The Red Shoes: Art for Art’s Sake

David Thomson is one of my favorite film critics, if for no other reason than he’s not above throwing film theory out the window to say, in effect, “I like it because I like it SO THERE.”

I’m always game to read a good shadowplay soapbox from Thompson’s lovably cantankerous pen. The fact that when we differ, oh boy how we differ, makes moments of complete accord all the sweeter.

He hit the nail squarely on the head on this one.

Jack Cardiff‘s decadent cinematography, Moira Shearer‘s elegant dancing, surreal art direction, combined with Powell and Pressburger’s powerful vision… it is an extraordinary, singular, everlasting piece of “art for art’s sake.”

How else do you account for film credit titles quite this beautiful?



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Gen Y reject and wage slave extraordinaire.

7 thoughts on “The Red Shoes: Art for Art’s Sake

  1. I SAW THIS FILM WHEN I WAS 10 YEARS OLD AND FOUND IT A TRUE LIFE EXPERIENCE….THE MUSIC, PHOTOGRAPHY AND ACTING WERE AMAZING TO ME…AND I WAS ONLY TEN AND A WALT DISNEY FAN..SO I SAW IT AGAIN YEARS LATER ON TCM….SAME REACTION.

  2. Thomson is such a good and persuasive writer that even when I read something of his that I disagree with (and there are many of those), I still find myself thinking, “Hmmm . . . he may have a point there . . .” I even quoted him in a post recently, at the end of my Joan Blondell piece, http://violdam6.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/blonde-crazy/

    I have to slightly disagree with him on “The Red Shoes.” There aren’t many times that one art form captures the essence of another art form. That’s one of the many great things about motion pictures, the ability to do just that. But it doesn’t happen routinely — it takes artists of the level of Powell and Pressburger and Cardiff (and Moira Shearer and Anton Walbrook) to pull it off. And this is one case where it absolutely does happen. I would only alter his quote to say that this is a case of “great art capturing great art.” Hell, as you point out in your beautiful images, even the CREDITS are stunning. Makes you want to see if the rest of it is that good, and it’s not. It’s better.

  3. I have a few of Thomson’s books and though I sometimes disagree with him, I am usually dazzled by both his insight and his nimble prose – even when he’s wrong (in my opinion). Whether “The Red Shoes” is art for art’s sake or not, it is a stunning work worthy of the descriptor, “masterpiece.”

  4. Do you know, I agree with the both of you completely: in reading Thomson’s review, he was discussing the fact that “The Red Shoes” was made in a purposeful, flagrant move against the post-war austerity of British cinema– an intentionally indulgent and lavish production that would inspire generation of dancers and artists. Perhaps it would have been more correct to say that this film, created out of the desperate need to create, for art’s sake, became a case of (as Gene put it) “great art capturing great art.”

  5. I think this is why I appreciate your blog more than other blogs on film. They concentrate primarily on current films. Yours remind me of films that I miss or have missed. I saw The Red Shoes only once and your review, though concise, reminds me of what a great film it was. I must see it again. And soon! Thank you. But next time please write more. I love your insights.

  6. Thanks. I just looked it up and Netflix offers it but doesn’t state whether or not it’s the restored version. Right now I don’t really care. Gotta see it again.

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