Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Red Shoes

Why do you want to dance?
Why do you want to live?
Well, I don't know exactly why, but... I must.
That's my answer too.

For many an obsessed artist, and even those who only may be able to live vicariously through them, to live is to create. Biological necessities, homeostasis - they're merely a means to support the reach for artistic perfection. Most would say love and human connection are as necessary as the very breaths we take, but select impresarios like Boris Lermontov find such things as distractions from greatness. Urges that should be suppressed if one is to reach the pinnacle so desperately sought by someone who must dance, for it is life.

THE RED SHOES from 1948 is well known for being among the favorite films of late 20th century directors such as Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma. The film's influence is very evident in their (and many of their contemporaries') work, from the gorgeous color palate to the explorations of the real vs. the imagined and even a touch of psychosis. It is the ultimate statement on the calling some receive for a life devoted to the arts. A life with little room for the things humans tend to chase like relationships and families. The "family" in the prodigy's life are comprised of similarly driven individuals who just can't reconcile the white picket fence scene.

Vicky (Moira Shearer) is a natural. Her talent is evident to Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), who invites her to join his esteemed company of ballet dancers. He recognizes a likemindedness in her, not shared by his former star ballerina (Ludmilla Tcherina), who has left the troupe to get married. Foolish girl.

Lermontov also employs Julian (Marius Goring), a composer who will go on to create "The Red Shoes", which will prove to be the latest masterpiece from Ballet Lermontov. The ultimate showpiece for Vicky, whose craft flowers exponentially during the film. But unlike Lermontov, Vicky is still a human being, subject to the intervention of human nature. Her heart and soul intact.  Vicky and Julian begin to fancy each other. By the time Julian expresses that when he is old he will always remember her love, fates are sealed.

Based upon a Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name, THE RED SHOES is so far beyond the standard issue tragic show biz weepie. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, undeniable impresarios themselves, elevate potential clichés to levels that make the time worn fairy tale ideas seem entirely new. As inventive as their screenplay may be, it is their filmic artistry that creates a classic. Their direction emphasizes high style that so suits the material it is as if they created the story from scratch. It is noteworthy that in addition to the Andersen story, THE RED SHOES is also reputed to be based on Ballets Russes impresario Sergei Diaghilev.

The gods of cinema were surely smiling down on THE RED SHOES, with Jack Cardiff's astonishing cinematography (note that shimmering sea) and Robert Helpmann's choreography of the title ballet, a truly mesmerizing 15 minutes of film. During the "Red Shoes" performance,  Vicky will suffer conflicting visions, the faces of the two key men in her life, both fighting for her soul. The red shoes may have a life of their own. The ultimate victor is indeed a jealous sort, perhaps leaving a mere spotlight on the stage by final curtain.

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