The Red Shoes (1948)
Certainly one of the most iconic dance movies ever created, it's ironic to think that everyone involved with "The Red Shoes" reached a peak in the career with this film. They all went on to make more movies, but none compare with the fame they saw and still see from this picture. "The Red Shoes" is a staggering classic, still watched and still heralded today as a masterpiece.
The film itself tells the story of two innocents and a controlling dictator-like figure.
As the film opens, students burst into a ballet house, trying to get the best seats. Some of them are there to see the prima ballerina, but the group we are focused on is present to hear the music of one of the their college professors. As the ballet starts and the overture slowly swells, Julian Craster (Marius Goring) starts to feel uneasy. He recognizes the piece of music as his own. It dawns on him that his professor has ripped him off...he storms out of the ballet, irate.
But another scene is unfolding at this particular ballet. A woman is trying to get a well-to-do critic, producer, and ballet-connoiseur to come to a party she's hosting. At this party, she will let her niece dance to impress the man...but when he arrives at the gala he immediately shoots the idea down. She asks him why. In response, he asks her what she thinks ballet is—she replies that it's poetry in motion. He tells her that for him, it's a religion and he won't see it paraded around so crudely.
But this woman is clever, she sends her niece over to talk to this critic, named Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook in a great role). The niece, Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), perplexes Lermontov and gets him to invite her to his ballet.
During the night, in a fit of rage, Julian wrote Lermontov to tell him of the fraud that transpired. After a few hours, he felt guilty about it and now wishes to withdraw his letter before anything bad happens. Alas, too late, Lermontov has already read the letter; but is impressed with the persistence and passion of the young composer...he offers him a job.
Both Julian and Victoria end up at the ballet on their first day and they both witness how uncaring Lermontov can seem. He doesn't even give them a second glance, they are nothing special in his eyes. Still, the two hold fast to the idea of their artistry, that they are unique and talented...which they are.
A few weeks go by and Lermontov slowly starts to notice both of them a little more. He takes them on tour and there he hatches the idea for his next ballet...the red shoes.
The story of the red shoes comes from a Hans Christian Andersen tale—a woman is given a pair of magical red shoes to dance in. Although she is done dancing and ready to go home, the shoes are not. They keep dancing and dancing...eventually she watches time go by as she dances through the country. Then she dies and the red shoes are taken off.
Lermontov is determined to let Victoria play the lead in his new ballet, and he demands a completely new score from Julian. This is where the two young people meet. There is an instant connection between the two of them, partly because of the art they are creating. They butt heads many times, arguing over the timing of pieces...but soon they start to fall in love.
This will not sit well with Lermontov, he despises the idea of love. A ballerina should be invested in only one thing—her dance. To have two loves is impossible. The last prima ballerina that got married, Lermontov promptly fired, disgusted by her lack of commitment to the company.
So the young couple blithely spends the days together, unaware of the scheming and the brooding.
"The Red Shoes" is probably as famous as it is for the restoration of the piece. The work that was put into it really turns it back into a strikingly visual work. It's a wonder to look at. Scorsese has often referenced the piece as one of his personal favorites...that doesn't hurt the popularity either.
It's a film about obsession, madness, and pain. It's beautiful to look at, tragic in a sense, and certainly powerful to behold.
Near the middle of the movie there is an extended, hypnotic ballet that plays out—this is the beginning of the "spectacle" numbers you see in musicals. It happened in "An American in Paris" where Gene Kelly started going into a dream like world and the dance took at least ten minutes of time. Yet with "The Red Shoes", every moment of the dance is filled with some deeper meaning. Victoria hears waves of sea as people applaud, she sees a controlling figure in the ballet replaced with both Lermontov and Julian, she feels the music transform her into a flower, a cloud, and a bird.
"The Red Shoes" is a great movie, a daring movie, a haunting movie.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones