The Red Shoes Reviews
The only true bad part of the film is the moment when you realize that all ballets aren't productions by The Archers. For if they were, I would be constantly clamoring, like the youths in the first part of the film, for front row seats. Also, and I know this sounds crazy, but it will change the way you look at color films. I felt like I was a child of the 60's who just got his paws on his first color television. All in all, a simply astounding picture.
Clearly The Red Shoes inspired Black Swan. I contend that the latter not only owes a debt to the former, Swan owes it's entire existence to this Archers masterpiece. Not only did Aronofsky lift many of his sequences and storyboards from this film, the thematic concerns, the Bergman-esque exploration of the meaning of art, is virtually identical.
Throughout the years, the term "melodrama" has taken on a negative connotation (thanks Douglas Sirk), but The Red Shoes implores one to recognize that melodrama is extremely powerful if handled correctly. No wonder this film is held in such high esteem, not only as a British nature treasure, but as a classic of film itself. It's one of those rare gems that reminds you of why you love the cinema.
In fact, the `Red Shoes Ballet' alone is enough to recommend this movie in the strongest terms. Also in the cast is P&P regular Marius Goring, as the composer pushed aside for the lure of the stage. Walbrook, as the emotionless impresario who is only alive within the confines of his art, is superb, and perhaps only his role as Theo in `Colonel Blimp' served him better.
Above any other subject, there's dancing. The Red Shoes boasts an epic, almost fifteen-minute-long dance sequence that seems lifted directly from a dream. Not only is it masterfully assembled, it seems to be born from an artistic vision way before its time, something that could even belong in any experimental piece today. Vibrant colors, majestic music, amazing set design and camerawork... definitely breathtaking and one of the main reasons to watch this film.
However, when the dream world vanishes, The Red Shoes thrusts its viewers back into the raw, almost macabre reality of Victoria Page, a young dancer torn between her love for a man and the sacrifices she is demanded from the producer that will maker her 'the greatest ballerina in the world'. With dark and surreal undertones that transform her life into something of a musical tragedy, the film has an unforgettable atmosphere in which truth and fiction become intertwined. There's also an inescapable aspect, that of fate, which is rather in tune with the fairytale source of the story: the "spirit" of dancing itself, the one true element that has dominion over her freedom of choice, the one thing she can't give up.
This is definitely one of the most intense films about the creative -and destructive- power of art I've ever seen, and I'm sure one of the most influential ones.
I know next to nothing about ballet. My knowledge begins and ends with ballerinas, pointe shoes, tutus, and pirouettes. I've never even been to a performance (though, I would like to go, especially after seeing this). I still can appreciate a good ballet movie, though, and The Red Shoes is indeed one of them.
Is there room for any distraction in the drive for perfection in art? Boris Lermontov, impresario of a famous and successful ballet company, feels there is not. He loses one prima ballerina to love, and sees his new young ingĂ (C)nue, Victoria, following down the same path. In Boris's mind, the Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Red Shoes rings true, once the dance begins, it should consume all. It is the only thing that matters. Heart and mind and soul must be in the performance. Vicky initially wants nothing more from her life but to dance, but by the end of the movie, she has to choose between her passion for ballet and her passion for the rest of her life. Alas, some decisions are too difficult to make.
One of the coolest parts of The Red Shoes are the performances. Elaborate choreography and costumes are made even more impressive by the excellent special effects (especially for the 1940's!) that augment Victoria's performances as she completely submerges herself in the music and the dance. The imaginative and surreal sequences takes us from the passive perspective of the audience to a view from the other side, where the dancer transcends performance and accepts the dance as their reality. The rendition of The Red Shoes ballet that comes about halfway through the movie was my personal highlight of the entire film. It's really awesome.
For a movie like this to thoroughly impress someone who doesn't have any particular fondness for dancing or dancing movies, well, that just lets you know how good it must be. On a technical, aesthetic, artist, and entertainment level, The Red Shoes is classic. I definitely look forward to seeing it again. Film lovers, don't hesitate.
The Red Shoes is a breathtaking film, a perfect marriage of spectacular visuals and a slow-burning, heartbreaking story. It blends the original fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen with powerful undercurrents about art, obsession, jealousy and devotion. The whole thing is held together by Powell and Pressburger's trademark direction, which blends fantasy and reality effortlessly, taking the audience on a highly imaginative journey. The first time out you will be so overwhelmed you won't know what to think, save that the film is something very, very special.
Dance has always been a popular subject on film; even Metropolis has several minutes of it, as Maria's robotic double seduces her audience of impressionable voyeurs. But notwithstanding the other problems of most mainstream efforts (Grease, Flashdance, Step-Up etc.), there are many examples of dancing being used to either needlessly pad out a film or to disguise narrative shortcomings. On the one hand, we have the twenty minutes of roller skate dancing in Heaven's Gate (which is about twenty minutes too long). On the other hand we have the ending of The Millionairess, with Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren waltzing on the balcony with nothing but contempt for their viewing public.
The Red Shoes' first big strength is that it falls into neither of these traps. The dance sequences in it are not only beautiful, but they are filmed with the same sense of discipline and restraint exercised by the ballet teachers when drilling the dancers. Although the film is over two hours long it never feels baggy, because the dancing is kept to a minimum and only used to initiate a plot point or important piece of character development.
