church do a funny one for “Sideways,” and I’m quite partial to a “Remains of the Day” commentary track in which Emma Thompson drinks some wine and starts waxing rhapsodic about favorite cardigans.) But some, alas, are just dull, full of comments like, “Oh, I loved this scene” or “Oh, that guy was funny.” Have you heard a good DVD commentary lately? Let us know.
A bit of dancing in “The Red Shoes,” with impresario Boris Lermontov gazing — some might say malevolently — on Victoria Page (Moira Shearer). On the commentary, cinematographer Jack Cardiff talks about the unique “zip-pans” on this scene, in which the camera gives us a dancer’s point of view as she whips her head around to “spot” during pirouettes.