Monday, February 3, 2014

Movie of the Week – The Red Shoes

This week’s movie: The Red Shoes (1948).

A young ballerina Victoria Page is torn between the man she loves, rising star composer Julian Craster, and a career in Boris Lermontov’s ballet as prima ballerina, dancing The Red Shoes (based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story).

The Red Shoes is maybe the crowning achievement of the Archers (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger), the filmmaking team responsible for many of cinema’s greatest works. As usual, the Archers work with their frequent collaborators on the film, including: composer Brian Easdale (whose brilliant score won an Oscar), cinematographer Jack Cardiff (whose work is monumentally beautiful), and production designer Hein Heckroth (who usually worked with the Archers as an art director and costume designer, but for The Red Shoes he stepped up to produce un-matched work in 1940s cinema, and he won an Oscar for it; he would go on to have a strong career as a production designer, but The Red Shoes was his first). The film is probably the Archers’ high profile as it was nominated for Best Picture (but lost to Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, which also very good but not quite on the same level), their only nomination in the category.

The film stars Moira Shearer (a real life ballerina), Anton Walbrook (who is phenomenal in the role of Lermontov – just mesmerizing, and one of my all-time favorite performances), and Marius Goring. Featuring in support are Robert Helpmann, Leonide Massine, Albert Basserman, Ludmilla Tcherina, Esmond Knight, Austin Trevor, Eric Berry, and Irene Brown, a combination of strong character actors and world famous ballet dancers. Many of the actors frequently worked with the Archers as well.

The Red Shoes is a masterpiece, showcasing the true brilliance of the Technicolor look. It is a film that fully embraces itself as a piece of art, while also completely engaging the viewer emotionally. It is possibly the best film ever made (something I would argue strongly, as it is among my absolute favorites). The Archers are often forgotten when people talk about the greatest filmmakers in cinema’s history, and yet they made a series of masterpieces and good films during the 1940s unmatched by any other filmmaker during the decade. Their Technicolor trilogy (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus, and  The Red Shoes – although, you could add A Matter of Life and Death in there too as it is partially in Technicolor and partially in black & white) is their finest achievement. Those unfamiliar with the Archers’ work will find themselves completely changed by their striking and compelling films. I wish I could go back and watch these films again for the first time. Plus, the Criterion Blu-ray releases of a few of their films are just beautiful – with special thanks to Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

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