The Red Shoes (1948)

Written & Directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

My knowledge of “The Archers”, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, two giants of British cinema, is somewhat limited, as is my knowledge of this particular film. From the looks of it, and certain images like the one above, I always sort of thought it would be like a thriller version of The Wizard of Oz or something. True, it is a film about dance, and what the heck do I care about dance? But You could have said that about Black Swan, which was a ballet thriller, last year and yet it still found its way into my Top 5 for the year. Dance is an interesting thing. As a young heterosexual male I am told by society to not like dance, especially the kind like ballet. But in all honesty I do like it because it is art, just like film and music and numerous other things. It is infinitely beautiful and different, that much I know despite not knowing much about it or having seen much of it.

Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) knows this much too and is a promising young ballet dancer in London. She has a passion for dance and dreams of becoming the next big ballet star, so she signs up for the Ballet Lermontov, headed by the ballet big timer Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). At the same time a young composer accuses his music professor of lifting his work for one of Lermontov’s productions. The young chap, Julian Craster (Marius Goring), instead of getting back at his professor, gets a job with Lermontov, composing the score for his next ballet, The Red Shoes, based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and set to star the beautiful Vicky. Soon thereafter Craster and Page form a romance and wed, but Lermontov disapproves and forces Vicky to choose: become a legendary ballet dancer in his company, or become the beloved wife of Julian. The decision is not as easy as some might think.

Filmed in technicolor, The Red Shoes¬†takes advantage of everything under the sun in its production. The set design, art direction, costumes, make-up, everything seems perfectly suited for the format and Powell and Pressburger really bring out the bright, vibrant colors and make great use of the technicolor. Just as a visual spectacle this film works on a number of different levels. The colors are startling and tell a story all their own. The color brings out the fierceness of the dance and the subtle beauty of it. The screen is flooded with the boldness of the red contrasted with the paleness of Shearer’s skin and the penetrating eyes of Goring.

The film builds a solid backdrop before bringing together all these characters for the height of the film’s narrative: the performance of The Red Shoes. The single performance, which lasts at least 15 minutes, is sheer cinematic brilliance. Powell and Pressburger’s camera allow the audience to explore the stage more than a standard audience member, which allows for a more creative setting and more openness for the scene. It really breathes and flourishes. Everything that is great about this film can be summed up by this awesome scene and it alone makes the film worth watching, and sets the film as one of the better achievements in dance film, if not film in general. It really reminded me of a scene from Singin’ in the Rain, a favorite of mine, in terms of simple size, grandeur, and ability to take my breath away.

The romance of the film does not develop until the second half of the film, and the highs of the performance scene, which occurs somewhere near the middle of the film, make the rest of the film a bit of a letdown. After the climax happens and half the film remains, nothing would be able to live up to what has come before, but that is not to say that it is not solid filmmaking the rest of the way. As the relationships continue to grow and we realize the passion of Vicky for both dance and Julian, it is hard not to be pulled back into the ending, which is a powerful decision between passion and passion. I had a great time with this film and was engaged throughout.

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