on 3 July 2009
This newly restored and remastered version is miraculous. Once more we can see the brilliant, jewel-like, fully saturated colours that us oldies remember as typical of the original Technicolor process. The restorers, bless them, have, for once, paid equal attention to the sound, so often forgotten by classic film restorers. In this case, the sound is better than in any previous version, including the original. Even if, like me, you have an existing DVD (or VHS tape) of Red Shoes, I urge you to buy this one - it's not expensive, you will be bowled over by the quality of image and sound and will want to keep it for watching again and again.
This extraordinary movie has been watched all over the world throughout the sixty-seven years since it was made. Probably no day passes without it being shown somewhere in the world. I doubt these statements are true of any other movie except, perhaps, 'Casablanca'. Moreover, many of the people that love it don't particularly like ballet. Some actively dislike classical ballet. How can this be?
It is so successful because the directors pull so many of the arts together in one construct, each and all of them to an unsurpassed standard. Composer, musicians, choreographer, dancers, actors, stage designers, painters, lighting designers, studio technicians, cinematographer - all gave of their transcendent best to tell a universally well-loved, traditional folk-tale, related by one of the greatest storytellers of all time and to interpret it as a ten-hankie, love-story ballet movie.
It is invidious to pick individuals out of this magnificent joint effort, but two artists in particular should be noted, as they always get left out, upstaged by the more obvious talents of Walbrook, Shearer and Massine, who each grab your attention whenever they are on screen.
First, and perhaps greatest of the lot, Jack Cardiff for his brilliant, innovative camera-work and Technicolor cinematography, especially because these were the early days of Technicolor and he, a hitherto unknown Brit cameraman, introduced, for the first time, a painterly eye which amazed the American Technicolor specialists. His extraordinary creative and innovative camerawork for the ballet within the film has never been equalled.
Second, Brian Easdale's music never gets proper credit, probably because the Red Shoes' sprightly theme is lifted directly from Elgar's 1901 'Cockaigne' overture. The music is no worse for that, as Easdale creates his own evocative variations with brilliant development and orchestration, precisely reflecting the style typical of contemporary English ballet music in the middle of the 20th century. Exciting, emotional, highly rhythmic, eminently danceable ballet music, perfectly interpreting the subject.
Moira Shearer (a prima ballerina at the peak of her powers on the classical ballet stage at the time) was famed for the unrivalled precision of her dancing. She not only entrances us with her blazing talent and the ravishing beauty of her gorgeous combination of red hair and creamy skin, but shows that she is no mean actor. At a (much) lower level, she reduces males to blubber with the shot of her pert bottom in little black dance shorts as she walks towards the exercise barre. Wow!
The somewhat dismissive Amazon review, to my mind, misses the whole point of the story. The ballerina's predicament is anything but "trite". The conflict between the demands of career and relationship is something most of us experience in our everyday lives and a satisfactory solution to the dilemma is impossible for talented and dedicated artists, for whom life is their art. The ending may be "over-the-top" in real life, but this is ART - a legend - for heaven's sake. Like a Greek tragedy, it deliberately uses catastrophe to highlight the misery that results from attempts to resolve the dilemma.
This is without doubt the best movie about ballet ever made and by any standard one of the best movies of all time. Even if you do not like ballet, you must see it once. If you like ballet, I promise you will see it many times.
I saw Red Shoes when it first came out in 1948, when I was a boy of sixteen and head-over-heels in love with my own real-life, beautiful ballet dancer. Which is, of course, why I have seen it several times a year ever since, will continue to watch it until I make my own final exit, stage right, and will never accept any criticism of it whatsoever. And that driven bastard Lermontov is, unfortunately, only too right when he says in the movie - "NOTHING..matters..but..the..music." As I was to learn the hard way, emotions are only too transitory, while great art lives for ever. The human drama of how this plays out in the story of the Red Shoes is what makes it a great film. No great art gets made without enormous sacrifice. Ever.
Since writing a rave review of this film several years ago I have recently read that Martin Scorsese claims 'The Red Shoes' to have been his most powerful cinematic influence and that he recognises some part of its influence every day. I confess to a rosy glow of insufferable self-satisfaction when I first read this - "I told you so!". In more humble moments, I am proud to share the opinion of the greatest movie director of our time.