75 years of a perfect movie: The Red Shoes

As published in CLAUDIA

The Red Shoes is one of the most remarkable films ever made in cinema and it did not come from Hollywood, but from England. Although it is often referred to as a film “about ballet”, it is much more than that. It inspired works as diverse as Halloween, Raging Bull, or Black Swan. In 2023, it completes 75 years of launch and continues to be innovative and inspiring. I’m one of the biggest fans of the work (already included in different articles and talked about in CLAUDIA) and I don’t have bad company. Martin Scorsese is so fond of it that he restored it and studied it extensively. Having a character as fascinating as Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) at the heart of the plot makes our nostalgic trip about this classic worthwhile.

The seed for the film was born in 1934 when businessman Alexander Korda wanted to bring the tumultuous life of Vaslav Nijinsky to the screen. As he wanted his girlfriend, actress Merle Oberon to be the star, even if she was not a dancer (they would use stunt doubles), production began work on the project, which was paused during the War. In 1948, Merle and Korda had already separated, but the project remained and gained momentum. Director Michael Powell insisted that he would only work with real dancers and with that he arrived at the unknown Moira Shearer, one of the soloists of the Royal Ballet. With post-war audiences craving beauty and escapism, The Red Shoes would be the ideal vehicle for that.

Using Hans Christian Andersen‘s short story of the same name, which talks about obsession and death, a metaphor about an artist is narrated in the story of a dance company led by an imperious and cynical businessman who is preparing to present the ballet “The Red Shoes ”. Engraved in Technicolor (unusual for the time) with red, it increased the dramatic impact of the story, almost a character on its own, creating an effect that is even studied today in film schools. It is a filmed painting, a recorded symphony, and brings classical dance realistically portrayed. Vicky Page quickly becomes the composer’s and entrepreneur’s muse, in love with her brilliance and passion for Art. However, as Andersen warned, whoever wears the red shoes dances to death.

Critics and filmmakers alike study the work to this day with fascination and reverence. It is pointed out as the first time the public entered the mind of a ballerina, with indirect shots that are repeated in horror films and copied unapologetically in Suspiria and Black Swan, the latter being the film that earned Natalie Portman an Oscar, practically living an updated version of Vicky Page. By the way, one of the most classic scenes in the 1948 film is precise Swan Lake, when instead of showing the dance in a static way, cinematographer Jack Cardiff aligns the camera with Moira Shearer’s eyes in a series of dizzying, revolving point-of-view shots to underscore his panic at the sight of the company’s director in the audience. Later he repeats the inversions, mixing intense close-ups and cuts between reality and fantasy. The film is simply beautiful. Incidentally, it was studying him that Scorcese created the praised fight scenes in Raging Bull.

The timelessness of The Red Shoes is also in the tragic story of the heroine, who is “forced to choose” between career and marriage, giving up stardom to her husband, and losing her mental health with the oppression of her yearnings and ambitions. There are several optics far beyond ballet to appreciate the film. For example, I’ve always seen his ending one way, but for Martin Scorcese, it’s another. Had Vicky, in her desperation and under pressure, decided to sacrifice herself for the dance, or had the slippers taken possession of her? For him, the brilliance of the final scene is precisely that it does not clarify what is happening. And 75 years later, we’re still trying to figure it out with him.


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