The Masters  
The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by Neal Lofthouse

In The Picture
Jayne Pilling steps out with "The Red Shoes"
Radio Times 28th Sept - 4th Oct 1985

One of the most enduringly popular of the writer-director team of Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell's collaborations, " The Red Shoes" was also one of their most commercially sucessful films.

Like the ballet within the film, the story is of the human price to be paid when life is sacrificed to art. Anton Walbrook, the Austrian actor who appears in so many Powell-Pressburger films, is Lermontov, the ballet company's director. He plays the demonic yet seductive impresario like a matinee idol Mephistopheles, as he fastens on aspiring young ballerina Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) as his new protegee. Her dedication is rewarded by sucess in "The Red Shoes", the ballet created for her, which comes to symbolise her own tragic fate.

The bitter-sweet flavour of Andersen's fairy-tale is caught as the romance, developing amid the glowing Mediterranean landscapes of Monte Carlo where much of the film is shot, is ultimately crushed by Lermantov's insistance that she choose between life and art - those red shoes that will dance her to death.

Weaving in and out of the central conflict is the everyday backstage life of a ballet company, the routines of hard work and cameraderie subsuming all the displays of temperament and artistic idiosyncrasies. But the film's appeal is far wider than its subject matter. The narrative rhythms are as carefully structured, the colour harmonies of its Technicolor images as designed as for any ballet, but the effect is pure cinema. The ballet sequence itself combines the grace of classical dance with a breath-taking mastery of cinematic invention. It's a triumph of modernist fantasy, which won an Oscar for designer Hein Heckroth.

The way in which it was made created a new term among professionals, "choreo-photography". The sequence was sketched out in hundreds of life-size colour drawings, which were photographed from the camera angles to be used in actual filming.

The original score, tailored to fit these photographs was then recorded, reversing the usual process of adding music to the almost finished film. Cinematographer Jack Cardiff had the difficult task of filming to fit the music, with dancers performing to the playback. Many special effects were devised, though subtly integrated to enhance the ballet rather than call attention to themselves.

Even all these complex special effects had to be shot to music. The process became a test of precision not just for the dancers but for the entire technical crew. Their magnificent achievement, and the experience gained, was to lead to another musical fantasy, "Tales of Hoffmann".

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