The Red Shoes (1948). Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Starring Moira Shearer, Marius Goring and Anton Walbrook.
Ballet on film has never looked as stunning as it does in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s classic cinematic take on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of The Red Shoes. Creating a potent tale of obsession (lustful, loving and artistic) while weaving a richly textured visual spell they delve deeply into the mindset behind the mystery of artistic creation with intensity, verve and a Technicolor palette which effortlessly matches and enhances the strong emotions on display.
The central ballet of The Red Shoes is a tour de force of human expression, vividly capturing something much more powerful than the mere experience of watching a ballet – the sheer exhilaration and high emotion of performing the ballet – sweeping the audience into another world entirely and providing the inspiration for so many of the MGM musicals to come in the next decade (An American In Paris and Singin’ In The Rain to name but two). It is perhaps the greatest film ever made about the personal cost of creating great art and the lasting sacrifices which must be made in order to create something which will leave a genuine, immoveable impression on the world.
The Red Shoes themselves symbolise both the obsession which lies behind the desire to be an artist and the shiny allure of stardom and adulation. Walbrook is charming yet coldly calculating as Lermontov, Shearer striking and fluid as Vicky Page and Goring wonderfully human as Craster – the one person who seems to favour the allure of life as opposed to that of art. Tragically human and wonderfully honest about how great art is created, this may well be the finest musical ever made – the MGM films that follow – even at their very best – can’t match the sheer visual brio of this.