Blogathons, Fantasy

The Colours Blogathon: The Red Shoes (1948)

Colours Blogathon

Catherine over at Thoughts All Sorts is hosting this blogathon all about films that feature colours in their titles. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I’m writing about one of my all time favourite films. That film is the 1948 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger classic, The Red Shoes. This is one of the most visually stunning and beautiful films ever made in my opinion. Artistic, imaginative, romantic, absorbing, and quite moving; this film truly has something in it for everyone to enjoy.

Firstly, I would like to talk a little bit about Powell and Pressburger themselves. The pair began working together in 1939, on the WW2 spy thriller, The Spy In Black. They founded their own production company called The Archers in 1943. Their distinctive film logo (an arrow being fired into an archery target)became as famous as the films it appeared at the beginning of.

The majority of their films were quite different from any others being made at the time; they were visually imaginative and impressive, and they were more like works of moving art than traditional films. The uniqueness and artistic look of their work is a major factor for me in liking their films so much.

Powell and Pressburger were completely different from other filmmakers of the time, and they created films that really took you out of your own life (in a major way)for a few hours.

From time to time though they could also make films of the kind the public were more used to seeing; films such as The Small Back Room, The Spy In Black and 49th Parallel. Their collaboration came to an amicable end in 1957, and they remained friends for the rest of their lives. Their films were not instantly acclaimed as classics upon release, it took several decades for them to receive great praise and appreciation.

Director Martin Scorsese is a big fan of their work and he has done so much to bring their films to the attention of audiences today. Powell was also married for the last few years of his life to Scorsese’s regular editor, Thelma Schoonmaker.

Powell and Pressburger became famous for the use of Technicolor in their films. In The Red Shoes they once again use Technicolor to its best possible effect. They, along with their regular cinematographer Jack Cardiff, created magic and moving art on screen. The colours are so rich and vibrant, and it is the look of the film that lingers in the mind long after the film has finished.

This filmmaking team managed to use Technicolor in a way that had never been done before, nor has it been achieved in films since, and their use of colour is one of the most memorable aspects to so many of their films, especially in this one. This team prove what filmmakers are capable of achieving should they put their minds to it. Their films are pure art and are rightly praised and admired by film fans today.

Moving on to the film. In The Red Shoes (long before Black Swan) we are shown the sacrifices that have to be made by ballerinas for their art. They push themselves extremely hard, and for some there can be nothing else apart from the ballet in their life, they give all they are to their art. We also see that their dedication to their art can make them ill if they push themselves too hard. 

The Red Shoes is based on the fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson. It is all about a young girl who puts on a pair of red shoes. Once she does, she soon finds that she cannot take them off, and finds they make her dance everywhere she goes. She cannot make herself stop for a rest. In her despair she turns to a woodcutter for help and he chops off her feet, as she lies in his arms the shoes dance off still containing her feet. Off those shoes go, forever continuing their eternal dance around the land. Can you believe that was a children’s story? It made a big impact on me when I first read it, and it has stayed with me to this day. Some dark stuff for sure.

The film (thankfully)does not focus too much on that story. We instead focus on a young ballerina who must choose between her career with the ballet, or her own personal life and having love in that life.

Vicky Page (Moira Shearer)is a young ballet dancer who attracts the attention of Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). He is the head of world famous ballet company, The Ballet Lermontov. He sees great potential in Vicky. When his lead dancer, the adored Irina (Ludmilla Tcherina) leaves his company to get married, Lermontov gives Vicky Irina’s position in the company.

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Vicky finds lasting fame in the ballet community as the lead in a ballet written especially for her. That ballet is the Red Shoes, and it is based on the tale by Hans Christian Anderson.

As her success and talent grows, Boris falls in love with Vicky and he is determined to keep her with him at all costs. Vicky likes and respects him but she doesn’t return his feelings, instead she falls in love with young musician Julian Craster (Marius Goring). He offers her a life away from the pressures of the ballet.

Lermontov becomes jealous of the young couple, and soon Vicky finds herself forced to choose between her career and her life with Julian. It is extremely difficult for her as she loves both equally and becomes emotionally torn between them. Soon she starts to become ill from all this pressure.

Four of the films leading actors were ballet dancers at the time of the films release. Moira Shearer (playing Vicky), Robert Helpmann (playing Ivan, the much respected lead dancer of the Lermontov ballet), Ludmilla Tcherina (playing Irina) and Leonide Massine (playing Grisha, the temperamental company choreographer). Each of these get their own chance to shine in various dance sequences throughout the film. 

The standout sequence in the film is the ballet of the Red Shoes. The sequence in its entirety lasts around fifteen minutes of screen time. The sequence is one of the most artistic and creepy things ever put on screen. I think it captures the beauty and artistry of ballet perfectly.

