MOIRA SHEARER, ROBERT HELPMANN, AND LÉONIDE MASSINE
Michael Powell, Emeric Prewssburger, and Keith Winter (script, based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen), Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (directors) The Red Shoes / 1948
When I first conceived of this series of short essays, I determined that, since I was most interested in how dance was used in film, I would not include cinematic representations of ballet. It would be as if I were to explore singing in film, and choose to include the many operas that have been committed to screen. Ballet transcription to film may be an interesting topic, but is not the one at hand.
The more I wrote about the subject, however, I realized that I could not exclude Powell's and Pressburger's masterful The Red Shoes simply because it included real ballet dancers and had, at its center, a "real" ballet. The ballet, in this case, is completely integrated into the film, and the dancers are credible actors as well.
Moreover, even though the great "Red Shoes Ballet" is a theatrical work that might just as easily have been performed on stage, so too is the whole a masterful piece of filmmaking, as Powell and Pressburger conjure up their highly artificed cinematic style, filled with lush and vibrant colors that parallel, at times, the works of Nicolas Ray and Douglas Sirk. Like those later films, The Red Shoes most definitely suggests what one has to admit is an exaggerated cinematic aesthetic that may or may not be related to ballet. In any case, The Red Shoes works as a piece of cinematic art before it serves to represent anything about dance.
Having said that, the ballet, choreographed by Robert Helpmann and danced by three professional ballet dancers, Shearer, Helpmann and Massine, is surely the most balletic of my selections. But who can dismiss a work based on a tale in which, once the dancer has put her slippers on, she must dance in a frenzy unto death? The theme of the ballet is the same as that of the movie: despite her desire to live a normal life with composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring), Vicky Page (Shearer) cannot escape the imprisonment of Boris Lermontov's ballet except through death.
At times sentimental, overly melodramatic, and fraught with a desire to mean more than it does, The Red Shoes is filled with brilliant dancing costumes and sets.
Los Angeles, September 9, 2011