The fairytale, if you're not already aware, is horrific. No, scratch that. It's fucking horrific. Leave it to Hans Christian Andersen's warped imagination to scare the bejeezus out of you and make you want to cloud yourself in a pure, white veil, never looking in the mirror again, never wanting anything ever again but to be a good little girl and go to Heaven. In the fairytale, a selfish little girl, adopted by a rich woman after her mother dies, wants a pair of beautiful red dancing shoes. She gets them, and they take on a life of their own. They dance whether she wants to or not, and they never leave her feet. Night and day, rain or shine, they won't stop dancing. Eventually, the girl has her feet amputated (amputated! what kind of fairytale includes amputation?!?) but the shoes still do not stop--they continue to dance with her amputated feet inside them. Inside them.
Now, can you see why the childhood memory and imprinted visuals of this terrible tale has left me a bit anxious to see the film? But this is what happens when it's rainy and cold, when you've just set up your projector in a new apartment (which, of course, must be broken in with a visually fantastic movie), and when your friend comments on the "redness" of your apartment at the exact moment that you open the first box entitled "DVDs" and find The Red Shoes right on top, Moira Shearer's flawless en pointe staring back at you. This is what happens: you give in and watch the damn movie.
For the first ten minutes I was terribly nervous, and for the next 123 we were completely entranced (at least, I was completely entranced, and being so entranced I could not accurately determine if he was also just as entranced--because I was, you know, entranced). The acting was dreamlike; I was surprised to find that Ms. Shearer made only a handful of appearances on film, this being her most well-known. The infamous dance sequence, the actual ballet performance of The Red Shoes, was the most beautiful, the most disturbing, the most colorfully stimulating, and quite possibly the most wonderfully artistic dance sequence on film I've ever seen (though Cyd Charisse and the green dress are still up there, artistic merit warranted or not). So comfortable is this film, all of its parts and players, within the realm of art, that sometimes you can't tell if you're watching a surrealist painting in the works, or a double exposure of a sunset and flame. Or perhaps you have truly just teleported to a world where color and movement are on a level of existence we could not have imagined- except Powell and Pressburger could. And did. In 1948.
I can't promise with as equal conviction that this film will change your life as a friend who has assured me that watching The Wire will change mine (this has yet to be confirmed, or even tested), but it certainly changed my perceptions of early dance films--namely, that they could be strange and daring without sacrificing any of the Technicolor pow! associated with 1940s and 1950s musicals. Instead, The Red Shoes takes the pow! to new and unexplored terrain, as if introducing it to its own potential. Powell and Pressburger were famous for being ahead of their time, and that is entirely apparent in The Red Shoes. The tragedy underlying this film is not how life imitates art, though Vicki's fate is pretty gruesome, but that P & P never touched the musical/dance genre again. Maybe there was just nothing left to do with it after Vicki lay broken and still.