The Red Shoes is a 1948 British Technicolor wonder that also happens to be a film about ballet and the constant struggle between being a great artist and having a life (see Whiplash for the most recent cinematic reminder).
The inestimable George Eastman House in Rochester, NY is currently hosting the exhibit, “In Glorious Technicolor”. Along with the museum’s exhibit of film clips, cameras, photos, and history, there is an accompanying film series of important examples of Technicolor technology and application. I was fortunate enough to revisit The Red Shoes in a restored 35mm print in the Dryden Theater, the Eastman House main theater.
If you love film, if you love art, if you love dance, if you love Technicolor (or color in film in general), try to see The Red Shoes in a theater. You may have to wait and work for it, but it’s worth the wait. If you are wondering what all the fuss is about with the argument of film vs. digital, The Red Shoes is a marvelous and classic argument for the beauty of film.
The images are dense, rich, and striking. The cinematography is by cinematic genius (a term I use rarely) Jack Cardiff. Cardiff had won a well-deserved Oscar for his work in the previous year’s Black Narcissus. While The Red Shoes (directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) won two Oscars (for Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Color, and for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture), it’s one of Oscar’s big misses that this gem didn’t win Cardiff his second golden man in a row.
The film uses color expressionistically. The central ballet—anticipating and likely suggesting the ballet sequences in An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain—is an explosion of deep color that is alternately exhilarating and haunting. The British approach to Technicolor steers clear of the American obsession with primary colors, and is at once more subtle and more beautiful. Here, scenes of obsessive sadness lean to the purple, where scenes of anger lean to the read. But unless you’re looking, you’ll only feel them and not notice them.
It’s probably a lost cause to continue to promote film over digital at this point, with all due respect to the film stalwarts. But if you want to see how spectacular film color could be, you need go no farther than The Red Shoes. As an art film, it will live for ages. As a model of Technicolor, it’s probably already a dinosaur, but it’s a glorious one.