The Red Shoes (1948)
Based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale about a girl who dances herself to death after slipping into a pair of red shoes, The Red Shoes is a backstage ballet drama, not that you have to be a fan of toe dancing. It recalls a couple of American classics of the 1930s: Stage Door and What Price Hollywood?
It's Ginger Roger's character from Stage Door that sounds a warning all the more poignant in that it proved true in her real life: "At least she'll have a couple of kids to keep her company in her old age. And what'll we have? Some broken-down memories and an old scrapbook which nobody'll look at."
You'll be lucky to have that once you put those red shoes on.
What these movies have in common is the hard choices made by performers. In a broader sense, they are about placing anything ahead of the life God intended for us. If the lives of computer programmers filmed as well as backstage dramas, the same point might be made, so don't think you're off the hook because you don't have an audience.
Technicolor Pygmalion Dream
|Vicky can't resist the red shoes.|
The story, like all good morality plays, is simple. Moira Shearer plays Vicky Page, a talented young ballerina noticed by impresario Boris Lermantov, who develops a Pygmalion complex toward the talented beauty. German actor Anton Walbrook brings a self-possessed continental chic to Lermontov that makes his every scene a gem. Beneath the pleasant and assured exterior, though, is a demon of his art.
He does not demand much from Vicky: just that she denies herself the comfort of human companionship and everything else normal people call "life" in return for becoming a great dancer.
The brilliant young composer Julian Craster (played by Marius Goring) wrote her star vehicle - a ballet called "The Red Shoes," which he conducts. He challenges Lermontov for Vicky when the young couple fall in love. Vicky gives up her career, Craster pursues his to the neglect of his new wife, and Lermontov bides his time.
And seethes behind his continental chic.
An Entertaining, if Trippy Ballet
To show how much Bears know about ballet, the only thing this one can say is that ballerinas were not made of boiled leather and whipcord in 1948. Moira Shearer does all the stuff you expect from a gal in a tutu at a weight class above Ginger Rogers.
Much of "The Red Shoes" ballet is performed during the movie. Forget Swan Lake - or Black Swan. It has the look of a musical, with ballerinas in period costume en pointe. The Bear isn't much for ballet, but he enjoyed this ballet-within-the-movie very much.
During her dance, however, some odd elements start to be introduced, and before long we are in Vicky's Technicolor hallucinatory experience of her performance. Pretty trippy for 1948 and it reaches beyond the technical capabilities of its time, but is still compelling and psychologically revealing.
The ballet ends with her death from exhaustion. The red shoes are removed - to claim their next victim, we presume.
What Are Your Red Shoes?
The patience of Lermontov pays off, and Vicky returns to once more put on the red shoes. It is the very night of her (neglectful) husband's debut of his opera. The ending is probably not too hard to figure out, but the Bear won't spoil it for you, since he hopes you'll watch this lush Technicolor beauty that is not as well-remembered by the culture at large as it deserves. It is a wonderful movie for those "something different" moods and a nice "movie date night" choice.
Whether we're driven by crass ambition or a more noble sounding quest for artistic perfection, the engine is the same: pride. The Red Shoes is a simple tale beautifully filmed about the consequences of a disordered life. A life devoted to art can be every bit as disordered and destructive as one devoted to alcohol or sex.
Worse, because you seldom receive applause for those.
This movie invites the viewer to ask the question: what are my red shoes?