I wrote the following as an assignment while over in Germany this past semester. While I had to write this in addition to a research paper, I have no idea; alas, here it is (and it was actually quite fun to write):
Michael Powell. Emeric Pressburger. Moira Shearer. The Red Shoes. This 1948 classic is my second favorite film—with Walt Disney’s 1940 masterpiece Fantasia holding the first spot. The Red Shoes is, without a doubt, a fantastic film. It encapsulates brilliant acting, wonderful dancing, and Jack Cardiff’s killer Technicolor sequences (yes, I am looking at you Ballet of the Red Shoes). I can’t say that I am overly obsessed with dance films, and that’s great here because it really isn’t just a dance film. Yes, ballet is a central feature, but the film is also a love story, revolving around two different kinds of love—love for one’s profession and love for another person. The story of the film is loosely based off of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name. It focuses on Moira Shearer’s character, Victoria “Vicky” Page, and her quest to perform in a ballet company. She catches the attention of Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), and joins his company. There she falls in love with composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring), and she must decide, by the insistence of Lermontov, between her love of dancing and her love for Julian. Vicky ends up jumping off of a balcony and getting killed by an oncoming train, but the performance of The Red Shoes continues without her, with a spot light taking her place. On our first trip to Berlin, Jon and I visited the Museum für Film und Fernsehen, which had an exhibition on films made, and memorabilia collected, by Martin Scorsese, and I was able to behold the wonder of Moira Shearer’s red shoes. I knew Scorsese had a pair of her shoes, but I never dreamed that one day I would be able to look at them.
I must say that I have never been so excited to see shoes before. I turned around and there they were—faded, battered and broken ballet slippers—propped up in a miniature glass box. Apparently my reaction was quite fantastic because I just stood there, slowly clasping my hand to my gaping mouth. I’m sure that my eyelids widened to their maximum as I gently tiptoed toward the glass box, just like a small child once he or she has discovered a new toy, still gasping for a much needed dose of oxygen. I stood at that glass box in awe, taking in the beautiful sight. Like a vulture, I then circled those shoes, wanting to seize them so I could have Moira Shearer’s sweat-glazed slippers all to my greedy self. I quickly glanced around the rest of the minuscule room, which showcased some of the other film memorabilia Scorsese has collected over the years. There was an impressive poster of The Red Shoes (along with a nice one-sheet showcasing the three leads), but I immediately gravitated back toward the shoes. There really shouldn’t have been such a powerful effect on me—I mean, I only discovered the film a few years ago—but I was completely enthralled, engrossed by the history contained in such a petite package.
I decided to stop circling the shoes to let others see them (I watched as many others took only a fleeting glance; perhaps they did not recognize the greatest item in the entire museum was right in front of them), and reluctantly went to the end of that exhibit. Sure enough, after a few minutes of wandering up and down the aisles, looking at various items from the likes of Hugo, Raging Bull and Shutter Island, I traveled back to the shoes and stood there, literally, for ten or fifteen minutes, soaking up as much joy as I could before I had to leave for some probably less spectacular previously scheduled event. The worst part of this glorious experience—and, yes, there was one horrendous part—was the inability to take a picture. Taking a picture of those shoes was the only thing I have ever wanted to do in my entire life. So, instead of trying to sneak a picture or ask the employees if it would be possible to take said picture (knowing it would prove fruitless), I just stood there even longer at that glass box, mesmerized by the treasure it was holding.
I cannot possibly imagine what everyone must think about this. Luckily, only Jon was there to witness my idiotic and nonsensical self; I was probably even drooling. It was like I found a little lost piece of my soul that was calling my name, hypnotizing me with some invisible force. It killed me that I couldn’t take a picture. It is spectacular to me how emotional I got while looking at a pair of sixty-five year old, worn-out shoes. Yes, I must confess, I teared up. Things got real. But it must be the little things in life that make it so enjoyable. Yes, there will undoubtedly be sorrow, but finding just the smallest thing—even if it is entirely unexpected—can completely turn your world upside down. My day was made. No, my weekend was made. No, scratch that—my week was made. I needed nothing else to make me happy. I’m also not a big boaster, but I am pretty sure that I have told everyone this story before. Sure, no one actually cared that I saw Moira Shearer’s shoes—except for, maybe, Lauren because she had seen the film—but I really didn’t care: I told the story over and over again, and I’m telling it once more. Few things truly make me happy, but seeing those shoes did.
I strongly urge anyone and everyone to watch this film, and I will undoubtedly write more about the film itself in the future. But, for now, I leave you once again with Criterion’s three reasons: