THE RED SHOES: A LUXURIOUS MODERN MIRACLE

FROM ARTFORUM

I actually attended a screening of THE RED SHOES earlier this summer. It was one of the most memorable cinematic experiences of my life.

It overwhelms you with its incredible timeless beauty.

A woman’s gloved hand turns the pages of a program, along with her male companion.

The camera assumes their point of view.

With this brilliant segue, directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger signal that we, the film audience, are these stylish patrons.

Placed squarely in the theatre, we begin our transition from watching THE RED SHOES (1948) the movie to watching The Red Shoes the ballet.

This gesture and its promise of a static, total vantage proves deceiving, as the astonishing fifteen minute dance that follows immediately transports us to a place far beyond the proscenium arch.

Propelled by the dreamlike cinematography of JACK CARDIFF and production designs of painter HEIN HECKROTH, the ballet becomes a protopsychedelic projection of the desires and conflicts of its prima ballerina VICTORIA PAGE (MOIRA SHEARER).

She must choose between the love of a man, composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring) and the love of her art, embodied by ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (ANTON WALLBROOK) – partnering with both in her mind’s eye and in that of the camera.

And still the red shoes dance on, threatening to send VICKY leaping to her death (both on and off the stage).

The affectation of Powell and Pressburger’s metadrama has long been a point of contention, as if ballet is somehow cheapened by the impossible staging and miraculous tricks of the eye and cinema likewise is insulted by the cultural pretensions of ballet.

But it is this hallucinatory magic made possible by the marriage of the two arts, in conjunction with the film’s portrayal of the grinding banalities of work (for the dancers are right back in rehearsal the next morning) that makes THE RED SHOES true to the experience of creation.

What is art if not part magic, part incessant striving?

A newly restored version of THE RED SHOES is now available on DVD and BluRay from THE CRITERION COLLECTION.

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