Reviews and notes
One of the directors employed on the film [The Thief of Bagdad
] (the others included Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan and, uncredited, Korda himself), was Michael Powell, a highly imaginative artist with a great bent for the fantastic, who would be responsible for the musical masterpiece, THE RED SHOES
, that climaxed this decade.
Michael Powell, who had begun his career as an assistant to Rex Ingram in Nice, became a writer, then directed for Korda, and teamed up with another Hungarian, Emeric Pressburger, to form a company to write, produce and direct their own films. In that capacity they made THE RED SHOES
(1948) from an original screenplay by Pressburger. It is the first and, for most students and lovers of ballet, still the only film to capture the dance world's atmosphere with its strange allure and consuming passions. With a radiant new star, the Royal Ballet's Moira Shearer in her film debut as the ballet-crazed Vicky Page. ('Why do you want to dance, Miss Page?' 'Why do you want to live, Mr Lermontov?'). Designed by Heinz Heckroth, photographed in beautifully dreamy colours by Jack Cardiff, and with an original score by Brian Easdale conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, Powell's film achieves an almost third-dimensional atmosphere.
The story, inspired by the Byzantine world of the Ballets Russe and the tortured relationships of Diaghilev with some of his dancers, takes its last inspired stroke from Pavlova's career, when the performance that great artist was scheduled to dance the night of her death went on as announced, ends on the shot of Vicky's follow spot taking her place, dancing her part. Like Pavlova, she was irreplaceable.
The film was an enormous success in its day and went on to become a cult. The central ballet, created by Robert Helpmann, perfect for film, is unsuitable for the stage and has never been adapted for the theatre, but generations of awed and enamoured youngsters have come to ballet as a result. It inspired others to try and integrate full-length ballet numbers into their films: An American in Paris
, Invitation to the Dance
, Black Tights
, and Ben Hecht's fruity Spectre of the Rose
, with exchanges like this one: 'Love me with your eyes,' the hero tells the heroine. 'I am', she replies. 'Harder!'
What Powell and Pressburger had done was something more than show that a mass audience would sit still for classical ballet. They made their audiences share and enjoy a world that was more notorious for cutting people out of it than for letting any but the most obsessed into it. That still remains this work's unique achievement. To appreciate the uniqueness of Powell's achievement one has only to recall the more recent attempt to film the great Nijinsky's life and his destructive relationship with Diaghilev (Nijinsky
. Paramount 1979).
-John Kobal, A History of Movie Musicals - Gotta Sing Gotta Dance.
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