Tuesday, June 19, 2012
The Red Shoes. B+
Even those who consider ballet a complete bore (like me) will be caught under the spell of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes. Though it's definitely one of the most dazzling technicolor feats of all time, the film also benefits from one of the best restorations of any classic movie. If you have the Criterion DVD, I suggest you watch the small piece comparing the original print with the digitally restored version before seeing the film. It will only make the array of colors more alive and imaginative than they already are. It's truly one of the best looking films ever put together. It's also quite dark, a tone that I feel is really important in films about ballet. It's an art that requires so much skill and finesse that it can beat down on someone mentally perhaps more than any other physical activity. A lot of this also has to do with the expectation from the director, who cares as much about perfection as the dancer does. This creates a world of stress, anxiety, and often terror. Idealized ballet stories can be purely melodramatic, but in truth they work best when they acknowledge the dark side of this craft. Black Swan may be the most common reference point for this, yet The Red Shoes, while not out to thrill the viewer like Swan is, is arguably just as psychologically compelling. There's three central characters, Vicky, the dancer, Julian, the composer, and Boris, the ballet manager. The latter two are both fond of Vicky, yet it is the ruthless nature of Boris that drives the plot forward. His philosophy is that dancers essentially cannot have a personal life lest they let their emotions invade their performance. The only problem is that as Vicky rises to the top, he realizes that he loves her. Powell and Pressburger are considered among the best of British filmmakers, along with Hitchcock and Lean. I think what makes them stand out is the equal focus they put on visual grandeur and the depths of the mind. That's definitely on full display here. It may not make for ballet converts, but this is nonetheless filmmaking at its finest.