' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: The Red Shoes

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday's Old Fashioned: The Red Shoes

My Dad recently asked for a list of 10 films he needed to see. Naturally, one of the films I included on this list was my beloved “Atonement.” And when we spoke via phone on Easter Sunday he advised that he had watched “Atonement” and that while it had moved him intellectually, it had not necessarily moved him emotionally. I could not have disagreed more. Granted, it did move me intellectually (not that I would ever classify myself as an intellectual), but it moved me even more emotionally. Tremendously so. After all, that is primarily what I am on the lookout for at the cinema, to be moved emotionally.

I could not help but return to this conversation when roughly 24 hours later I attended a screening at The Music Box of “The Red Shoes” (1948), Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s much ballyhooed ode to a ballerina torn between her love and her love of dance. Intellectually, the film was rather sterling. It is supremely crafted, every piece of the screenplay fitted to carry us to a gorgeously melodramatic conclusion. It is wondrous to look at, filmed in sadly extinct Technicolor. I can imagine the esteemed Roger Ebert pouring over this with a filled auditorium in one of his famed shot-by-shot sessions because there is just so much there to see and analyze. And that’s all well and good. If you want to know how to structure a movie, “The Red Shoes” might be a mighty fine place to start. If you want to know how take a moviegoer’s breath away, however, I might suggest starting somewhere else.

Loosely based on Hans Christen Anderson’s fairytale, “The Red Shoes” chronicles young redhead Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) being sculpted into an a primo ballerina by Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), brilliant but ruthless, before falling in love, as she must, with Julian Craster (Marius Goring), the composer hired by Lermontov to create the music for his latest masterwork……The Red Shoes. The ballet, filmed in an elongated sequence that casts aside the pesky forum of a real ballet for something specifically cinematic, is a smash! Vicky could be the greatest ballerina Boris has ever known! Alas, in the cruel eyes of Boris her affair with Julian can only interfere with her abilities. “A dancer who relies on the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer.” Tell us what you really think, Boris! He fires Julian. Vicky goes with Julian. Until Boris chooses to resuscitate The Red Shoes, and their allure is too much for Vicky to ignore, leading to consequences of romantically inclined folly.

I can’t shake from my mind the notion that is the sort of cinematic venture which I typically lap up like a Potbelly’s coffee shake, so what happened? The primary problem seemed to stem from the all-important Vicky/Julian liaison. Not much groundwork is laid for it and when it appears it moves from its ignition to full-fledged Forever And Ever in a single scene. And that’s fine – movies do this all the time – but its transition is less than inspiring, born out of storytelling necessity. It felt a bit Cliff Note-y, which is to say it felt like this: “Vicky Loves Julian. Vicky Must Decide Between Julian And Ballet. Conflict Ensues.”

More convincing is Walbrook who does a masterful job embodying someone so devoted to his profession that his devotion transforms him into an villain, something I suspect he realizes but does nothing to quell because he’s shrewd enough to realize it only aids his job performance. It may have been 62 years ago but he’s actually less hammy than Vincent Cassel in “Black Swan.” In the end he’s like a raving gymnastics coach, pushing his prized pupil to her limits, enraged that she would dare find something more meaningful than The Red Shoes. “Life is so unimportant.” That’s what he says to her! Goodness gracious sakes alive.

And in the end he pushes her to the breaking point. Yet her ultimate demise didn't take me to the edge with her. I literally clasped my hands to my head when Nina Sayers went down for the count. I thought to myself “Well, that was well constructed” when Vicky did the same. Despite the Technicolor, it all came across as cold and calculated as Boris Lermontov.

I was so impressed. I prefer to be awed.


Andrew K. said...

You are in intellectual, Nick, don't let anyone tell you any different.

I'll veto any actual discussion on this because it's one of the scores of films I saw but have never really seen so I shall have to (re)visit it. But, I like what you say about that connection made and it's why I take my grading so seriously, and why I sometimes end up with strange grades. There was thing going around twitter that the movie you love are the ones that won't get above a B-, and I think if you REALLY love it how can it get such a low grade? But, it's part of the never ending argument as to what makes a great film, I suppose.

Nick Prigge said...

I AM an intellectual? I don't know. I'm not sold.

Yeah, I completely disagree with anyone that says a movie you love wouldn't get above a B- (and that's why, most of the time, I refrain from giving actual grades). Grades - in my view - shouldn't try to hit some level of how good the movie is in general or what the masses think of it but what YOU think of it. Ya know?

theoncominghope said...

I can see how the idea of Julian Craster's undying love would turn you off. I feel like the film is utter perfection until he steps in and interferes (and who isn't rooting for the bizarre yet compelling liaison between Vicky Page and Lermontov?)

Nick Prigge said...

You know, I kind of was rooting for Vicky and Lermontov. So maybe I was LIKE Lermontov, just watching angrily because that's not what I wanted her to do or where I wanted her to go. Hmmmmmm.