Wednesday, 11 March 2009

You cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never.

No 149 - The Red Shoes
Directors - Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger

I would like to begin with a story. When I was a young boy, one of my favourite places to go was The Museum of the Moving Image (or MOMI) on South Bank. Sadly the museum got closed down... I think this is because they never seemed to update it. You got to 'present day' but found yourself stuck in the 80s. Surrounded by cybermen and spitting image.

What I loved about the place was the fact that everything was themed. So you would go through the early Victorian section through the 20s and 30s to modern day. All the staff would be in costume and in character. Best of all there was an old war era American Odeon there. It would play old films and it was there that I first saw part of The Red Shoes. It was the central ballet sequence and I remember being somewhat disturbed by it.

However, times have changed. I have matured (slightly) and am more aware of Powell and Pressberger. I remember my dad saying exceptionally good things about the film and I saw a BONKERS theatre production of it by Kneehigh Theatre. All of this made me want to watch it again.

The film is a very slow starter. It introduces the two protagonists of Julian and Vicky and slowly explains their situations, their relationships, their story. It is nice to see, quite a simple story of progression and fame told elegantly over a long period of time (nothing really happens for the first hour). It is especially nice as that isn't common place in films these days.

The character of Julian is cool for many reasons. Firstly, he is the French Heavenly agent from A Matter of Death. But, he is normal looking and very British. Secondly, I like him because he is so damned precocious. He is a music student and he gets hired to work for the most important ballet company in the world. He is then asked to edit and rewrite sections of a score they're going to use. What a break! Or... not. He sulks about it and then rewrites the entire score. Like I said, precocious!

In fact, all the men are terrible people. Arrogant, selfish, child like bullies. It must be hard to be poor Vicky. On one side Julian, the man she loves, demanding she gives up dancing and go with him. On the other side is the Ballet, demanding she gives up Julian. Neither side seems willing to compromise and include her needs. It is no wonder the poor girl suffers.

But then, this was a different time. A time when women clearly were expected to do as they're bally well told. And a time when ballet was the biggest most exciting thing in the world.
I don't understand quite how excited EVERYONE gets about the ballet coming to town. It must have been the cultural highlight of the 1940s....

However while the story may be nicely simple and whilst the characters may be beautiful creations (Ljubov, the choreographer is comedy gold. He was played by Leonide Massine who apparently was a wonderful choreographer in real life) the main focus of the film for me is the ballet of the Red Shoes itself.

The film transfers from a set to a sumptuous town. The colours are so rich and vibrant it is wonderful to look at. The whole ballet has a dark and ominous tone to it too - I can see why it may have concerned me when I was younger. The story gets progressively darker and progressively abstract. All the while continuing to mirror the main plot of the film.
This section also seems deeply symbolic. I don't feel intelligent enough to pretend I'd know but as a guess it must be about Vicky's desire to dance and her love for Julian.

The need for dancing pushes her and pushes her. Until she is tired, her romance is strained and ragged. And still she is pushed and pulled in all directions.

And what happens in the end?..

1 comment:

PhilH said...

It's interesting you say about the film not rushing to get going, and films like that not being made before.

A film unlike this one was on the TV the other day: Rambo: First Blood. It was on quite late, and I was far too tired to stay up to watch the whole thing, but I actually had never seen it before.

But what I did see, I found extremely refreshing. That is, mostly the initial chase sequence through the forest.

There was no music.

It wasn't felt necessary to artificially create a sense of tension or atmosphere. The filmmakers trusted in the near silence of the open air, and the images being recorded, to create that atmosphere for them.

And it was so much better that the crap they peddle in most films now. Because I'm sure in most real car chases, the first thing on people's minds probably isn't what they're going to stick it in the stereo.

With the obvious exception of you, obviously, Tim.