Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Red Shoes (Powell. Pressburger. 1948)

"A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never."


At this point in my life I have seen three movies about ballet dancing. First was the brilliant, but completely different, Suspiria by Dario Argento. That film is about a coven of witches who run a ballet school. Other than that, I have seen two interestingly comparable films - Aronofsky's Black Swan (2010) and the 1948 Academy Award winning The Red Shoes. These two films are alike in many ways. The only difference is - one of them was entertaining. The other was not...

Black Swan and The Red Shoes both center around a young ballerina who has finally reached her big break. The social pressure eventually becomes too much for them and they each meet an equally unfortunate demise. The older of the ballet movies is a much better display of dancing and style. The Aronofsky film is much better at being entertaining.

Do not get me wrong, Black Swan was in no way trying to be The Red Shoes, but to be a film about ballet and not at least reference the Powell/Pressburger classic would almost seem ungrateful. These two films, made 62 years apart, feature similar shots and there is even a direct homage to the older film in Black Swan. The scores are similar and the acting is equally self-important. These are both films that can be called overly-dramatic.

The Red Shoes follows the story of two young people. Vicky Page is a ballerina who has skyrocketed to fame after joining a famous dance company under Boris Lermontov. Julian Craster is the man put in charge of writing the music for the new ballet in which Ms. Page will star. The two of them start a relationship that their boss,Lermontov, will not allow. He fires Craster for refusing to end the affair. Page goes with him, but her love for dancing is overpowering. She is given a choice - she can leave Craster and dance for the biggest company in the world, or she can leave the ballet and stay with her lover. Even the dilemma is overly-dramatic.

Like in the brilliant picture, Peeping Tom, Powell shows that he is an expert in expressing emotion through the usage of color in film. The art direction in The Red Shoes is exemplary with haunting reds against a pale white frame. The specifically ballet intensive scene features one of the most popping color schemes I have ever seen in a film. The audience knows that what they are watching is intense. The story of the ballet is the foreshadowing to the ending, and the colors represent the overall theme - jealously, death, passion and love.

With all of that being said, I honestly found The Red Shoes to be a bit on the boring side. The look of the film has dated splendidly, but the acting has not. Moira Shearer is extremely stiff and unlikeable as Vicky Page. I have no desire to sit and wait for her to make her ultimate decision between love and dancing. The supporting cast is laughably dramatic. It has been said that no art form takes itself more seriously than the ballet, but the actors take everything to the theatrical exploding point. Even the climactic scene in the film, when Craster falls to his knees begging for love, is hard to watch with any earnestly.

I have heard people call Black Swan a ripoff of The Red Shoes. If anything, Aronofsky may have been heavily influenced by Powell and Pressburger. But his film is significantly more entertaining. The Red Shoes does have an undeniably striking visual style, but so did Dog Star Man. That does not make a movie great on its own.

The Red Shoes: C

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