Wednesday, December 16, 2009

BNAT 11 - [VINTAGE] The Red Shoes

Next was the first BNAT film that I'd ever truly seen before (not counting last year's Metropolis because I'd never seen that version). First off, I knew darn well we were not seeing Nine in this slot because 8 1/2 was way too obvious a clue from the fake list. I was thrilled to be seeing this properly on the big screen, because it is, without doubt, one of the most (if not THE most) stunningly beautiful films ever committed to celluloid, and there is nothing in the digital canon, no matter how artistically rendered, that can even begin to compare.

The Red Shoes

"The Ballet of The Red Shoes" is from a fairy tale by Hans Andersen. It is the story of a young girl who is devoured with an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of Red Shoes. She gets the shoes and goes to the dance. For a time, all goes well and she is very happy. At the end of the evening she is tired and wants to go home, but the Red Shoes are not tired. In fact, the Red Shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the street, they dance her over the mountains and valleys, through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on.

The above is spoken by the ballet director in the film and has some differences from the actual Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale on which the film and the film's ballet is based. However, it is a perfect encapsulation of the story of the film.

The film opens with the debut of a new ballet, but instead of seeing well-to-do patrons filling up the orchestra level seats, we find ourselves at the entrance to the cheap seats, where dozens of students plow through the door, looking forward to hearing the work of their professor, who has written the score for this new ballet. They couldn't care less about the dancing. Indeed, instead of seeing any part of the ballet, we see the students' faces as they listen to the music. Things turn sour when one of the students, Julian Craster, realizes that the composer has stolen several bits of the score from work that Craster submitted to him as a student. Later, at a party, the ballet director deftly avoids attempts by a patroness to show off her talented ballerina niece, Victoria Page, as the party's entertainment (and, one supposes, an impromptu audition for the director's legendary ballet company).

The director, Boris Lermontov, subsequently and separately meets and is impressed by both Julian and Vicky. He gives Julian a job as coach of the orchestra and Vicky a background spot in the company. Neither of them make much of an impression beyond that at first. But it is not long before Julian is writing an original score for the Red Shoes ballet and Vicky is dancing the lead role. The two of them eventually fall in love and marry, much to the dismay of Lermontov, who is obsessed with Vicky and with making her into a great dancer.

The ballet of The Red Shoes itself, which is presented in its apparent entirety, is naturally the centerpiece of the film. It is, like the rest of the film, unutterably gorgeous and it is part fantasy as opposed to simply a straight stage performance. I could be completely wrong about this, but I do think that this was possibly the first (perhaps just one of the first) of many films to use a ballet sequence to underscore the themes and emotions of the story. You see this element in An American in Paris, Singin' In the Rain, and Oklahoma!, as well as probably many others I'm not listing. And above all else, the ballet of The Red Shoes retells the story of the film, in which a woman is consumed by dancing, to the neglect of all other matters in her life. And Vicky's story, much like the girl's in the fairy tale, ends in tragedy because of the red shoes.

I cannot overstate how lovely this film is visually. The casting of Moira Shearer was the jewel in the crown, not only because she was a fantastic dancer, but because she had the reddest hair you've ever seen. Not ginger, red, almost as red as her shoes in the film.

This is a film that you might pass over in disinterest on first glance, seeing the ballet shoes on the cover. However, it is so much more than a ballet movie. It is about creation and dedication to art. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Julian meets with Lermontov after having written a petulant letter about his score having been stolen. Lermontov is sympathetic, but tells Julian "It is worth remembering, that it is much more disheartening to have to steal than to be stolen from." Indeed.


After this film, we got a surprise visit from three of the guys from Broken Lizard, and there was a throwdown for a chug-off between them and the Ain't It Cool News guys. Tim and a female BNAT-er joined the Broken Lizard guys to even things out, and they issued a proper schooling to AICN. There was much argument over whose abysmal beer-chugging abilities cost AICN the crown and Broken Lizard left us to go to one of the other theaters where their new movie The Slammin' Salmon was screening.

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