(1948) directors Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Now, that is what Technicolor is all about!
Long on my list of films to see, I just missed the opportunity to see the new print of the film that was released about a year ago when it was playing in theaters. But this new Criterion Collection disc features that same restored print, and I have to say, Technicolor never looked better. And while the images look lustrous and wonderful, the film itself is a masterful work by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, England’s greatest film-making duo of the 20th century. And yet, this was the first time I saw The Red Shoes, and sadly only one other of their films have I ever seen.
Based on the Hans Christian Anderson “fairy tale” about a girl who longs for a particular pair of red shoes, but once she puts them on, is bewitched, for the shoes dance and dance endlessly, first through pleasure and then to literal death. In this case, the scene is the London ballet, with a Maestro who creates great ballet and great talents (Anton Malbrook), and his two latest proteges, a composer (Marius Goring) and a dancing ingenue, the lovely Moira Shearer. Malbrook’s maestro leads them to create a ballet of Anderson’s story, which plays out a bit like a “film within a film” and leads them to great commercial and artistic success. But when he finds out that they have fallen in love with one another, the maestro connives to bring about a tragedy much like that of the Anderson story.
The ballet sequence of the film is fascinating, starting out as a more naturalistic stage presentation featuring the characters in the diegetic narrative. But then quickly it turns into a dream-like segment, with the ballet played out to the music on strange surreal settings, well-removed from the theater and the rest of the story. The lush designs are still quite theatrical, but the ballet is a dream/nightmare, portraying and inner story as well as the surface story.
Shearer is quite the Technicolor effect herself with her luscious red hair. The saturated tones of the now outdated color process offer a lurid and vivid visual world, nothing like any reality I’ve ever seen. The film is perhaps one of the greatest achievements in the Technicolor process.
And the film is quite something indeed.