the red shoes
dir. michael powell & emeric pressburger
“You cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never.”
If Fred Astaire was in charge of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, I imagine it may have been something like The Red Shoes. I don’t know how often scholars would agree with that statement, but I returned to that thought time and time again, and I really don’t know how else to describe this film. It’s not as psychologically depressing (at least until the film’s finale), but the central elements of theatricality, attaining perfection, and going beyond one’s boundaries are all present, and portrayed with masterful direction.
I was really surprised by this film; dazzled even, in ways that few films are able to do. Shot in undeniable 1940s Technicolor, the story follows Vicky Page, an aspiring ballet dancer, during the production of a new show titled The Red Shoes. It’s a backstage drama–a story within a story–and makes you feel like part of the crew. The middle of the film is taken over by moments from the production, and if it isn’t the most stunning sequence of its kind in film history, I don’t know what is.
“Don’t forget, a great impression of simplicity can only be achieved by great agony of body and spirit.”
The film is very dance-heavy, and the decision was made to employ dancers who could act rather than actors who could dance, a practice not often employed today. The decision pays off beautifully.
Shot with the three-script Technicolor process (meaning that, as the camera rolled, three strips of film–red, blue, and green–were exposed simultaneously and later combined to form the final color image) meant that its restoration by UCLA (a project spearheaded by Martin Scorsese) was quite complicated and extensive, spanning several years. It is this final digital restoration that Criterion released, and is just so beautiful, guys, please watch it.
Criterion Spine #44
Available to stream in high definition on FilmStruck