There are also several scenes in that sequence that feature bizarre and creepy images which for me bring to mind a nightmare. I’m specifically thinking of the scene where begins Vicky hallucinating things from her own life during the performance (such as the shoemaker transforming into Lermontov and Julian), and of the shots of men turning into paper figures and slowly falling to the ground, as Vicky’s uncontrollable, red clad feet dance amongst their fallen, limp figures. I’ve often wondered if the fallen figures represent people in the fairytale who die, while the girl in the red shoes lives forever dancing on, and on, and on?

It’s a dazzling sequence for sure and is a perfect blend of the art of ballet and of the art of film. There is also some clever camera trickery at work in it for the moment Vicky jumps into the red shoes and they lace themselves up. This shot still impresses when viewed today.

Anton Walbrook gives the standout performance of the film for me. He is a man driven by his dedication to his work who finds himself falling in love . Then he starts hating himself for getting drawn away from his work by his desire for Vicky, and for the desire for a personal life away from his work. He steals every scene he is in with just a look. In many scenes he can be seen seething with jealousy and barely repressed desire in regards to Vicky. He makes you both pity and despise Lermontov at the same time.

Moira Shearer is excellent as the young woman given the career opportunity of her life. Her initial excitement soon transitions to weariness and short temper when she is under pressure. She really brings home the struggle that Vicky is enduring concerning the choice between her private and professional life.

Marius Goring is energetic as the dedicated and outgoing composer who cannot understand Vicky and Lermontov’s obsession with the ballet. He can offer Vicky happiness, but is she willing or able to accept it? Goring was one of the best character actors in all of British cinema, here he gets quite a major role and gets a real chance to shine and it’s nice to see him in a more major role for once.

My favourite scenes are the following. Vicky climbing the stairs to Lermontov’s villa (this sequence looks like something straight out of a fairytale, Vicky is like a Princess in that outfit she wears and it looks like she is exploring a deserted castle.) The ballet of The Red Shoes. Vicky and Lermontov meeting for the first time at the party and he asks her “why do you want to dance?”, she replies “why do you want to live?”  Julian and Vicky arguing during rehearsal about how she should dance during a particular music segment. The montage of Vicky and Ivan dancing in several ballet productions. Lermontov sitting in his apartment, alone, depressed and angry.

Like the fairytale upon which it’s based, this film has quite a dark edge to it and the ending is very bleak. Don’t let that put you off though, as it is truly worth watching. This film never fails to impress me and has become a real favourite over the years. It’s in my top five favourite Powell and Pressburger films too.

Be sure to watch either the special restoration DVD release of this, or check out the Blu-Ray version to see the film looking at its best.

What are your thoughts on this film? Please leave your comments below.

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Fantasy, Romance

The Princess Bride (1987)

There are some films that you automatically grab from the DVD shelf when you’re sick, or when you are feeling sad and are in desperate need of something comforting to turn to. The Princess Bride is one such film for me. This film never fails to leave me with a smile on my face. In this film wrongs are made right, love conquers all and good triumphs over evil.

Rob Reiner directs this film which is based on the 1973 novel (which I’ve yet to read)by William Goldman. The film presents us with a fairytale filled with romance, action, adventure, courage, revenge, giants, pirates, fun and magic. It is also a very clever parody of the various genres contained within it. The film has you laughing at lines and scenes that are clearly sending up these sorts of stories. Children will love this for the story, adults will also love it for that, but can pick up the parody side of the film and find even more to laugh at.The film also brings to mind the swashbuckling films of the 30’s and 40’s.  This and Stand By Me are my favourite films from Rob Reiner.

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The film begins in the bedroom of a young boy (Fred Savage)who is sick in bed. His granddad (Peter Falk)comes over to read him a story. That story is The Princess Bride. The first few lines make the boy think this is a romance story, and he is far from interested in it. As the story continues he starts to enjoy it and he (and us too)are soon completely hooked by the story. We see the story he is being read unfold before us on screen.

The Princess Bride tells the story of the beautiful Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright in her film debut). Buttercup has been chosen to marry the handsome, vain and cold Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), but she does not love him. Years ago, Buttercup was in love with the gentle farmboy, Westley (Cary Elwes)who has long been believed to be dead after a ship he was on was attacked at sea.

When Westley returns to her (now in the guise of  a mysterious man dressed all in black)their love cannot be denied. When Buttercup is kidnapped by Vizzini( Wallace Shawn)an intelligent, criminal mastermind who is desperate to start a war with Prince Humperdinck, Westley sets out to rescue her. Vizzini is helped in his kidnap plot by gentle giant, Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and the athletic, and super skilled swordsman, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). Inigo is also searching for a six fingered man who murdered his father. Inigo has perfected his sword skills, not for fame or for glory, but so he can be good enough to fight and kill his fathers killer.

