47 Years of Student Run Cinema
Student Film Society of the Year 2002, 2005, 2006
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In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy story Karen puts on a pair of red shoes, is compelled to start dancing and is unable to stop. When Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger updated this story for the twentieth century Karen became Vicky, an aspiring ballerina who dances almost because she cannot help herself. Her fervour so impresses the great impresario Lermontov that he takes her into his company but she does not achieve stardom until the prima ballerina announces she is getting married. For Lermontov this is sacrilege, ballet is his life and he believes a ballerina cannot love both a man and her dance - he dismisses her without ceremony and launches the virginal Vicky on a stellar career – the highlight of which is the ballet of the red shoes with music by a brilliant young composer Julian. However in working on the ballet together Julian and Vicky fall in love thus incurring the wrath of Lermontov and Vicky is forced to choose between her two loves – Julian and the dance.
Michael Powell famously declared ‘All Art is One’ and this film is proof of it, the art of cinema, dance and music are effortlessly combined to create one of the most beloved films of all time. It is the most famous effort of the unbeatable team of Powell and Pressburger whose films remain landmarks of cinema. It is an audacious work with a visual flamboyance which takes the breath away. The ballet of the red shoes is the centrepiece occupying the central portion of the film and rightly so for this is a film about ballet and Powell needed to showcase the talents of the dancers – most notably Moira Shearer, one of the greatest dancers in the United Kingdom at the time. Powell recalled that it was hard to convince her of the value of the film as she thought it was a waste of time that could be dedicated to ballet. But persuade her he did and audiences have been forever thankful. Afterwards she refused the allure of Hollywood to continue dancing and her devotion to her craft shows in the quality of what we see on screen.
Other standouts in the cast include the Anton Walbrook whose icy, precise performance perfectly captures the charm, charisma and tyranny of Lermontov; and Maurius Goring who is inspired as the fiery young composer Julian.
This is a film which more than any other celebrates life, passion and art. From the first scene when the students invade the concert hall, stampeding the doorman; to the exuberance of the ballerinas dancing to Vicky’s final agony when she is not sure about choosing love or dance, the film bursts from the screen and in its intense celebration of the joy of living and creating holds the viewer transfixed. Quite simply this is one of the miracles of cinema.
Review by Louise Oliver
Written for EUFS Programme Spring 2006
After 10 years of being told to go and die for their country The Red Shoes told the cinema-going public of 1948 to go and die for their art.
The Archers' finest two hours and 13 minutes concerns the conflict between theatre and life, romance and realism, vocation and love. Haughty ballet company impresario Lermontov (Anton Walbrook - mesmeric) takes into his employment a ballet dancer, Vicky Page (Moira Shearer - seraphic) and a composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring - kind of odd, really). The composer and dancer fall in love, he composes a ballet for her, The Red Shoes, based on Hans Christian Anderson's tale about a girl first obsessed with, then possessed by a pair of red shoes which ultimately dance her to her death.
Obsessed with the ballet and possessed by both men Vicky is forced to choose between them, between impresario and composer, ballet and lover, art and life. But it is the red shoes that ultimately decide.
Ballet as a narrative medium is anti-realistic, so instead of filming the ballet sequence as a theatre-ballet, Powell created a film-ballet, a surreal ballet sequence, rapidly changing wardrobe and sets within the sequence, as well as using the notion of composed film which he had first used in Black Narcissus (the fight sequences in Scorsese's Raging Bull use these same concepts, anti-realism, composed - to the rhythm of the punches - film). Powell contrasts this with the realism of the back-stage drama that makes up the rest of the film (though of course Powell was never "realistic").
Moira Shearer gives an excellent performance despite thinking that she was prostituting her art (she worked with Powell again on The Tales of Hoffman and Peeping Tom, but ballet was her vocation). Archers regulars Walbrook and Goring are both on form; watch for Walbrook's screeching stage announcement after Vicky's death.
The Red Shoes is a superb film and should be seen again and again and again.
Review by Stephen Cox
Taken from EUFS Programme 1995-96