The Red Shoes

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(1948, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

- inducted 2015 –

“The amorphous production team of The Archers, directror Michael Powell and writer Emeric Pressburger, closely collaborated together on a number of beloved British films, but among their most beautiful and haunting is the Technicolor semi-musical The Red Shoes. A sort of essay of the intertwined acts of artistic creation and destruction, the film follows the intertwined relations of a young determined ballet dancer, Victoria Page (played by actual dancer Moira Shearer, so as to negate the need of a dancing double in the film’s intricate 17 minute central dance sequence), the talented student composter that the ballerina will fall for, Julian Craster (Marius Goring), and the stern ballet company manager, Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), whose aloof and flamboyant nature masks the religious seriousness with which he takes his art.

“The film is bisected, following first an act of collaboration as all of the principal characters come together and begin working towards the creation of a new ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a girl cursed by a pair of enchanted red shoes to dance forever, before flinging herself off a cliff. The back half follows the turbulence of the company as Lermontov balks at the union of Victoria and Craster, as he believes no true artist can let something as trivial as romantic love be a distraction to her development into the truly great dancer he knows Victoria could become.

“Standing between the two halves is the segment that assures the film’s standing as an all-time classic of the cinema, “The Dance of The Red Shoes.” Being at once stylistically opposite to the rest of the film’s mostly down-to-earth dramatics and a reflection of what makes the rest of the film so great, the dance is truly enchanting, bringing ballet to life on the screen in way that emphasizes the artistic equality of the dance as it relates to the music, but does so on almost every cinematic level. From Jack Cardiff's stunning and perfectly lit Technicolor photography to the expressionistic set design and costuming, all levels of the film collaborate in the vivid act of storytelling that trancends language.

“The dance creates an elaborate fairytale world, but also looks at how in the act of performance we start to plumb the depths of Victoria’s psyche as phantoms of the two opposing forces that will lead her to her unfortunate end begin to appear to her onstage during the dance. In doing so, the film equates them in an uneasy way, suggesting both as controlling forces making her dance, but at the climax of the dance the film suggests that the unison of these forces brings Victoria to transcendence onstage as she seems to literally be swept up by the music and is transformed into a flower, a bird, a cloud. The ecstasy is palpable, but the film mysteriously highlights both ecstasy and suffering and in the end never definitively suggests that one is worth the other as an artist. But as a spectator one can only conclude, if someone suffered to create a work of art like this film, it was probably worth it.”

~ Patrick Miller

Principal cast: Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, Leonide Massine, Albert Basserman, Ludmila Tcherina, Esmond Knight, Austin Trevor, Eric Berry, Irene Brown
Screenplay by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, with additional dialogue by Keith Winter
Based on an original screenplay by Emeric Pressburger
Inspired by the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen
Produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Associate producer: George R. Busby
Director of photography: Jack Cardiff
Production design by Hein Heckroth, Arthur Lawson (art direction)
Film editing by Reginald Mills
Original music by Brian Easdale
Sound by Charles Poulton, Gordon MacCallum (dubbing)
Composite photography (Technicolor) by George Gunn, E. Hague
Choreography by Robert Helpmann
The part of the Shoemaker created and danced by Leonide Massine
Costume design by Hein Heckroth (uncredited)
Makeup by George Backler (uncredited), Eric Carter (uncredited), Ernest Gasser (uncredited)
Presented by J. Arthur Rank

United Kingdom
Duration: 133 minutes
Languages: English, French, Russian
Filmed in color (Technicolor)
Sound mix: Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Produced by The Archers
Released in USA by Eagle-Lion Films
Premiered in England on 6 September 1948
USA release date: 22 October 1948

Awards and honors:
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 1 January 2005
- Academy Awards (USA), 1948: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Color (won)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1948: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won)
- Golden Globes, 1948: Best Motion Picture Score (won)
- Venice Film Festival, 1948: Golden Lion (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1948: Best Picture (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1948: Best Writing, Motion Picture Story (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1948: Best Film Editing (nominated)
- BAFTA Awards, 1948: Best British Film (nominated)
- National Board of Review: one of the Top Ten films of 1948