"Art is certainly the equal of religion in terms of value and importance and of course what made The Red Shoes unique was that it was about art and nothing but art and nothing but the best of art would do. The dancer is forced to go on and on beyond the point of human endurance, in a search for perfection. And at this point, art actually passes into becoming religion. In this sense, The Red Shoes symbolizes everything that Emeric and I strived for in all our work together, creating images and sounds that are beyond mere words."
~Director Michael Powell on The Red Shoes
Under the authoritarian rule of charismatic ballet impressario Boris Lermontov, his proteges realize the full promise of their talents, but at a price: utter devotion to their art and complete loyalty to Lermontov himself. Under his near-obsessive guidance, young ballerina Victoria Page is poised for superstardom, but earns Lermontov's scorn when she falls in love with Julian Craster, composer of "The Red Shoes," the ballet Lermontov is staging to showcase her talents. Vicky leaves the company and marries Craster, but still finds herself torn between Lermontov's demands and those of her heart.
Click here to view the trailer.
A Dancing, Singing, Swinging Love Tale
Between her art ... and her dreams ... was her heart
Dance she did, and dance she must - between her two loves
The film went massively over-budget and the Rank Company (who financed it and were to release it) had little faith in its commercial potential. They tried to bury it by not giving it a premiere (backer J. Arthur Rank walked out of its first performance) and by just letting it quietly show at late screenings at a cinema in London. They weren't even prepared to strike a print for the American market. Slowly, however, audiences started to pick up on the film and Rank realized that they might have a potential break-out hit after all. Indeed, when an initial print was made for the States, it played at an off-Broadway theater for an unprecedented 110 weeks. That was enough to convince Universal to take up the distribution rights for the United States, which they did in 1951.
The exterior of The Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate was shown in the rain because director Michael Powell had often gone there to see plays or the ballet and he reminisced "it always seemed to be raining when one queued up for Madame Rambert's productions".
Jack Cardiff deliberately manipulated camera speed during the Red Shoes ballet to create the effect of dancers almost hovering in mid air at the peak of their jumps.
Emeric Pressburger originally wrote the script in 1937 when producer Alexander Korda was casting around for a project for his wife, Merle Oberon. The intention was that a professional dancer would fill in for Oberon in the dancing scenes. Nothing ever came of it - mainly due to the intervention of the war - and Powell and Pressburger were able to buy the rights for the screenplay back from Korda for £12,000 in 1947. To do this, however, they had to pretend that it was purely for sentimental reasons and not because they wanted to make it into a film. Having worked for Korda before, they both knew that he was a very shrewd businessman and that, if he detected that they really wanted the property, he would have raised the price.
Much to his surprise, Michael Powell had great difficulty persuading Moira Shearer to be in the film. She held out for a year before giving in to him. Shearer herself, however, did not particularly care for Powell. In later years, she described the making of the film as being a terrible ordeal: Powell was distant and aloof and never really gave her much direction; and having to dance for hours on end on concrete floors also physically took its toll on all the dancers, making their legs swell up.
The title ballet sequence took six weeks to shoot and employed over 120 paintings by Hein Heckroth. The dancing newspaper was achieved through careful cutting and use of wires.
Click here to watch the entire Red Shoes Ballet scene:
Anton Walbrook's character of Lermontov was generally thought to be based on the real ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, the man behind Vaslav Nijinsky. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, however, were more inclined to say that he was a representation of their first main mentor, Alexander Korda.
The kate Bush song The Red Shoes is based on this film.
[Before the curtain goes up on the premiere]
Livingstone 'Livy' Montagne: You're a magician, Boris. To have produced all this in three weeks, and from nothing.
Boris Lermontov: My dear Livy, not even the best magician in the world can produce a rabbit out of a hat if there is not already a rabbit in the hat.
Boris Lermontov: Don't forget, a great impression of simplicity can only be achieved by great agony of body and spirit.
Boris Lermontov: "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.
Julian Craster: What happens in the end?
Boris Lermontov: Oh, in the end, she dies.
Moira Shearer on the ballet:
"Michael Powell was obviously very keen about the ballet in an overall way, but he didn't know anything about it at all. He had these sort of grandiose, filmic ideas of putting every sort of eccentricity into every character and having everything going on at once, presumably to make a particular kind of impression on the screen.
He had Léonide Massine (the real-life dancer-choreographer, who played the choreographer in the film) behaving like a mad jumping bean. Massine was wonderfully dignified and distinguished in life. I thought it was a travesty of what a ballet master should be like."
And as a special bonus here is the excellent video for Kate Bush's The Red Shoes. Oh and that woman with the uni-brow in Miranda Richardson.