Monday, January 31, 2011

The Quick and the Dead (1995)

Title: The Quick and the Dead (1995)

Director: Sam Raimi

Cast: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lance Henriksen, Keith David, Tobin Bell, Gary Sinise


The Quick and the Dead isn’t one of those films that purely emerged from the mind and imagination of director Sam Raimi. It wasn’t like Evil Dead (1981) or Darkman (1990) both of which were films born and bred in Sam Raimi’s brain. Nope, on The Quick and the Dead Sam Raimi was a director for hire. He was personally chosen by Sharon Stone herself for this film because she loved what he did on Army of Darkness (1993). So here was Sam Raimi, coming out of the moderate success of Army of Darkness, doing his first “director for hire” picture. How did it go?

An awesome cast makes this an awesome western!

The Quick and the Dead centers around a shoot out contest that takes place in the Western town of Redemption. This contest attracts a varied group of gunmen from all over the Old West. The twist comes when we find out that one of these gunmen is actually a gun woman who goes by the name of ‘Lady’. She signs up for the contest but doesn’t reveal the true nature of her plans: exacting sweet revenge on the man who was responsible for the death of her father! It just so happens that this man is the towns mayor; an abusive politician named Herod who squeezes tons of tax money from peoples pockets and lives a life of luxury at their expense. Will she ever muster up the courage needed to go up against Herod and his men? Will she ever get the revenge that she came for?

One of the things that makes The Quick and the Dead special is the fact that it has a female lead in the role; normally western films have a male lead in them. I figure studios think females don’t really give a damn about cowboy movies so why make one with a female lead? But this one was just a little different. It has an ass kicking female playing the lead character in the form of Sharon Stone, who's one tough cookie on this movie. Though many of the men in Redemption enlists in the contest, somebody protests saying that ladies shouldn’t be allowed to enter. Herod, the towns mayor played by a scene stealing Gene Hackman says “we don’t have nothing against ladies entering the contest, it’s just that ladies can’t shoot for shit!” All the men in the room laugh when he says this. It's right then and there that , and Lady proceeds to show them what she’s made off by shooting her gun faster and quicker then all of them thought she could. So this movie is different that way. Sharon Stone carries the whole film on her shoulders. She’s the ‘Blondie’ of this film. She smokes a thin cigar, says very little and answers almost everything in two syllables. To her credit I will say that she was appropriately bad ass in this film, equal parts sexy and tough.

Sadly, this film was a complete bomb at the box office and an abysmal failure for Sam Raimi who started to doubt his abilities as a director. “I felt like I was a dinasour. That I couldn’t change with each film” But Im guessing that wasn’t the case. Raimi remains a great stylist in my book, he’s kind of lost touch with that in his recent films (Spider Man 3 and Drag Me to Hell) but Im hopeful that he still has a couple of great films in him. The failure of this film can be attributed to a common ailment in action films: having a female in the lead in a genre whose target audience is mostly males. I don’t get this because, shouldn’t guys be happy to get a western with an incredibly beautiful actress in the lead role? But whatever, films like Supergirl (1984), Red Sonja (1985), Barb Wire (1996), Elektra (2005), Aeon Flux (2005), Catwoman (2004) and Ultraviolet (2006), with very rare exceptions, continue to bomb at the box office. But of course, this could have to do something with the fact that these movies are pretty bad to begin with. I guess the real question would be why doesn’t Hollywood make better films with female heroes in them? You make a good action film, with a female lead and it will be a hit just as much as the ones with male leads in them. Look at Salt (2010) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), two examples of successful action films with a female playing the lead.

Sam Raimis stylish direction remains a major asset of this film

But forget that noise; Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead was bad ass. This film not finding its audience was a real tragedy because, not only is this film a great western, it’s also one of Sam Raimi’s best films. At least in my book it is. When Sharon Stone (one of the films producers) chose Raimi as the director for this project, she thought that Raimi showed promise in Army of Darkness and that The Quick and the Dead was going to be the film where he could really come full circle and fine tune his directorial skills, which he achieved wonderfully as far as Im concerned. The film is filled with many signature Sam Raimi camera moves. The lightning flash zoom in, quick camera moves and odd angles make this one a stylish western. Raimi gives it his own distinctive style by placing the camera in extremely interesting places. Like for example when characters load their guns, the camera is actually on the gun itself! In one scene a gunsman shoots his gun and the camera becomes the bullet…little things like that let you know that yes, you are watching a Sam Raimi film. That, plus it’s got the word ‘Dead’ in the title.

Aside from Raimi’s camera play, we also get memorable heroes and villains and a great story to go with them. The contests attracts all sorts of gunslingers to Redemption, each one of them a unique character. For example, Lance Henriksen plays a gunslinger named Ace, because he is renowned for being so great. He likes to do tricks with his pack of cards, which are all aces. We get another gunslinger who’s a gun for hire, another one is a ruthless ex-con, another one is a young kid, and so forth. Behind the characters lays a story of connected lives. They all live under the oppressive reign of Herod, the films villain played by the one and only Gene Hackman who eats up the screen whenever he appears. There’s this awesome scene in wich Sharon Stone is planning on shooting Herod down, but she is so intimidated by the words he speaks that she doesn’t even dare pull the trigger! Now that’s what I call a villain! On top of this, every other character on this film is played by a recognizable actor before they got famous. Russell Crowe is here playing a Priest who’s looking for redemption. He had an ugly past as a gunslinger and is looking to make his peace with God by becoming a priest. Leo DiCaprio plays ‘The Kid’ who also happens to be the son of Herod, the villain. Even Jigsaw himself is here playing a gunslinger who’s looking to kill ‘Lady’. All in all, this film has a solid cast! So much so, that if this film had been made today, with the exact same cast, it would have cost a hell of a lot more money then what it cost back in those days when a lot of these actors were virtual unknowns.

