The Red Shoes, I’m not even sure if there is anything new to say about the film. Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker have gushed about how the film inspired them. A restored version of the film was screened at Cannes in 2009, which absolutely floored the audience. The Red Shoes is a film that is so adored that it has a near mythical status amongst the film community. The most popular reason is that is one of the most gorgeous looking films ever shot in Technicolor. Yet the one reason why this is so beautiful is how the colors enhance this tale’s themes of art and obsession.
The plot of The Red Shoes revolves around Ballet Lermontov and their creation of a ballet based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of the same title. But things lead to turmoil when the ruthless impresario Lermontov learns that his composer fell in love with their lead dancer Victoria Page, who only lives to dance. The climax leads to poor Page in conflict over what she loves more, the glory of ballet or her lover.
It is a grand melodrama but the highlight of the film is the “The Red Shoes” ballet itself thanks to its bright surreal imagery but what is so fascinating is that the actual ballet symbolically parallels the main plot. The shoes of the play, which shine brighter than Dorothy’s ruby slippers, represent the allure of art but also the difficulty and pain to create it, blood is red after all. Beyond the ballet sequence, red pops up throughout the film to represent passionate feelings, mostly love and hate but it is far more nuanced than that. Notably, when Lermontov reaches his lowest point, he is sitting in his apartment wearing a red velvet robe surrounded by red felt furniture, which unsubtly reveals his conflict despair in the best possible way.
The Red Shoes is a beautifully crafted film that embraces the decadence of high art as much as it fears it. The story is a classic but the ballet sequence adds a layer of meta-fiction that most post-modern art fail to pull off, let alone so elegantly. Technicolor already makes The Red Shoes look like a glorious painting but the ways the colors highlight the main themes makes this film a visual masterpiece. In hindsight, it is clear why the filmmaking world adores this film; it says so much about the potential of cameras as a storyteller that it became, and still is, the cinematic ideal. Not much else can be said beyond that, just buy the Blu-ray and let the Technicolor sink into your skin.