[ continued from page 2 ]
Cardiff and Challis experimented together and separately with camera speeds, filters, and means of manipulating the cumbersome Technicolor camera more freely. During a "Swan Lake" scene in the film, the camera actually spins to show Vicki's POV as she executes a pirouette.
The "Ballet of the Red Shoes" itself is an intricately tooled 17-minute sequence played without an audience reaction cut. The ballet was filmed last and took six weeks to shoot. The hard-driven cast and crew were given a welcome two-week vacation in mid-August while the dancers rehearsed in a London studio and the sets and stage effects were prepared. A scratch on Shearer's side developed into an abscess, requiring minor surgery and several days of hospitalization.
The sequence begins in the onstage town square, which includes a church, a cobbler's shop, and a street fair; as it plays out, the Girl (Shearer) and the Lover (Helpmann) notice the red shoes in the shop window. The Lover senses evil in the shoes, but the Shoemaker (Massine) gives them to the Girl and follows the couple to the fair. There, she dances wildly until the Lover loses her, but the Shoemaker is always close behind. Her subsequent partners tire, falling as cellophane mannequins which she dances over. She becomes exhausted and tries to go home, but the Shoemaker's hands, seen as giant shadows, drag her back. The shoes dance onward as the Girl turns to face the demonic cobbler.
At this point, Victoria confuses the ballet with her real-life conflict between love and the dance; the subsequent depiction of the ballet therefore arises from the girl's mind, rather than the events unfolding onstage. The faces of Lermontov and Julian, each of whom is trying selfishly to dominate her, dissolve over those of the Shoemaker and the Lover. Victoria dances through a surrealistic world of fantastical imagery which embodies all of the beauty and ugliness of her life. She even dances with a newspaper, which transforms momentarily into the Lover. The Shoemaker leads her away through the Dead City of Failure and past the monsters of Envy and Malice. A golden spotlight lifts her high into a magnificent ballroom, where she dances with the Lover. Suddenly, Victoria sees Lermontov in his box and Julian at the podium. The audience resembles a turbulent sea, while the men are rocks against which breakers crash. The dancer is then back in the village square on Sunday morning. Grim figures are entering the church. Turned away by the congregation and the Priest (also played by Helpmann), she collapses on the steps and dies. The Priest unties the shoes and carries the body into the church; the Shoemaker then retrieves the red shoes.
Six months before production, Heckroth began working on his sets day and night under a daylight lamp, drafting some 2,000 sketches. For the ballet, he painted 120 scenes which were then filmed in sequence; Easdale's score was adapted to match the paintings, each of which was held for whatever length was needed. Cardiff and Challis then adapted the camera angles and lighting indicated in the paintings, as the dancers performed to musical playback. Each shot, when completed, replaced the corresponding painting.
In his book, Cardiff notes, "I had a gadget made to change the camera speeds during a scene so I could go from normal speed to double speed [48 fps]. This was used to great effect when a dancer leapt in the air; just before the apex of flight, I slowed the action for a fraction of a second, so that they appeared to hover in the air. I changed speed with pirouettes so that a dancer would start off at normal speed and then, as I changed the speed to only four frames a second, whirl faster and faster until she was only a spinning blur. This [technique] became highly successful in what was called 'The Paper Dance' with Moira."
In this scene, loose newspapers scatter along the ground, swirl up and assume a man-like aspect (a puppet manipulated with wires). They turn into the figure of the Lover, and finally transform back into paper. The brevity of the shots made dissolves impractical, so changes were achieved through exact frame cutting.
Other effects were achieved through similarly simple techniques. A shift from day to night resulted from multiple dissolves between five background paintings. The gigantic falling leaves in one sequence were actually bits of cellophane dropped from wires into a set fashioned of transparent sheets. The huge shadow of the Shoemaker was cast by two Brutes, with the units' condenser lenses replaced by coverings of clear glass. The stage-set scene of the auditorium being engulfed by huge waves was accomplished by doubling a shot of the raging sea at Cornwall over the studio set, which was augmented with a glass painting.
One particular painting reveals Shearer dancing through space. Towering mountains appear in the background, along with several other ranges in the distance; bizarre, multicolored wisps twist past in the foreground. Each of the mountain ranges and clouds were painted on separate glass sheets, in front of which was a flat glass water tank; chemicals that created streaks and trails without clouding the water were dropped from various heights into the tank. A shot of Shearer suspended on wires was photographed separately. In postproduction, the dancer was matted into the scenes by George Gunn, a British Technicolor technician who had developed the Gunnshot traveling-matte process.
Matte paintings were also featured liberally in both the ballet sequence and the surrounding story. These are expertly executed, with the exception of a poorly composited scene representing the interior of a Parisian opera house.
The Red Shoes had been allotted a 15-week schedule and a budget of £300,000. Filming finished in 24 weeks (on November 21, 1947) at a final cost of approximately £551,927.
The overall production itself was somewhat of a stormy voyage. The unyielding cement floors of the stages caused pain and swelling in the legs and feet of the dancers, and the blazing lights actually produced some fainting spells. Shearer found herself dancing under near-impossible conditions that included being suspended for up to eight hours at a time in a harness while being buffeted by wind machines. She also endured some Lermontov-like castigations by her gentle but tough director. Powell publicly humiliated Basserman and his wife, which also estranged him from Walbrook, to whom Basserman was a hero. Archers stalwarts Junge and Gray would never work with the filmmaking team again.
In January of 1948, a rough cut of The Red Shoes was screened for Rank Film executives; the top brass hated the film. Pressburger then screened the picture for Korda, who made him a purchasing offer. Rank decided not to sell, and extended completion money on the stipu-lation that Powell and Pressburger would take a £10,000 reduction in their salaries and an increase in their share of the profits from 25 to 37.5 percent. Rank representatives later sat silently through a private screening of the final cut and stalked out without a word.
Instead of the planned gala premiere and advanced-price presen-tation, The Red Shoes was sent into general release. Most London critics thought it a lavish flop. The movie was even angrily denounced at a U.S. screening at Universal-International, which had a releasing agreement with Rank. The "turkey" was then shunted off to little Eagle Lion Pictures (a Pathé Industries subsidiary partly backed by Rank) which opened the film quietly as a reserved seat attraction at New York's Bijou. Overall, the movie remained in release for two years and seven weeks, and did surprisingly well in its roadshow and popular-price exhibitions as well.
Eventually, The Red Shoes made Variety's "Golden Fifty" list of the top moneymakers of all time, and won Academy Awards for Heckroth, Lawson and Easdale, as well as nomi-nations for Best Picture, Best Story (Pressburger) and Best Film Editing (Reginald Mills). This expressionistic fantasy is now generally regarded as The Archers' greatest triumph.
[ Film credits continued on the next page ]