Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - The Red Shoes

Look, I'll just come right out and say it: I don't know how to talk about Powell & Pressburger's The Red Shoes. Whenever I try, I'm suddenly utterly incapable of forming words, let alone coherent sentences. It is one of the most beautiful films ever made, and its influence can be felt far and wide, in films as different as Raging Bull and Center Stage. It is a landmark film for many reasons, but when it comes the how it films dance, it is so brilliant that all I can do is sigh. The only way to explain it is to see it. Words cannot do it justice. This is one film where the old "a picture is worth a thousand words" maxim comes into play, for I do not think enough words could possibly be written about this film, which flashes 24 pictures of pure Technicolor perfection at you per second for 133 minutes (how on God's green Earth did Jack Cardiff not get an Oscar nomination for his cinematography here?!?!?).

I mean, take this shot from the ballet sequence (all dance on film begins and ends here. There is no topping this. Everyone should just stop trying):
Even in terrible quality, it's gorgeous. You know the story of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, right? Basically, girl puts on pretty pair of red shoes, cannot stop dancing, dies. Everything about this shot is so perfectly ethereal - as Moira Shearer's Victoria Page dances her part in the ballet, she keeps going even as the other fair-goers around her drop from exhaustion. Even the posters fall down. But our heroine keeps dancing. On and on. And on and on. And the colors. THE COLORS. Good GOD but they are wondrous.

The brilliant thing about The Red Shoes the film is how it parallels the fairy tale story. Victoria Page cannot stop dancing. Not for the love of her life. Not for anyone or anything. When Lermontov, the director of the ballet, asks her why she wants to dance, she gives the only response:

"Why do you want to live?"

Lermontov answers, of course, that he simply must, but it's a rhetorical question. To dance, for Vicky, is to live. There isn't one without the other.

Which is why, if forced (and CURSE YOU, Nathaniel, for forcing me to), I have to pick this as the film's Best Shot:

When Victoria first hears the audience's applause, this is what we see. Waves crashing on the shore of the stage. It's such a perfectly impressionistic moment, and the film is full of moments like this (especially during the ballet sequences, which could never EVER actually be reproduced on stage). But beyond the perfect metaphor of the shot, note that we have our three main characters in a triangle. Victoria in the foreground, with Lermontov and Julian in the background, almost overtaken completely by the image of the waves. They're the only two people watching that matter to Victoria, but what really, truly matters to her is the dance. And the audience's response. As a performer, I can speak to that high, and it is indeed like ocean waves - you let that applause wash over you like the most lovely ocean water, and try not to get completely swept up in it. You want to stay as grounded as you can. But there will always be people in the audience whose praise you crave, and even in the heat of the moment, as you're swept up in the love of the entire audience, you can spot them clear as day.

Basically, this shot is perfect on every possible level. As is most of The Red Shoes, but this is the one that means the most to me.

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