Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Red Shoes

A friend did a great job for a recent blog-a-thon, something like theHey, Internet, Stop being such cynical f-ing douchebags blog-a-thon, which just seems endlessly entertaining. The idea is to write about a movie that just fills you with unbridled joy. I immediately wanted to write something, but then things got busy, and I only had that one day, so I didn't. But it's stuck in my mind. So I'm doing it now.

How many movies fill me with unbridled joy? A lot. Nights of Cabiria, All About my Mother, Beautiful Thing, the list is actually pretty long. But there was one movie that just kept coming up in my mind. I first saw it when I was about 15, and it captured my heart.

Powell & Pressburger's MASTERPIECE (yes, I'm yelling it at you) about a doomed ballerina who is forced to choose between the career she loves and the man she loves. WATCH THE TRAILER!

See, I'm Jewish (Russian/Eastern European) and Irish. Which means that for me to truly, to my very soul, love love love something, there has to be a tinge of melancholy to it. Some kind of sadness, like honey to bring out the flavor of your tea. Not that I don't love complete silliness like the Muppets, or Carol Burnett, but even as I write that I notice there is always some poignancy in their silliness; some humanity that takes the humor and drops it directly into your heart. Does the Red Shoes do that? Not really, but I LOVE IT ANYWAY! I love it for the dancing, the melodrama, the fabulous costumes, the insane dialogue, the dancing, the COLOR! that makes the film look like it's hand tinted. And of course, the timeless story of the girl who danced until her feet were stumps and then died. Love you, Hans.

The story concerns a ballet hopeful, Miss Victoria Page, played brilliantly by Moira Shearer, a fiery redhead who wants to dance so badly that she cannot separate it from her will to live

"Monsieur Lermontov, I am that horror"

Lermontov: Why do you dance?
Vicki: Why do you live?
Lermontov: I don't know why exactly....but I must
Vicki: Well that is my answer, too.

IT'S ON! Meanwhile, we are watching a young composer who is brought on to assist the orchestra after telling Lermontov that his professor stole much of his music for the ballet that Lermontov's company was performing, called "Heart Of Fire". From this scene comes one of my favorite lines, "Remember, it is more disheartening to have to steal, than to be stolen from.....good day. (drop sugar cube in cup and dismiss)

Did I mention that Lermontov is played by Anton Walbrook, an actor I just found out was half-Jewish, gay, and feld the nazis, as well as acted in four languages in his career? Well, it is, and I can honestly say that it's for me one of my favorite performances on screen ever. Ever.

I really love so much about this movie. I love that Ludmilla Tcherina cannot pronounce Julian Kraster, and says "kwastuw" instead. I love that Leonid Massine not only choreographed the whole thing, but also is supporting in it. I love that the supporting male ballet start looks about 50! See him here, as the dancing newspaper:

And can we talk about the costumes? There is one giant blue dress that's particularly insane. There's a 20 minute full ballet right in the middle of the friggin' movie! I LOVE IT! Granted, for some reason I particularly love the ballet docs, and movies, but this one just gets everything right. And since it's 1948 it's done in gorgeous stunning technicolor. Look at these shoes!

I won't get too plot heavy, but Vicki becomes a huge star, after Lermontov sees her dancing to a record in small theater in Stadler Wells:

Check out the red dots!

But she falls in love and leaves the ballet for Julian while they work on a new ballet, the Red Shoes.

Lermontov: The Ballet of The Red Shoes" is from a fairy tale by Hans Andersen. It is the story of a young girl who is devoured with an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of Red Shoes. She gets the shoes and goes to the dance. For a time, all goes well and she is very happy. At the end of the evening she is tired and wants to go home, but the Red Shoes are not tired. In fact, the Red Shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the street, they dance her over the mountains and valleys, through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on.

NO ONE ELSE ever dances the ballet of the Red Shoes, and she is brought back on the night of the premiere of Julian's piece to dance. Lermontov convinces her. WITNESS THE DRAMA!

He's tearing her a-pa-ha-ha-hart! Sadness! Melodrama! Maids screaming about curtain times in French! What is there for her to do?! I can't tell you. You'll have to see the movie. But I will tell you that Anton Walbrook's curtain speech is worth the price of admission.

I love this movie. I just love it. There's so much more. I won't bore you. But I will tell you that Martin Scorcese names this film among his most important influences. IT'S THAT GOOD.

"One day when I'm old, I want some lovely young girl to say to me, "Tell me, where in your long life, Mr. Craster, were you most happy?" And I shall say, 'Well, my dear, I never knew the exact place. It was somewhere on the Mediterranean. I was with Victoria Page." "What?" she will say. "Do you mean the famous dancer?" I will nod. "Yes, my dear, I do. Then she was quite young, comparatively unspoiled. We were, I remember, very much in love."

Victoria: Julian?
Julian: Yes, my darling?
Victoria: Take of the red shoes.


1 comment:

Vanwall said...

The dancing newspaper was Robert Helpmann, who always looked a little past his prime even in his prime, but he could dance like the devil - you may remember him as the Child Catcher years later in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". He's the choreographer for the Red Shoes Ballet here, and this was the single most influential dance on film ever, IMHO - Gene Kelly used it's influence to springboard his ideas in "An American in Paris", and "Singin' in the Rain", and many more choreographers used it's inspiration. I love this film, too, it's sumptuously good!