Part of it is this movie is one of the great Technicolor spectaculars -- Turner Classic Movies says it's rated the best Technicolor movie by U.K. fans. And when I would've seen it, or more likely part of it, would have still be in our black & white era. But because "I had seen it", when it showed up in the TV schedule grid, I would pass and go look for something else. Huh.
It's July and normally on a Tuesday night I'd be watching Le Tour de France. But I'd seen the Stage 4 coverage in the afternoon, so after the Channel 3 News was over, I did a quick flip of channels before writing. And caught the beginning. I'd done almost 3000 words of writing in the afternoon, so I sat in Mrs. Dr. Phil's comfy chair and watched the whole thing -- then wrote for another hour before heading off to bed. (grin)
I'll warn now that I am not particularly worried about spoiling a movie which, at 67 years old, could collect Social Security.
The Red Shoes (1948)
TCM, 11:30pmFor probably two generations this was the definitive dance/ballet movie. Every girl I knew who was taking dance lessons in school had seen it, and as I remarked, it showed up a lot on the Saturday matinees on TV. Which is how I thought I'd seen it.
This movie really wasn't what I thought it was. At first, it seems like an inside look in how a ballet company works. And the intrigues are not what I'd expect. Sure, we have the prima ballerina. But despite her arrogant swagger and showing up 43 minutes late, she seems genuinely happy and liked by her company. We have the rush of students in the opening to gather the bench seats in the balcony at Covent Garden. But they're not to see the ballet, for which they seem to know nothing, but the debut of the score by their professor. Except... the themes seem to have been stolen from one of the students,Julian, and they all know it. At an after-party organized by a titled socialite, the impresario Lermontov refuses to be a party to an ambush audition for the woman's niece, Vicky. However, he does take the girl aside and talks to her of her ambition. He also sees Julian in the morning, after the young composer writes a nasty note about his professor's plagiarism.
Surprisingly, Lermontov offers them both jobs. And so we expect the classic rags to riches, hard knocks and disappointment rise -- the pathos of A Chorus Line. But we don't really get that. Yes, full of themselves, the two both arrive in the company and find themselves at the bottom. But their rise into important positions isn't all that long. And the company seems very supportive. No jealousy here.
Then we get the fairy tale. For The Red Shoes itself is a new ballet from a Hans Christian Andersen story.
What I find fascinating is that the term villain in this movie is very tenuous. We are, I suppose, meant to hate Lermontov and his rigid control over the company. But he is a successful, experienced professional, and is actually loved by the company who believe in his genius. Everyone comes up to his office one by one to wish him Good night. And without looking up from the papers or from the phone call, he bids them Good night by name. The angry young composer, who while needing a job also dismisses ballet as a third-rate art form, knocks heads with the young dancer -- and they fall in love. A dangerous move, since Lermontov dismissed his previous prima ballerina when she wanted to get married, yet no one seems to be warning the young lovers. Yet the company is so happy and full of life and support for each other, that they don't seem concerned or try to warn them off. Odd.
The real schizophrenic part of the movie comes with showing the ballet The Red Shoes inside the movie The Red Shoes. What's shocking is that all the ballet shown up to this point has been filmed on stage. But this is shot as metaphor, with old school in-camera special effects and expansive sets impossible to use on a stage -- they are too big and go back too far and action takes place in what would be essentially out of sight of an audience -- plus wire work to make impossible floating lifts.
What's funny to me is that I have seen a lot of dance movies in more modern times. The dancing shown in this movie seems very old school and stiff. For the first time I really understood the rebellion against the rigid very old school of the Russian/Soviet ballet, given the modern perspective.
If I had one criticism of the film, it would be that The Red Shoes glamorizes the life of the company. Everyone is so dedicated and so happy, and no one is injured or sabotaged or cut before their time or aged out. How many young dancers over the years threw themselves into pursuing the dream without knowing about the cat food grinder of the business? (grin) Gritty realism? This is not that film.
Is Lermontov a bastard? Is Julian? It's probably heretical, but as long we are dealing with a fantasy world of the ballet world, I'm sort of on Lermontov's side. Does Lermontov love Vicky? But as a father or a suitor? Given the context of the movie, I'd say the former -- that the beauty of the ballet is the only thing in his life. For which he has been tremendously successful. Never a dud show that we see. When the lovers quit, rather than split up, he selectively enforces their contracts, rather than being mean. When a plot is hatched to bring her back to his stage, we know there will be a showdown. But the metaphor of The Red Shoes is strong in this one, and they betray her and the movie turns tragic. Yet always it turns back to the ballet -- and her triumphant return performances becomes a memorial, where the company lovingly does the whole ballet, with only a spotlight where Vicky would be dancing.
Metaphor? Yes. Beautiful? Certainly. Realistic? Not exactly to a stronger no.
Like so many classics, it would be filmed so much differently in 2015, where it would have a much meaner edge. Still, it deserves its reputation simply for showing the guts of a company at all, much like Topsy Turvy does for Gilbert & Sullivan.
Old School Recommendation
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