Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948)

No, I'm not reviewing this movie again; actually, these two probably couldn't be further apart in every aspect, except for the fact they're both loosely based around the same Hans Christian Andersen story. This The Red Shoes stars Moira Shearer as Victoria Page, a young ballerina who gets an audition with famous company owner Boris Lermontov half through her pluckiness, and half through nepotism. She joins Lermontov's company, and he sees something in her no one else does and makes her the lead in his new ballet, an adaptation of the titular Andersen story. At the same time Victoria is hired, so is young composer Julian Craster, who writes The Red Shoes and becomes as much of a protegee in his field as Victoria does in hers. Of course, Julian and Victoria fall in love, and Victoria has to eventually choose between love and career.

Before we get to the melodramatic plot twists of the last hour of the film, there's plenty of absolutely gorgeous dancing to feast your eyes on. I'm not a ballet fan, but even I was hypnotized by Shearer's performance in the ballet-within-a-film, as a young woman who can't take off her haunted red shoes. The costumes and sets are wonderful, and the optical effects (which I was unsure if they were happening onstage or not) give the ballet a surreal, dreamlike feel.

But of course, there's the last part of the film, and Victoria's choice between dancing (and Boris, although he doesn't show any real physical/sexual attraction to Victoria, just a possessiveness of her talent) and love (and Julian, whom I just found creepy and disconcerting the whole film for some reason). Of course -- this is 1948, of course -- a woman can't have both, and the only reason she can't is because Julian won't let her. That's right -- he leaves the opening of his opera to berate her for performing after a long absence in Monte Carlo. Boris asks Victoria if Julian would give up his love of music for her, and she (as well as we) know the answer. If there's ever been an example of a woman forced to give up her ambitions to be a perfect wifey, this is it. And then, instead of choosing dancing like I hoped she would, Victoria throws herself off a bridge in order to ensure she would never dance again. And then, she doesn't even die, just breaks her legs and asks Julian to take the red shoes off of her. Vomit rose in my throat. Could this have been any more obvious? Sure, Boris is trying to control Victoria as well, but there were certainly situations where she could have been a dancer and not under the control of either of these men. But his is 1948, so of course not. Barf again. So this movie was ruined for me by the last 15 minutes, but if you can swallow that, it's a beautiful movie about dancing.


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Comments on "The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948)"


Blogger Bob Turnbull said ... (11:29 AM) : 

Hollywood musicals from that same era (40-50s) are sometimes difficult to watch due to the exact same issues you bring up with the ending of The Red Shoes. One of my favourites of the time is "Royal Wedding" (the one where Fred Astaire dances on the ceiling and also with a coat rack). It's fun and breezy and Jane Powell is Astaire's sister and dance partner and is a spitfire. Her dancing (especially in "How Can You Say You Love Me When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life"), her cavalier attitude with relationships and her whole demeanour show a strong confident woman.

But when she meets, falls in love with a British man and decides to marry him, Astaire responds that she will then obviously have to leave the act and live with her husband in England. An option of course, but apparently it was one of the two - career OR wife. What's annoying is Powell's character accepts this...I can let it go somewhat because the rest of the film is so charming and fun and because it was the middle of the century, but it does stick in the old craw a bit.

One more egregious example...In "Silk Stockings" Cyd Charisse actually sings the line "But with love, what is a woman? Serene contentment, the perfect wife, For a woman to a man is just a woman, But a man to a woman is her life." Gah!


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