It was a bargain.
I believe it is fair to say that The Red Shoes is the only famous movie by the British writing / directing team. It was certainly the only movie of theirs that I had heard of back when I was a more casual film fan. I think it is also fair to say that, were she forced name a favorite filmmaker, Sonya (my companion on this insane adventure, and much else of course) would name them. Which is how it came to pass that I saw a near-handful of other films by the Archers before seeing their acknowledged masterpiece: A Canterbury Tale (Sonya's favorite), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (a masterpiece to film buffs), Peeping Tom (the film that effectively ended Powell's career by daring to portray a serial killer sympathetically), and the hugely underrated bomb-defusing drama The Small Back Room. I want to see them all, now.
Some random thoughts on watching The Red Shoes (I'll hide the spoiler-ish ones):
- This restored print is among the most gorgeous things you'll ever see. And it's not just the things that are supposed to knock us out (like the redness of the shoes) that are extraordinary; even the character's faces look exquisite. See it on a big screen if it comes to your city. Buy it when it comes out on Blu-Ray.
- It contains what is easily the most extraordinary dance sequence I've ever seen on film (a precis of the title ballet). It makes the justifiably famous dance sequence in Singin' in the Rain, which owes it an enormous debt, seem like a sketch.
- As an adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story, it's really quite brilliant. I'm a notorious sucker for meta, and Sonya knows this, and I am glad that she did not tell me that the movie is not an adaptation of the story but is rather about a bunch of people quite believably and brilliantly adapting it. (Except, of course, it is an adaptation of the story, very much so.)
- I am once again grateful that the analytic part of my brain shuts itself off when I'm watching a movie, since the ending of this is telegraphed in the face of sufficient rational thought (see parenthetical note to previous point). I am also grateful that I arduously avoid spoilers: I didn't know, going on, whether the ending was supposed to be heroic, romantic, ambiguous, tragic, or what.
- I am surprised to learn that not everyone gets that Lermontov is legitimately in love with Vicky. The key is in his reaction to learning that she and Julian have become lovers, on the very day that he had hoped to ask her to dinner. Then again, I have had precisely the same experience: being casually told that the woman I was smitten with was happily in love with someone else. (I leaned over to Sonya and whispered, "Dude, you blew it.")
I have loved all of the Powell / Pressburger movies I have seen, but (with the very possible exception of A Canterbury Tale) none struck me as likely to vault into my all-time favorites list upon re-viewing. The Red Shoes absolutely does. It is at least as good as any of them, and it is most to my taste: I am drawn to its themes as I am not drawn to those of, say, Colonel Blimp, a movie I admired ferociously but many of whose concerns seem remote to me. The Red Shoes is All About the conflict of Life and Art. As someone who once wrote a song about Yeats whose chorus went "I think he would have rather married / Maud Gonne" (i.e., than achieved artistic immortality), this couldn't have been more up my alley if I'd written the specs.