"The Red Shoes" DVD Review (Criterion Collection)

8/05/2010 Posted by Admin

"The Red Shoes"

DVD Review (Criterion Collection"

Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Written by Powell and Pressburger, 136 Minutes, Not Rated

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

In Hans Christian Anderson's ballet "The Red Shoes," a woman is tempted by a pair of red shoes that make her a beautiful dancer. When she puts them on, however, she cannot stop dancing, and she alienates her lover and dances herself to exhaustion and, ultimately, death.

British auteurs Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger are always ones for theatrics. They're interpretation of "The Red Shoes" is quite a unique one, taking the best of both cinema and ballet and filming both the ballet itself and interpreting the story into a wholly original narrative about the nature of ballet (and the artists behind it). It's quite a spectacle.

Anton Walbrook is Boris Lermontov, the head of a world famous ballet studio that is planning a production of "The Red Shoes." His regular dancer leaves the company upon a sudden engagement and marriage, and Lermontov, left without a star, is enraged by his art being sacrificed for something so trivial. He happens upon two young people of immense talent in their fields--Vicky Page (Moira Shearer), an up-and-coming ballet dancer, and Julian Craster (Marius Goring), a gifted composer. He employs Craster to compose the Anderson ballet, and Page to play the lead. When the two begin a romance of their own, however, potentially sacrificing again everything Lermontov is working for, he fights to tear the two apart.

The two main acts of the film are separated by a performance of the eponymous ballet itself, with Powell and Pressburger taking it right from the stage and placing it into a completely original and gorgeously designed series of sets that make it so much more massive and beautiful than it could ever be in a theatre. Still, though this is definitely a moment for the directors' outstanding visual sense to shine, Shearer and her spellbinding dancing completely steals the show.

The use of the ballet as Page's own "red shoes" is quite inspired, really--it's hard to imagine a better way to interpret such a ballet. And in doing so, Powell and Pressburger are able to have their cake and eat it too. The ballet is a major part of the film, and the fact that they can get so much out of such a brief dance sequence without losing focus of the rest of the film is pretty impressive.

However, the focus on the main plotting and the choreography may be responsible for the film's biggest problem, which is the complete lack of development for the romance that becomes the central conflict of the film.

There's not really a moment where we see the chemistry grow between Page and Craster--one moment they just work together, next they're lovers, and the eventual crumbling of the relationship (supposedly caused by Lermontov and "The Red Shoes") pretty much comes out of nowhere without much hint of a cause, aside from the fact that it's the end of the film and it has to happen. The final act descends into completely ridiculous melodrama--not unlike "Black Narcissus" from the previous year--and it nearly ruins the whole thing.

But the rest of the film is too strong to take too much of a beating from the few instances of poor writing. It's an extremely effective exploration of art and the power it can have over the gifted, and there's no better film about ballet out there.

Grade: B

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