February 2014 Blind Spot: The Red Shoes (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1948)

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Kicking off my first film in the Blind Spot series is The Red Shoes, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name. I was pretty curious to see this film, I’ve heard so many great things about it, especially its cinematography, vibrant colors, epic scope, fantastic performances and incredible dancing. I must say that this film impressed me a lot. It’s got such great scenes, the dancing ones being so magnificent and impressing and spectacular, scenes that pulled me in and never let me go.

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I like films that bring us behind the scenes of the entertainment industry, like Singin’ in the Rain and the more recent Black Swan, also set in the ballet world. Behind the great works of art, there is a lot of work and stress and much more than we can think of, something much more complex, always being a great subject to turn into a great story.
The Red Shoes started so randomly, showing us some characters without any information, without knowing whether they are a big part of the story or just episodic and I liked that. I liked that it took its time and started the story from the very beginning, it didn’t rush itself, it waited for everyone to meet each other, to evolve in a patient manner.

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The story focuses on Victoria Page, played by a real life ballerina Moira Shearer, and the conflict between her love for a man or her love for dancing. It takes us from the moment she meets Anton Walbrook’s character, Boris Lermontov, the manager of the Lermontov Ballet, who takes her on his team. After his prima ballerina decides to get married, he sees Victoria as a possible successor. He decides to adapt the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Red Shoes with Victoria as the lead. The story is about a young woman who likes to dance. She sees in a store a pair of red shoes. After buying the shoes she dances all day wearing them but when she gets tired and wants to stop she can’t seem to do it as if the red shoes want her to keep dancing. The story ends tragically with her dying unable to stop dancing.
The film works as a story-within-a-story, which is one of its greatest qualities. From the moment we find out about the story’s content, we know how the film is going to end like but we still keep watching. What is to come is so beautiful and tragic, even if we know the end.

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Like in every film of those times there is a great love story, a love triangle, between the main character, Victoria and another important character, Julian Craster, a young composer who works on the score of the Ballet Lermontov productions. Together with Lermontov, they form a love triangle but we don’t really know of Lermontov’s intentions, we are still not very sure of what he thinks of Victoria, if he is in love with her or not. He represents more Victoria’s love for dancing rather than an actual love, but it still counts as a struggle for Shearer’s character to choose between being together with the man she loves or doing what she always wanted and being a great star.
The dancing scenes are absolutely magnificent. I have never been to a ballet show although I intend to. That very long scene, of about 15 minutes, where they show the entire The Red Shoes show is spectacular. The film is worth seeing only for that scene. We don’t see the show as a spectator in the audience. There are some camera techniques used in the scene like slow motion and special effects that make it more poignant.
I think it’s one the best scenes in cinema. Also the end scene which is very powerful and emotional is brilliantly handled and a great conclusion to this wonderful story.

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The acting is great too. I don’t know how experienced was Moira Shearer in acting, but here she does a great job. Besides the brilliant work she put on stage dancing, she handled the non-dancing dramatic scenes very well. It’s a shame she didn’t do more films.
Anton Walbrook gives a great performance too as the cruel but appealing Boris Lermontov. His character has a pretty sad view on love. He is very good at what he does, he is ruthless when it comes to his job, but we still sympathize with him because of the natural way he is portrayed by Walbrook. He isn’t a one-dimensional villain, if he is a villain at all.
Marius Goring plays Julian Craster, a young composer who gets his big break working with the Lermontov Ballet. There isn’t much to say about this character. He is ambitious, he wants more than working for a ballet and he loves Victoria very much. I didn’t really understand his view on Vicky’s job later in the film, I kind of had a problem with that.
However, what I admire about these individuals are the many sides they have. They are not just some typical narrowly portrayed characters, they are much more complex than that.

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The cinematography and art direction are some the characteristics The Red Shoes is most famous for. Unfortunately, the quality of my video wasn’t that great and I didn’t get to appreciate the power of the colors in Technicolor and the epic shots at their best. There was still a lot to marvel at. The magnificent sets and epic shots are impressive. It adds to the epic scope of the film. I bet in 1948 it was a pretty ambitious and revolutionary film because it looks grander than most films at that time. I might be wrong. Anyway, I bet Moira Shearer’s hair and skin look radiant in HD.
The music was beautifully constructed by British composer Brian Easdale. Being a film set in the world of ballet , it also features a lot of classical music like Tchaikovsky The Swan Lake and Liszt’s Les Sylphides.

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If it were done today, it would have been much more different, more mystery, more thrilling and less melodramatic, more dark than tragic and it would definitely have a dark sex scene, possibly involving lesbians. I am pretty much describing Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 ballet psychological thriller, Black Swan. For fans of that film, I recommend they check this film.
I’m glad I added this film to my Blind Spot Series. It’s by far the best dance film I have seen so far. It may very well be a masterpiece. If you get to see this film, make sure you have the best video quality because the colors are extremely beautiful. A classic indeed.

A+

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