Cary plays Westley as a mix of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks, athletic, suave, cool in the face of danger and certain death, throwing witty lines around all over the place. He  steals every scene he is in and gets you wanting to know more about his character. Westley is heroic, intelligent, perceptive and brave. All he does, he does for love.

Robin is enchanting as the young woman desperate to be with her true love. For a film debut, Robin gives an amazing performance. You would not guess this was her first time in a film. Her performance is all in her eyes, and she steals many a scene with just a look. Buttercup is a strong woman and is true to her only love throughout the film, wealth and status mean nothing to her, only her one true love means anything.

Mandy Patinkin gives my favourite performance in the film, as the man desperate to avenge his fathers murder. Mandy has your heart breaking for his character one moment, and then has us all cheering when he fights and stands up to injustice the next. I love the way he delivers that famous line throughout the film “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father. Prepare to die!” He says it differently throughout, but each time he delivers it, the line packs an emotional punch and is truly one of the great lines in cinema history. Apparently Mandy pictured the six fingered man as the cancer that killed his own father, so when he says that line it’s like he is seeking revenge on that vile disease.

Chris Sarandon plays Humperdinck as a villain who you love to hate. He is vain and pompous, and yet he is also intelligent, a skilled fighter and tracker, and is not someone you want to cross. He steals every scene he is in. I love the way he says this line “Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan. I’ve got my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it. I’m swamped.” Cracks me up every time.

Chrisopher Guest is perfectly cast as the Princes right hand man, Tyrone. A skilled torturer and swordsman, he takes immense pleasure in killing and inflicting pain. Christopher plays the character so well that you want to boo and hiss each time he makes an appearance on screen.

Andre The Giant is loveable as Fezzik. He makes him brave and strong, but has Fezzik has slow reactions so isn’t much use in a fist fight, but he tries hard! It is a credit to Andre that he doesn’t let you see how much pain he was in. He was suffering back pain and was in agony throughout the shoot, but you would never know it to watch him. Andre died in 1993.

Wallace Shawn is hysterical as the cunning man of great intellect whose wit and words are his greatest weapons. I love the way he says “inconceivable!” all the time. He’s always been one of the great character actors and this is one of his greatest performances.

Peter Falk is perfect as the granddad who you wish was your own. This man knows the power of a good story and he knows the boy will soon be drawn into this tale. Falk acts as the narrator and guide in the film and is a welcome presence throughout.

Small appearances by Mel Smith , Peter Cook and Billy Crystal add to the comedy in the film, with Crystal  coming up with much of his own dialogue.

Fred Savage does a good job as the young boy who starts to see that books are magical, and reading is just as good (if not better in many cases)than watching TV or playing video games. I love the bit where he’s disgusted by the fact that this could be a kissing book. 🙂

The film was made on location here in the UK. I think that was a good choice as the landscape brings to mind a fairytale/medieval land. I recently visited Haddon Hall, in Derbyshire which was used as the location for Humperdinck’s castle. That was quite an experience, and I urge you to visit not only because it was in the film, but as it is one of the few remaining medieval castles. This was also featured in Jane Eyre (2006)and The Priory School(an episode of the Return of Sherlock Holmes TV series.)

A beautiful score by Mark Knopfler adds greatly to the film. This is such a fun film and is one that can be enjoyed over and over again and never gets old.  Isn’t this true of all fairytales? I also really like how the film captures how you see a story in your head when reading a book.

My favourite scenes are the following. Inigo in the forest asking his father’s spirit to guide his sword. Westley and Buttercup’s conversation on top of the hill where he says “life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” The sequence in the fire swamp. Westley and Inigo’s swordfight (both Cary and Mandy practiced for months and became very skilled with swords, and that really is them both for the whole of that exciting sequence.) Vizzini and Westley matching wits over the poisoned cups. Buttercup in the eel lake. Inigo finally getting to face the six fingered man.

I also think that if the events of this film had been a reality that the ending would have been considerably different. Towards the end of the film you get a sharp slap from reality as characters start dying or getting seriously injured. In reality I think Inigo and Westley would have died from what happened to them, Buttercup would have gone through with her threat and Humperdinck would no doubt have passed himself off as the big hero. I’d say the ending we get in the film is much better, even if it is only a crowd pleasing fantasy. Hey, aren’t dreams always thus?

Writing all of this has made me eager to watch this again. “As you wish”, my DVD player says to me. Alright then, I will. 🙂

What are your thoughts on this film?