Friday, March 5, 2010

"Red Shoes" on a Thursday

OK, I am mainly writing this blog post because I wanted an excuse to use this punning title. (And if you don't get the pun... see here.) But yeah, yesterday was Thursday, and I went to see a restored print of the classic movie The Red Shoes at the Castro Theater. I'd never seen it before, and, since it's been called one of the most beautiful Technicolor movies of all time, the big screen was the place to do it!

The organist primed us for the movie by playing songs like "Once Upon a Dream" and a really thrilling "I Could Have Danced All Night." And we were a knowledgeable, appreciative audience: there was scattered applause when Powell and Pressburger's names appeared in the opening credits, and again after the "Red Shoes Ballet." Speaking of which, I had no idea that the ballet was going to be so trippy, full of trick photography and nightmarish elements. I mean, there are dream ballets in movies like Oklahoma or An American in Paris, but this was closer to expressionism or Fellini or something like that--absolutely mind-boggling!

I also think that seeing this movie with a Castro audience meant that I was with people who'd appreciate its campy, theatrical side. Take, for instance, the scene where Moira Shearer learns that she will dance the leading role in the new ballet. She's wearing an evening gown with a huge net petticoat, a billowy satin cloak with a long train, and scores of jewels including a tiara, while ascending the crumbling stone steps of the impresario's villa. On the one hand, this image resonates like something out of a fairy tale--the young princess entering the enchanted castle. On the other hand, it is the height of camp.

And a lot of The Red Shoes is like that--it is simultaneously a hard-headed look at the sacrifices that art requires, and a florid melodrama, or fairy tale, or allegory. The plot is familiar from other backstage dramas, but the tone is indescribable--I'd probably need to see it again to get a handle on it. The movie has been credited with inspiring thousands of little girls to become ballet dancers, but I know that if I'd seen it as a four-year-old ballerina wannabe, it would have frightened me! It is still frightening in its implications: that art is a godlike, implacable force that demands everything of its devotees, including their lives.

I've said before that I tend to go through phases where I get obsessed with one art form at the expense of others--I feel now that I may be beginning an obsession with dance, physical expressiveness, the way that really talented performers can infuse choreographic gestures with emotion. It started with the figure skaters at the Olympics, and now, with The Red Shoes...

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