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the red shoes

iris and i accidentally watched a wonderful movie last week: the red shoes. the film is based on the hans christian andersen fable of the same name about a girl who lusts after a pair of fancy red shoes. when she first puts them on she dances happily, but soon realizes she has lost control of the shoes: they are stuck to her feet and will not stop dancing. she ends up dancing to death.

in the film the red shoes, the ambitious dancer victoria ‘vicky’ page dances the lead in a ballet adaptation of the red shoes to tremendous success. but alas, she is fated to the same tragic end as the character she performs. her sick quest for perfection leads her to sacrifice love, happiness, and ultimately, her life.

iris pointed out that, while certain ballet scenes are enhanced with the magical moviemaking effects of technicolor, much of the movie forgoes the usual cinematic storytelling cues. each scene begins and ends quite abruptly, and it’s impossible to get a sense of how much time is passing. in many ways the movie actually possesses more of the ingenuousness of theater than the slickness of cinema: every character’s movement is blatantly choreographed and the movie sets flaunt their artificiality. all of this artlessness creates an enchanting fantasy land of exaggerated innocence.

in the opening scene, for example, students scramble to grab a seat in the bleachers of a theater. the scramble, though, is chaos-free, with a pleasant undulation of heads bobbing and hips wiggling as the students make room on the benches.

then there are the perfectly rhythmic cities of the red shoes. what clean, friendly places these cities are, where everyone is exactly where they are supposed to be, moving pleasantly in time with one another.

victoria page and julian craster in monte carlo

this nighttime scene in monte carlo epitomizes the eager simplicity employed by the sets of the red shoes. we aren’t told explicitly, but this might be the scene where julian craster and victoria page first fall in love. they are full of excitement about their future, and the set echoes their charming naïveté. silly plastic trees are lit by the unnatural pinkish glow that imbues the entire scene. the actors stand no more than a few feet from a painted, dusky backdrop, their hair softly blowing in the type of wind only a fan can create.

the staged nature of the film very effectively leaves us viewers unable to resolve where reality stops and the performance begins. we understand how vicky was consumed by dance, because we’re not really sure if she ever left the stage. we realize that the entire movie has been a part of the ballet; those artfully bumbling students and plastic trees were all a part of the inescapable red shoes performance. the theatricality had seemed to create a good-natured artificial reality, but really we were seeing the trap that locked vicky in those dancing shoes. the film’s hokey theater language has all the sparkling innocence of a pair of red shoes, so, like vicky, we mistook a horror story for a fairy tale.

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