Monday, 21 June 2010

THE RED SHOES - Powell & Pressburger: a retrospective look at the matte shots and optical composites in this classic British film.

I'd always put off looking at this film as it never seemed to appeal to me, even though I like the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger -  that is until about a month ago when I finally hired it out to 'give it a go'.
What a pleasant surprise it was to find it was a magnificent film!!  I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it and was utterly captivated by Moira Shearer - the beautiful 21 year old lead in a wonderful portrayal of the doomed ballet dancer.  Again, a magnificent film in all departments - wonderful dialogue and delivery - and not half as effete as I'd dreaded it to be.

Here are a collection of matte shots and opticals which enchant the viewer and the casual observer and always serve the story of this excellent 1948 picture.
No specific 'photographic effects' credit, just this 'Technicolor Composite Photography' card credited to F.George Gunn and Doug Hague (the Linwood Dunn equivilant of British cinema).  'Special Painting' credited to Ivor Beddoes and Joseph NatansonContrary to popular folklore I have it on good authority that W.Percy Day and Peter Ellenshaw had no involvement in the matte work on this film though two of Days' young matte artists, Les Bowie and Judy Jordan were almost certainly on the payrole as matte artists for "The Red Shoes"My friend Domingo Lizcano has the ultimate tribute and biographical site dedicated to the life and career of Joseph Natanson (among many, many other great matte painters - highly recommended)

above - two matte painted set extensions that broaden the canvas of art director Hein Heckroth. Anecdotal reminiscences by matte cameraman Leslie Dear mention the embaressment of readying one of the glass mattes for photography when the heat of the many lamps needed to illuminate the painting for the slow technicolour film caused the glass to crack.  The team tried to disguise the crack and carried on with the composite.  The upper frame is supposed to have the crack visible though I personally feel it is the second lower frame which does it appear have a significant crack visible next to the shadow and above the lamp running down from the top.  In all likelyhood no one would have noticed it.
The commencement of the legendary 'Red Shoes' ballet segment where an extensive matte painting(s) is/are seen in numerous shots under different dramatic theatrical lighting.

More frames from the wonderful 'Red Shoes' 20 minute set piece.  Noteworthy for a huge number of blue screen travelling matte composites with Shearer added into a number of elaborate and often multi-plane painted backgrounds and moving foreground painted elements.  Exquisite art direction  and the camerawork of Jack Cardiff who should have won the Oscar here.  I read somewhere that glass tanks of chemical mixtures were utilised to produce the organic backgrounds for some of the shots - something akin to the modern cloud tank method.

Another great shot - though the head of Robert Helpmann momentarily drifts through the painted area and becomes translucent, suggesting either a very soft matte line or a foreground glass painting shot on set?
Pictorially and compositionally first class matte shots.  Matte artist Ivor Beddoes was a former ballet dancer himself and had a long career in film as sketch artist, conceptual artist and occasionally matte painter up until "Superman - the Movie" Judy Jordan trained under Walter Percy Day and painted for him on numerous films such as "Bonnie Prince Charlie", "The Fallen Idol" and "Black Narcissus" before moving on to British MGM under Tom Howard to paint on films such as "tom thumb" and "Knights of the Round Table"
Painted in scenery and drapery which has a subtle lighting dissolve during the dance.

A lovely, subtle transition optical where the male dancer moves toward Shearer and transforms into a different character all in one shot.  This sort of thing isn't new but here it is beautifully done with a soft split screen at the edge of the beam of light.  The match up is perfect and the action fluid and barely noticeable.

A complex transitional effect with a painted in theatre stalls, people and architecture softly wiping into a raging sea enveloping the conductor.  Nicely done.

A new Blu Ray frame of one of THE RED SHOES elegant glass shots

Another new Blu Ray grab of one of the beautiful glass mattesApparently five of these original matte painted glasses survive and are in the collection of the BFI (British Film Institute) as part of Ivor Beddoes' estate bequest.

The last of three Blu Ray matte images

Some of the original art directors' storyboards and explanations for matte and special process shots.

More storyboard sketches pertaining to process and painted glass shots.
The last matte painted shot in the film (taken directly from DVD) - with most of the restaurant building added in above the ground floor level.

1 comment:

  1. Peter.
    According to Joseph Natanson biography, Ivor Beddoes painted the drapery and Natanson worked on the most surrealistic paintings. He said there was a man who was head of FX department at Pinewood who supervise their painting work, but he didn’t mention his name. I guess Les Bowie.
    He always talks about the ballet sequences paintings but never mentioned the other matte paintings on the film, probably by Bowie, Judy Jordan and maybe Joan Suttie.
    Natanson was recruited by art director Hein Heckroth who saw some of his surrealistic paintings on a gallery and asked him to work on his next film. Natanson after that first experience on film business, he made a trip to Italy and when at London again, looking for another matte job, was approached by Korda who was looking for matte artists, so he went to work at Shepperton matte department.