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The Red Shoes  (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) 1948

 

    The first ninety minutes of Powell & Pressburgerís classy musical The Red Shoes are really something special. Without much in the way of external conflict, the movie watches behind the scenes of a ballet production company as a young composer and dancer ascend among the ranks and launch their first ballet. There isnít exactly an abundance of plot here, but the glamour, the music, and the insider perspective that we see during the preparations provide enough pleasure to make that not matter at all. The culmination of all this hard work is a stunning, exceptionally long, miniature ballet that manages to beautifully encapsulate and enrich the story that surrounds it. The things left unsaid until this point are finally made explicit through the images that are put up on screen during this segment, reminding us what the musical is capable of at its best. Cinematic techniques are blended into the dance, creating a fusion of art forms that benefits from the strengths of each. Illusionary fragments from the filmís ďrealĒ world filter into the presentations momentarily, brilliantly suggesting that the dancer must get into character in the same way as an actor. The dancerís steadfast belief that she must sacrifice all for her art seems to be only further compounded by the source material that she is attracted to. This admission of the psychology of the artist here is nothing less than extraordinary, especially considering the age of the film (which has aged quite well, all in all).

    Itís not surprising then, that after the dance segment makes the unsaid explicit, that the scenes that follow, in which those once-repressed issues rise to the surface, donít pack the same punch. The Red Shoes doesnít really sink, but it floats back down to earth as it assumes the stance of a more traditional melodrama. The visual delights of the film donít dissipate, even if the level of tension does, to a degree. The movie seems to just peter along pleasantly enough, only occasionally dazzling the audience from here on out (particularly impressive is a wordless scene set in the loversí bedroom where the camera does the dancing), and the promise of an even more elaborate musical send off, ends up being a bust. Still, itís nothing less than amazing that Powell & Pressburger sustain the dream as long as they do, so a sense of disappointment isnít quite an appropriate response.

 

**** 

03-11-02

Jeremy Heilman