The Red Shoes
The Red Shoes is a take on the story by Hans Christian Anderson of the same name and gives it a modern take, and by modern I mean 1948. I had no knowledge of this movie beforehand, I just randomly found it on a live-action fairy tale list and I really wanted to like it and most people seem to enjoy it. I mean it has a 96% on rotten tomatoes and it won and was nominated for a few academy awards including Best Picture. However I really didn’t enjoy this movie and let me tell you why.
Moira Shearer as Vicky practicing
Basically it follows aspiring ballerina named Victoria Page, or Vicky. She lands a spot in this fancy ballet. Also there is this aspiring composer named Julian Craster who also gets into the company. The Ballet is ruled erm run by this seemingly ruthless dude named Lermontov.
So one day the principle ballerina decides that love is good and leaves the ballet to get married because honey you can’t do both as love ruins dancing according to meanie-face Lermontov. So Vicky gets the lead in a new Ballet based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Red Shoes. Craster is conducting and wrote the score. He and Vicky butt-heads about tempo but the ballet goes well and their careers pick up. Then they fall in love and they leave the ballet. Craster writes an opera and Lermontov lures Vicky to perform The Red Shoes again. Craster leaves his opera opening night to make Vicky chose between him and dancing the part. Vicky can’t choice as dancing is like breathing to her so she kills herself Anna Karenina style. Her dying wish is for the red shoes she is wearing to be removed and The Red Shoes is performed without Vicky but the spotlight follows her as if she was dancing. And my friends, that is a 2 hour and ten minute movie.
Moira Shearer as Vicky
Now before I tell you why I disliked this movie, I will tell you what I did liked, besides when it ended. The best part of the movie and what held my interest was the ballet proportion. The movie presents The Red Shoes ballet is its entirety and it was really magical. I really like that Moira Shearer, the actress who played Vicky was a ballet dancer first. It seems to me that ballet was the reason for the movie. Like the story and characters were built around that.
Moira Shearer as Vicky having to choice between love and dancing
That being said this movie broke the first rule of screenwriting, SHOW, DON’T TELL! They did that with the ballet and it was magic but the rest of the movie was all tell. The big plot of the movie is Vicky’s struggles with love and dancing and that plot thread was like thirty minutes tops.
In fact Vickey and Craster’s love story was blatantly told to us. We didn’t see them fall in love they just said that they were so in love. They literally have three conversations and one they were arguing about tempo and them BAM they’re in love. WHAT THE FUCK Movie?
You know what this means? Anakin and Padme have a more believable love story in Attack of the Clones than Vicky and Craster, at least Anakin and Padme spoke more to each other. I should never, ever point to the Star Wars prequels as positive unless it’s a costume. I feel so dirty, thanks movie.
Moira Shearer as Vicky
Also, I never saw Vicky’s need for dance and that is kind of what linked her to the story of The Red Shoes, the addiction and it leading to downfall, pain and death. Didn’t get that from her character. I mean she said she needed to dance but the feeling of her yearning for dance was not expressed just said.
Moira Shearer as Vicky with Anton Walbrook as Lermontov
The Red Shoes was shot in Glorious Technicolor but I didn’t see the glory, I just saw dull brown tones. It just made everything seem more boring than it had to be. For a movie called The Red Shoes, the shoes should have popped more and yes they probably could have done something to that effect is late 1940’s. And again only the Ballet had interesting color tonalities. (see 2022 edit below I more or less retract this paragraph.)
Also the shots seemed more for a stage than a movie and the scene that was literally on a stage seemed more cinematic. Was that a style choice or did they just really liked the ballet scene over the rest? I’m going with the second one.
Moira Shearer as Vicky
The acting was also dull. The ONLY time I felt emotion which is needed to fairy-tale movie was in the Ballet scene, figures, and I guess the ending but with the ending it was too little too late. There was like no build up to Vickey pain and it was dumb of Craster to make her make that choice. I mean the movie tried to paint Lermontov as this demon who hated love but Vicky and Craster expressed as much love as limp dish towels. It was WAY too forced to be effective.
Also was it just me or was the actor playing Lermontov doing a Lawrence Olivier impression? It was both hilarious and jarring.
Moira Shearer as Vicky
One truth there is to fairy tales is they are emotional pieces, not logical, not deep but they evokes feelings. I don’t need all my movies to have compelling characters with deep stories but all The Red Shoes evoked from me were yawns, except for the ballet part, if that had been the movie it would have been great.
Oct 2022 edit – I recently rewatched this movie and it wasn’t not all that 2015 me wrote. For starters the version I was watching might not have been restored because 2015 me complained about the colors and the shoes not popping well that wasn’t an issue this time around. Or I watched a version that wasn’t high quality or my setting were bad. There are numerous reason but I was wrong, It’s fine. I also wasn’t annoyed by the acting.
I do wish the film considered making more of point of the jealous between Vicky, Lermontov and Craster more. I do think the love story was a more in name only since it was less about “love” and more possession. I read a brief analysis from Adrienne McLean (on wiki) which is “ Victoria seems pushed by those she loves who would rather possess her than support her,” and that the film ultimately illustrates the impact of “ruthless personalities” can have on “the weaker or more demure.”
Lermontov is the embodiment of the red shoes pushing her to dance even though her human nature compels her to stop. This is mostly obvious to smart people but I only caught on this watching, though to be honest I wasn’t paying much attention on my first viewing either. I guess Craster would be the expression of humanity but it’s a shade unclear why Vicky doesn’t dance or met her ambitions after she goes off with him but he can write his opera. Can she only dance under the shadow of all consuming obsession?
I do not disagree that the triangle is more about possession and not supporting Vicky. Honestly I just wish we got more of Vicky and Julien’s dynamic before and after they left the ballet. So yes I was wrong with regards to this movie though I maintain that the Ballet segment is amazing.