This is particularly true in the centre of the film, when the whole of 'The Red Shoes' ballet (written specifically for the film) is performed on screen. Like many older films, the dance sequences are filmed in long takes with straightforward editing, to give a sense of scale and the level of physical preparation which went into choreographing the dance. But more than that, this 20-minute sequence is filled with enough visual brilliance and imagination to rival anything in Moulin Rouge! or Spirited Away.
The Red Shoes is a classic Powell and Pressburger film because of the unique way in which it blends fantasy and reality. During the eponymous ballet, we drift between the realistic portrayal of the dance, as something being performed on a physical stage, and the more fantastical view of the world which is coming entirely from the mind of the central character. In one magical moment the red shoes magically appear on Vicky Page's feet, and as she dances with the shoemaker she sees in his face the faces of the different men dominating her life. These touches come so quickly and so seamlessly that it is a challenge to say where we are at any given moment. But there is enough beauty and passion in these scenes to prevent us from getting lost or confused.
The Red Shoes is often cited as one of the most visually extraordinary films ever made - a moniker which it thoroughly deserves. Of all the films made in the golden age of Technicolor, this is probably the best (pipe down, Wizard of Oz purists: it's not that good). It's not just that the colours are so perfectly rendered on screen, but they are used symbolically and sparingly to convey the deeper themes of the picture. Take the scene where Maurice Lermontov is picking out the exact pair of red shoes that Vicky will wear for the ballet. What could have been a simple showcase for Jack Cardiff's cinematography becomes a multi-layered and intriguing scene which hints at the nature and motives of certain characters.
As you might have guessed by now, The Red Shoes is not centrally a film about ballet. You certainly don't have to be a fan of ballet to enjoy it. The original fairy tale is about a singular passion which comes to dominate a person's life. That passion for dancing is made physical in the magical shoes. which force the wearer to dance forever, until - in the original version - she cuts off her own feet and dies. And while there may be nothing quite so graphic in this version, the ending is every bit as earth-shattering.
Vicky Page, played brilliantly by Moira Shearer, is a young woman who desires nothing more than to dance. In one of the film's key scenes, Lermontov questions her about why she wants to dance. She asks him, "why do you want to live?"; he replies, "I don't know exactly why, but I must" and she repeats his answer. Page's talent is something that she does not fully understand, and Lermontov gives her a chance based solely on her technical abilities. But as the film moves on, his tutelage develops into something a lot more personal, and Vicky is forced to question her raison d'etre still further.
The Red Shoes is a brilliant examination of jealousy and obsession, centred around the conflict between art and love. Both inspire great levels of devotion, whether to ideals (the art of dancing or the dream of love) or to practical gains (money or marriage). But unlike many modern films, The Red Shoes keeps a lid on this jealousy until the very last scenes. There are several moments throughout of Lermontov and Julian Craster essentially fighting for control of Vicky, both as a person to be loved and as a object to be marketed. But these conflicts are never directly over the girl, with most of their conversations surrounding individual sections of music, interlaced with tart remarks about standards and ambitions.
Vicky is caught in the middle of a powerful love triangle consisting of love, art, and the gifted individual. On the one hand, she is drawn to Lermontov, who offers her success and nurtures her talent but cannot allow her to love anyone. He despairs at his prima ballerina who leaves the company to get married, remarking: "a dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love will never be a great dancer. Never.". On the other hand, there is Craster, a talented composer who is devoted to Vicky whilst wanting to further his own career via the opera. He is the only one who can offer her love, but the sting in the tale is that her talents must come second to his ambitions.
In the climactic final scene, we see these two forces come to blows as Vicky breaks down and does not know what to do. After Craster leaves, Lermontov consoles her and she prepares to perform. But suddenly, clad in the red shoes, she dances out of the theatre, all the way to the railway station and to her tragic end. Many might questions this small inconsistency (why is she wearing the red shoes at the start of the ballet?), but as Powell pointed out it makes sense when we examine what motivates her to leave the theatre. Did she choose to go of her own free will and love for Julian, or did the shoes make her go against her will?
The Red Shoes is a magnificent achievement, with fantastic central performances, breathtaking visuals and a wonderful soundtrack. Its influence can be seen in most of the great Hollywood musicals of the 1950s and 1960s, and there has never been a film about dance (or ballet) which has captured the art in such a fascinating manner. It is hard, however, to call it Powell and Pressburger's best film, because of their extraordinary body of work. One thing is for sure - Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan has a very hard act to follow.
Probably the main problem is that I'm not a ballet fan, and that's entirely what the film is about. I was a bit lost, because I don't know enough about the form to even know whether what I'm watching is good or crappy. I thought the story was a bit lame too, being a simple (or maybe not so simple...was there actually a love triangle or not?) tragic love story. There was a whole sequence of storyline in the beginning that seemed really unnecessary to that which followed. I was hoping for a more magical fantasy type film similar to the fairy tale for which the film (and the ballet within) is named. Then again, based on the ending, I guess it was in a way.
That's not to say that there isn't much to like about this film. In typical Michael Powell style, the color is brilliant. The dance sequences are well-done from a technical standpoint. And being a former college theatre nerd, I really enjoyed the "behind-the-scenes" stuff, showing how a stage production is put together.
Ultimately, this film is one that I'm glad I saw, but I probably won't watch again.