A Deliciously Dramatic End

By Alexandra Bush February 12, 2010

If you have any interest in film, ballet, great character study, classic drama, or what Technicolor was really good for, do yourself a favor this week and go see The Red Shoes (Powell and Pressburger, UK, 1948) at the Northwest Film Forum.  This landmark film about a maniacally driven ballet director Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) and his obsession with the young dancer Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) is a remarkable example of dramatic and aesthetic sensitivity.

Lermontov runs his ballet company with an iron fist—it's the kind of place where a principal dancer can be fired for daring to get married.  "A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love will never be a great dancer—never," he says through gritted teeth.

Lermontov creates the ballet The Red Shoes—based on a dark fairy tale by the notoriously somber Hans Christian Anderson—for Miss Page, who later has the audacity to fall in love with the ballet's young composer, also a company member.  This mistake rapidly propels her, and the film, to a deliciously dramatic end.

The Red Shoes is a compelling story, and also happens to be one of the most beautiful color films you may ever see.  One of the last films "color supervised" by Natalie Kalmus, it is art (film) about art (ballet) in the best way possible.  The handpainted backdrops featured in the title sequence reappear as onstage backdrops from the ballet, then as backdrops for the film set.

The 15-minute ballet sequence that serves as the film's artistic and dramatic high point is ballet in a way it could never be seen live, aided visually by camera tricks and dramatically by montage.  Like film, ballet is a composite art, and lends itself beautifully to this cinematic narrative, which unfolds in glowing reds and oranges, restrained earth tones, and deep azure blues.

Powell and Pressburger's decision to use dancers who could act, instead of actors who could dance, makes for some of the most compelling dance you can find in mainstream cinema.  Don't miss this gem, restored in 2009, which runs at 7pm tonight through next Thursday at Northwest Film Forum.
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