Responsible for turning more moviegoers into wanna-be prima ballerinas per capita than any other film, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s ode to the agony and the ecstasy of dancing is still joyous and moving even if you watch it through filthy, cracked sunglasses. And to view this classic in Film Forum’s newly restored print—sponsored by film-preservation impresario and superfan Martin Scorsese—is to experience an epiphany: So this is what capital-C Cinema looks like in its purest waking-dream form.
Technicolor us impressed: Using just the right shades and hues was an important element in several key Powell-Pressburger collaborations, but never more so than in this tale of a Svengali (Walbrook) who molds a composer (Goring) and dancer (Shearer) into true artists, only to become royally pissed once his puppets snip their strings. The sheer pirouette-drunk love shown to the performing arts has long made this a favorite of arabesque aficionados and theater geeks. But the visuals of this operatic backstage tragedy now take on a vibrancy that pushes the film’s emotional-delirium-meter into the you-know-what. Never mind the titular footwear, which now makes Dorothy’s ruby slippers look like scuffed Keds. You’ve simply never seen a deep red like Shearer’s mane when she catches Walbrook’s eye, or a baby blue the equivalent of his shirt when he offers her the role of a lifetime, or such a lush forest-green as the train carriage where a Mephistophelean deal is struck. It’s always been essential viewing; thanks to this hallucinogenically gorgeous restoration, the expressionistic landmark now feels genuinely life-altering.—David Fear
Opens Fri; Film Forum. Find showtimes