Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Red Shoes

"Why do you want to dance?"
"Why do you want to live?"

A young amateur ballerina called Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) meets famed ballet producer Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) at a ballet after party, impressing him enough to invite her to join his company. At breakfast the next morning Lermontov also meets an inspiring young composer by the name of Julian Craster (Marius Goring) and he too is invited to join the company. The two talented youngsters begin to work their way up through the company ranks as a romance blossoms between them. There are tough decisions to be made however when it comes to a choice between ambition and love.

I bought The Red Shoes of Blu-Ray about three or four years ago after hearing Martin Scorsese say it was one of his favourite films. Now I’ve finally seen it I can see why someone would enjoy it on an artistic and technical level but it left me feeling very bored.

The first thing to strike me about the film was its wonderful use of colour. Everything is so bright and vivid and it’s incredibly striking. Although Technicolour had been invented in 1916 it wasn’t widely used in the film industry until the 1940s. After the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, studios began to think of the medium as the future. The use of colour in The Red Shoes is stunning and is definitely one of the highlights of the film for me. I wondered if the colour was made to be so bright and vivid because the directors were working in a relatively new and unexplored medium, just as today 3D films seem to make an extra effort to have things poking out of the screen at the audience. Unlike 3D which is in my view rarely if ever improves a film, the colour in The Red Shoes most definitely enhances the viewing experience. If you are to watch it, it is definitely worth paying a little extra for the Blu-Ray version as it is beautiful to look at.  

The plot revolves around a story within a story with Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tail The Red Shoes being performed inside the film. I was never really interested in the characters and I think this is because the film was very predictable. I was always one step ahead, able to anticipate what was coming next. This was true even of the shocking ending which I worked out just a couple of minutes earlier. This isn’t a film with twists or surprises. Even so I thought that the ending was done very well and I loved the thirty seconds on stage after the ‘surprise’. I thought it was beautiful and moving. One of the problems I had with the film was my indifference to ballet. I’ve tried to enjoy it a couple of times when I’ve been to see ballet and although I have huge admiration for the ability of the dancers I can’t help but find it confusing and dull. I’d love to be able to say I can follow a ballet but I just can’t. As about a third of the film is purely dancing I often found my mind wandering to other things.

Although I’m no ballet fan I did find the performance of The Red Shoes ballet sometimes interesting. The fairy tail element peaked my interest a little and it felt almost surrealist at times. I was reminded of Disney’s Fantasia at various moments. The prolonged dance scene half way through was also very well edited. The costumes’ were also well designed and the music, although not to my taste, was excellent. Occasionally the film was overacted, perhaps in part due to the cast been predominantly ballerinas first, actors second. I let this go slightly as a lot of the cast were working in their second or third language. Both leads were very good and Anton Walbrook stood out as the charismatic but vicious impresario. Another thing I liked was to see London’s Covent Garden as it was in the 1940s. It’s an area I’ve been though many times and looks very different today. The same is true of Paris and Monte Carlo which are also interesting to see over sixty years ago.

For me The Red Shoes is a lot like ballet itself. It is admirable and I wanted to enjoy it but I often felt bored and kind of couldn’t wait for it to be over.           


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