Last night I was fortunate to be in the audience for The Red Shoes at Seattle Art Museum, where late director Michael Powell’s wife Thelma Schoonmaker was present to answer some questions about the film’s creation and restoration.
She brought with her a clip reel of “before and after” footage from the film – before and after the meticulous restoration, that is – that elicited audible gasps and applause from the audience. I’m working on trying to get a copy of that disc to share with our audiences for the week-long run of the film here at the Film Forum (where it plays February 12-18), but meanwhile, here’s some more information about the impressive and exhaustive preservation effort, as well as a link to a special PDF booklet about the film, from the Film Foundation’s website.
UCLA archivist Robert Gitt explains: “In the restoration process, the entire film has been turned into ones and zeros, repaired, and then converted back into a motion picture again. In order to achieve a proper film ‘look,’ we compared the new digital images with those in an original Technicolor dye transfer print and in a new Eastman color test print struck by Cinetech Laboratories directly from the YCM camera negatives. Careful adjustments were made in the finalized digital version to combine the best qualities of modern color film (greater image sharpness, more sparkle in highlights) with the most pleasing attributes of vintage Technicolor dye transfer prints (bold colors, deep blacks, gentle contrast with a pleasing range of tones in actors’ faces). The end result is a restoration that combines the best of the past with our digital present.”
The UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation began working on the restoration in the fall of 2006. Earlier, in the 1980s, the film had been optically copied from flammable nitrate and acetate materials, including vintage Technicolor dye transfer prints, nitrate and acetate protection master positive copies, original soundtrack elements, and – most important of all – the still extant three-strip Technicolor camera negatives. These original nitrate 3-strip camera negatives have been utilized for this restoration to obtain the highest possible image quality. The negatives, which were damaged by mold and deterioration, were scanned at 4K resolution and digitally restored at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging. The new digital negative has been used to strike beautiful new 35mm prints at Cinetech Labs, one of which will premiere in Cannes. These newly restored elements ensure that the film is now properly preserved for posterity.