Last night I watched The Red Shoes (1948) as part of a poem I'm working on collecting imagery for. As I've mentioned before, I'm working on a series of poems about missing women in America, and Lola Celli, missing since 1946, is one of the women whose story I need to tell. There was a lot of mystery surrounding Lola's disappearance, but she was last seen wearing an aqua dress and red Cuban heels. Later, someone reported seeing a single red shoe in the middle of a nearby road. In the poem, I had originally planned on mixing imagery from The Wizard of Oz with Lola's story, but then I decided to connect it to other ominous connections with red shoes so that the poem can work more broadly.
I feel as though the only reason I know about The Red Shoes is because of commercials with Martin Scorsese in which he discusses the importance of saving our film history. It is unusual for me to have missed it until now given the fact that the film is considered one of Britain's greatest and it was a commercial success in America. In brief, The Red Shoes is a story within a story featuring a hopeful ballet dancer, Victoria, who is picked to perform the ballet The Red Shoes (based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale) while under the thumb of the controlling head of the ballet company, Lermontov. She falls in love with Julian, an aspiring musician who himself is quickly working his way up the ranks within the company eventually writing the score for the ballet The Red Shoes. This connection between Victoria and Julian spoils Lermontov's professional and personal plans for Victoria.
Martin Scorsese has a particular love for The Red Shoes calling it one of the greatest visual pieces shot in color film. It certainly does not disappoint on that record and the continued and pressing image of red ballet shoes connects the story of Victoria with that of her unnamed character in the ballet production. While the viewer is hopeful for a romance between Victoria and Julian to function despite Lermontov's opposition, the image of the red shoes is a message to the viewer that love can not prevail and that Victoria the dancer and Victoria's character in the ballet will both, quite pointedly, be danced to death.
While the imagery of the red shoes is what drew me to the film, and ultimately is what will be distilled into poetic form, it's also interesting to see The Red Shoes on a broader social and cinematographic level. Socially, the message imbedded within The Red Shoes is that women cannot have it all. While Victoria would love to have the presence of love and dance within her life, it is clear from the start that Lermontov, who has the power to influence the entirety of her career, does not think this is possible. This messaging is something that we continue to hear in regards to women who want to have family and career in their lives. This is something, we are told, that is just not possible. To be fair, Julian also experiences this pull and messaging, but he does not have to pay the price with his life in the same way that Victoria does.
As a film about ballet, The Red Shoes fits into a larger genre and it's interesting to see how films borrow from one another, or are just plainly derivative in general. While Black Swan was hailed for its presentation and beauty, it clearly borrows heavily from its predecessor in terms of visual effect and atmosphere. I'm not sure if this makes Black Swan a more interesting film, or degrades its presence in the genre. If I had to choose between the two, I would most certainly pick The Red Shoes for its impressive score and more subtle movements.
And, before I go, I'll leave you with a Kate Bush video since this song and its containing album are inspired by the film.