Since 2005 I have kept a list of every new film I have seen. With this film I have hit the 1000 mark. Before long, I’ll probably be hitting 2000.
This was a film long on my list of ones to see and said to have been an inspiration to directors like Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. That’s not to say its plot or screenplay is similar to their work, rather the way the directors utilize the camera and art direction to create a lush and amazing world. The story comes from the Hans Christian Andersen fable of a young girl who acquires a pair of magical red slippers that cause her to dance and, unable to stop, she begs an executioner to chop of her feet. He does and gives her a pair of wooden feet, yet she is haunted by the disembodied dancing feet.
Powell and Pressburger were a directorial pair in the United Kingdom, as well respected as Hitchcock or David Lean, yet their work has faded from the larger collective memory in the following years. For The Red Shoes, they took the Andersen fable and set it in contemporary (1940s) Europe. Boris Lermontov runs a prestigious ballet company and encounters two young up and coming artists: Victoria Page, a company ballerina and Julian Craster, a budding composer. Lermontov goes on to commission an adaptation of the The Red Shoes. Around the same time, the company’s prima ballerina announces her engagement which infuriates Lermontov who immediately lets her know she is no longer a part of his works. To replace her, he promotes Victoria Page, and this is where the trouble begins.
Lermontov is dangerously obsessed with his ingenues. His original prima announcing her engagement turns him into a petty, spiteful man who takes glee in letting her go. As similar things begin to develop with Victoria, we see Lermontov’s role as a metaphorical evil wizard take hold. He is jealous of any one who might break a dancer’s devotion to his will alone.
The most spectacular piece of the film is the 17 minute long ballet sequence that comes smack dab in the middle. The first half of the film is about the three individual strands of Lermontov, Craster, and Victoria coming together and the second half is about how the lives of these three are eventually torn apart. And what ties it all up is a visually stunning abbreviation of The Red Shoes ballet that will cause the viewer to ask some questions. From the start of the sequence, it is apparent that this is simply a dress rehearsal, yet then it starts incorporating what might be seen as subconscious thoughts of Victoria (the villain of the ballet flashing into Craster and then Lermontov suddenly), as the sequence continues Victoria moves into impossible landscapes that could in no way actually be on stage. And finally, everything pulls back to reveal the actual performance on opening night. This one sequence both serves to expose subconscious ideas and transition our characters through time.