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THE CLASSICS

'The Red Shoes' shines anew

After combating mold, dirt and shrinkage, a 21/2-year restoration of the 1948 Technicolor stunner culminates at Cannes.

May 17, 2009|KENNETH TURAN | FILM CRITIC

To get rid of the mold, Whitehead had to both use ultrasonic cleaners and hand-clean parts of the negative frame by frame with perchloroethylene, commonly known as perc, a hazardous fluid usually used in dry cleaning.

Another problem discovered early on was that "there were thousands of visible red, blue and green specks caused by embedded dirt and scratches." Once all this was dealt with, Gitt remembers, "we breathed a big sigh of relief, we thought we were free and clear." It was then that yet another problem, negative shrinkage, was discovered.

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A Technicolor issue

As its name indicates, three-strip Technicolor was shot with three different negatives, and over the course of time some of the negatives had shrunken to different sizes. Also, it turned out that the camera had been out of adjustment for much of the shoot, and the equipment Technicolor had originally used to adjust for that was no longer functional. As a result, the images looked like a 3-D movie without the glasses, with red and green fringes around the sides.

These problems, and others, including the "flickering, mottling and 'breathing' " of the image, were all corrected via digital restoration to the point where "The Red Shoes" actually looks better now than it ever has. "In 1948, images were fuzzy by today's standards," Gitt explains. "And because there was more information on the negative than could be printed at the time, we got a lot more off it than they were able to do when the film first came out."

Those red shoes have never looked redder, or more alluring, than they do today.

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kenneth.turan@latimes.com

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