Film: The Red Shoes
Rating: Yep, It's a Classic
Director: Michael Powell (and Emil Pressburger)
Stars: Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer
Reason for Ignorance: Waited to watch it with the Mrs.
Ignorance Rating*: Pending
Even though I rated this movie Yep, It's a Classic, The Red Shoes was a massive disappointment. It's considered by many to be the best film by The Archers, a mid-century team of Brits - director Michael Powell and writer Emil Pressburger - who are among the most acclaimed creators of all time. I'd seen only one Archers film, Black Narcissus, which was excellent, and a Powell solo film, Peeping Tom, which is like Psycho meets Rear Window, but better than either of those admittedly great films. (George Romero has said many times that another Archers film, The Tales of Hoffmann, is what inspired him to become a filmmaker.)
Which is why, by being merely a classic, The Red Shoes was disappointing. And that score is a composite, because the vast bulk of this picture is just a good movie - a standard midcentury melodrama about love and art. Two young people, Julian Craster and Victoria Page, unexpectedly gain employment with the world-renowned Lermontov Ballet company, Craster as a composer and Page as a dancer. Through a series of unexpected events, Craster becomes the composer for the new ballet, The Red Shoes, and Page is the star. Along the way, they fall in love, but eventually become involved in a tragic love triangle (the third element of the triangle being, of course, "Art").
I certainly want to lay the fault for this movie at the feet of Pressburger, the writer; the melodrama is so cliched, the characters so stereotypical, that the whole thing just seems by the numbers. But the acting is great - particularly Walbrook, as "heartless monster" Lermontov, and various supporting members of the ballet company. And Powell's direction is so good, his gorgeous Technicolor cinematography makes everything, from the outlandish costumes to Shearer's hair, glow like it's ablaze.
But that's not what makes it a classic. If Ben-Hur is a technically impressive but crappy movie built around an exciting chase scene, The Red Shoes is a technically impressive but only good movie built around the best dance sequence ever filmed. For about twenty minutes, right in the middle of the film, we watch the performance of the Red Shoes Ballet and are transported to a ballet that unites music and color unlike anything I've ever seen before. Even the best dance sequences in An American in Paris don't compare to The Red Shoes ballet. The ballet is touching and terrifying, and represents a triumph of spectacle which might still be unmatched in cinematic history.
For that reason alone, this movie is a classic. Otherwise, it's merely a pretty good story that indulges deeply in stock characters and a rather silly belief in a romanticized vision of art (ie, "Art"). I've got plenty more Archers movies on my list, so I hope the rest of them are more like Black Narcissus than The Red Shoes...
*The "Ignorance Rating" is the percentage of people who voted "Yes" on the poll for this film. If ten people vote in the poll, and 5 of them have seen the movie, I give it an ignorance rating of 50. It's just a ballpark way for me to know how egregious my ignorance was in this case.