The Red Shoes (1948)
October 13, 2021 11:15 PM - Subscribe

In this classic drama, Vicky Page is an aspiring ballerina torn between her dedication to dance and her desire to love. While her imperious instructor, Boris Lermontov, urges to her to forget anything but ballet, Vicky begins to fall for the charming young composer Julian Craster.

The team which is making this unique and extremely difficult film is a brilliant one. First, the great Leonide Massine, probably the most famous male dancer in the world and one of the outstanding figures in the whole history of ballet. In the film are several ballets in which he dances; one of them is his own ballet La Boutique Fantastique which he has translated for this film.
-- Ballet Today Magazine, 1948

The Red Shoes (1945) - The most "imaginative" and elaborate backstage musical ever filmed, and many have called it great. The film contains a 14-minute ballet, also called "The Red Shoes", based on a Hans Christian Anderson story about a wicked shoemaker who sells an enchanted pair of slippers to a young girl. Delighted at first with the slippers in which she dances joyously, she discovers that the slippers will not let her stop dancing - and the bewitched, exhausted girl dies. The film's story is, of course, the same story, spelled out in more complicated terms, with the shoemaker in the ballet (Léonide Massine) replaced by the megalomaniac ballet impresario (Anton Walbrook). The exquisite young Moira Shearer is the ballerina; the cast includes Marius Goring as the young composer, Robert Helpmann, Albert Basserman, Ludmilla Tcherina, and Esmond Knight. Blubbery and self-conscious, but it affects some people passionately, and it's undeniably some kind of classic. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger - master purveyors of high kitsch.
-- Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights in the Movies

But my main grouse is that Messrs. Powell and Pressburger never really give the audience a chance. The mixture of fact and fantasy is far too confusing. We began to settle down to a ballet made with Fantasia like sets that no stage - short of a stage-director's dream - could ever hope to produce, when all of a sudden Miss Shearer comes bouncing into the wings beside us for a costume change, and 'bang' goes the illusion. ('Bang' should also go the gun that shoots the director.)

Films like this are very jolly if made as an excuse for the cast to have a month on location in Monte Carlo. But what is their function? Are they meant to 'say' or 'do' anything? I have a feeling that the answer from Messrs. Powell and Pressburger would be solely in the language of £ s. d.
-- Roger Wood, Ballet magazine, vol 5, No 8, Aug-Sep 1948
Currently streaming on HBOMax and Criterion Channel.
posted by fleacircus (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The site above has some interesting reading including a scorching interview with Moira Shearer.
posted by fleacircus at 11:26 PM on October 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

Everything you ever needed to know about ballet.... ;-)

The word "surrealism" was coined to describe Massine's ballet "Parade".
posted by sammyo at 3:38 AM on October 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

There's a moment at the end of the film when Vicky - for reasons I will not disclose for spoiler reasons - asks Julian, "take off the red shoes". She is actually asking him to help her take off the literal red shoes she is wearing at the moment; but until he bent over to do that, I sincerely thought she was giving him a bit of metaphoric advice about his own artistic pursuits. That really struck me, particularly as someone who had some trouble taking off some red shoes of her own.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:37 AM on October 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Definitely the or one of the best works of the Archers production team.

For me, this is one of those great movies that blew me away the first time I saw it. But like Black Narcissus which did the same, repeat viewings are hard. Sure, finding the subtle things are interesting, but these kinds of movies, ones I know the broad strokes...

Of all the characters, everything revolves around Anton Walbrook's impresario.
posted by Fukiyama at 10:41 AM on October 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yeah Lermontov is the only character with a little bit of depth.

It's an interesting comparison to, IDK, Whiplash, where JK Simmons' character is a far shittier person, yet still, that film makes an argument that that's what you do to achieve the upper reaches of excellence. But in The Red Shoes Lermontov is a bit less monstrous. Neither of our heroes is happy about their first day at Lermontov's production company, but their treatment is more cold, yes, but fair. They feel the chill, but they don't really have any complaints about being asked to do the work. They prove themselves, they reach the inner circle and make friends and even family. Yet the movie asks you to also see that as monstrous in comparison to a rather hackneyed/Disneyish True Love.

So like TRS is "This seems fine-to-marvelous, but what about [heart emoji]?" whereas Whiplash is like, "This seems shitty, but what about [star emoji]?"

P&P films are always a little more fun and light than I think they're going to be. I guess that's the kitsch part of the "high kitsch" lol. Though I actually had to stop watching Blimp because it felt so insubstantial; the dosage level of posh bonhomie made me cough it back up.

The ballet within the movie was pretty wonderful. I was amazed and impressed they told the whole story (even if the imagery veers into some pretty white colonialist moralizing.) It always feels like a bit of a week copout when films don't show any of the product. Though that's also kind of the funny joke about The Phantom Thread; the dress they show looks like shit.

Also the shot up the high weedy steps is amazing.
posted by fleacircus at 12:30 PM on October 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm not a huge fan of Powell/Pressburger movies, but I have no problem with this one, as over-ripe as it is.
posted by acrasis at 4:01 PM on October 14, 2021

fleacircus, thanks for posting that Moira Shearer interview!
posted by winesong at 2:54 PM on October 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

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