I regret to state that this week I’ve had too much on my plate and so have been unable to make my new episode of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” as of yet. It will probably not be done until the weekend. In the meantime, I still don’t want to miss the visual index on The Film Experience and so I will be right now submitting the shot I choose immediately, with limited commentary beforehand so that I can still have stuff to say about the film when I get to making the episode.
Nathaniel R.’s latest choice in film was Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 ballet classic The Red Shoes, one of the most lovely pictures I’ve ever seen and I don’t think its a stretch to say a stand-out part of my personal canon. Telling the story of a ballet production of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale, the film focuses on, among the aspects of the production’s creation, the tug-o-war for the will of star ballerina Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) between her love for the production’s composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring) and her passion for the art of ballet under the strict control of the legendary Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook).
At the center of the film is one of the most brilliant dance performances of all time and I swore to myself immediately that the shot I chose would be from this segment of film alone, as Vicky and co. debut The Red Shoes to the audience – both in-world and in the cinema. And part of what I adore about this scene, other than its remarkable choreography and design – with cloudy and shimmering color all around and canted bent houses and carnivals – is how absolutely candid it is about mixing the artifice of both ballet and film in order to provide something more operatic, expressionistic, and cheat its way into making the film audience feel the same way about the performance as the cheering ballet audience within the film. Not only that, but it gives us a bit of a peek into the mindset of Vicky, mixed into the pathos and drama of the Andersen tale so that we no longer look at the tale as parable, but instead as one story made out of intertwining passions and plotlines.
It’s essentially a more organic form of what Darren Aronofsky did in Black Swan, but nowhere near as bold or impressive as Powell and Pressburger did here.
Anyway, I wanted to have my cake and eat it too, but in the end I could only pick two of those elements of the central ballet that I mentioned to showcase – the cinematic artifice and especially the psychology.
That’s the cobbler character within the tale of “The Red Shoes”, seducing the young girl Vicky plays, while transforming into both Lermontov and Craster. Maybe it’s a bit of a cheat since there are hidden cuts within this one “shot” (though calling them hidden is a bit too much credit), but it’s all the same to see this twisted undecided world of passion Vicky has to face once the ballet is over leaking into the production right now (as far as she knows) and affecting her performance more than we’d expect to know. It’s super overt but why not? This is literally seconds before the stage turns into an endless color mixing abstraction where Vicky will simply dance as it is merely her and the air that lifts her. This is one of the only points in this dramatic movie where we get to have our drama heightened to the imagination of the designers and it so fucking worth it. So I’m all for the overtness.
Now I know I said “limited” and I know it seems like I said a lot, but I promise when I get the new episode up I WILL have more to say on both this scene and the movie as a whole. This ain’t my favorite scene in one of my favorite movies for nothing, I tell you hwat.