So let’s see, the cinematography is excellent, the music is top notch, the whole cast really makes the whole thing worthwhile, what’s not to like in this picture? Nothing! It is a great homage to Sergio Leone films and westerns in general. We have the lead without a name; we get the revenge that drives the plot of the film. We even get the helpless towns folk who can’t fight for themselves, so they end up looking for the right gunslinger to save them from the oppressive villain. And we got the showdowns at noon. Basically, everything and anything you could ever want to see in a western. This is a highly underrated Sam Raimi film in desperate need of some love and attention!

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Quick and the DeadBad Girls (Extended Cut)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Wings of Desire (1987)

Title: Wings of Desire (1987)

Director: Wim Wenders

Cast: Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Peter Falk


Christianity teaches us that invisible creatures known as Angels are all around us, hovering above us, watching us like the ultimate voyeurs. German director Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire (‘Der Himmel Uber Berlin’ in German, which literally translates to ‘Heavens Over Berlin’) plays with this idea that angels are all around us, we just cant see them. Kind of a scary thought if you ask me, having creatures looking at every single moment of our lives, but so goes the teachings of The Bible.

Wings of Desires centers around two angels, Damiel and Cassiel. Their job is to “Assemble, Testify and Preserve” their observations on human behavior. So these Angels go around writing down things they consider interesting or relevant about the everyday life of humans. But Damiel is growing weary of seeing and not living. He wants to know what its like to be human. This desire of his is augmented when he falls in love with a young trapeze artist he has taken an interest in. Will he fulfill his desire to become a human and experience life first hand?

Marion, the trapeze artist.

I loved how this film played with the idea of angels. Essentially angels are supposed to be watching us all the time. Some people even seem to think that each of us is supposed to have a guardian angel assigned to watching over us through out our lives, helping us and guiding us. I personally don’t believe that, but I like how this film played with those ideas. On this film angels hang around people, checking them out, seeing what they do, and writing it all down on their little notebooks so they can review it later. Angels can also hear people’s thoughts in this film, so we get these amazing scenes of Damiel and Cassiel listening in on what everyone is thinking as they walk about the earth. Some of the most interesting scenes are about Angels simply listening to people as they are reading books in a library or simply walking through the street. It is a really interesting idea to be able to hear peoples most inner thoughts. In real life, this is never possible, yet haven’t you ever thought something and felt like damn, I should write this stuff down! Interesting, raw, perverse and sometimes even poetic thoughts creep into our minds all the time. Every thought about that? What if someone could hear everything you were thinking as you rode the bus or the train?

An angel listens in on an old mans thoughts as he reads a book

Most of the times, it is in our minds that we are most truthful; our thoughts are unfiltered and unafraid of judgment because only we can hear them. On Wings of Desire we get to hear what a suicidal man is thinking, what an old poet thinks as he plots his next novel, and what a lonely person thinks when he gets home. It’s a really interesting premise, this idea of angels listening in on people’s private thoughts. There is this one amazing scene that really got to me where this guy is riding the train, and he is being so negative about his life. The guy is just thinking the darkest most negative thoughts, suddenly, the angel taps him on the shoulder and suddenly his thoughts switch to happy and positive. It was such a beautiful moment, I loved it. This film really milks this idea for all its worth. It’s an idea that was also used in films like Nancy Mayers’s What Women Want (2000), where Mel Gibson’s character could actually hear people’s thoughts. If I remember correctly there’s an episode of Gilligan’s Island where everyone in the island could take a magic fruit that would give you the ability to hear what people thought. But of course, none of these play as profoundly with the idea as Wings of Desire does.

The main thrust of the film comes from how angels perceive us. They look at us and find little details in our lives that we might find unimportant yet display incredible amounts of humanity. So these angels kind of fall in love with humanity and appreciate it on a whole different level then you and I. There’s a scene where both angels are swapping their notes on humanity and we get to hear the things they write down in their little notebooks. Little details and things that we normally take for granted, yet angels find amusing because they show the core of human nature. And that’s where Damiel’s suffering comes in. He can observe, but he can’t really live. He becomes obsessed with the pain and suffering of life; with the uncertainty of living, the discoveries, the emotions and the colors. Speaking of colors, they play an important part in the film. In order to demonstrate how devoid of emotions and life an angels existence is, the supernatural is displayed in lifeless Sepia tones, while real life is displayed in vibrant color. And since were speaking about the films look, I might as well mention that the film has a retro look to it, at times you might feel like the film was shot in the 50's, at times it feels modern.

In the past, other films have also played with this idea of angels jealousy towards human beings. The firsts ones that comes to mind are The Prophecy (1995) with Christopher Walken, and Legion (2010). Both of these films give a horror vibe to the whole premise of jealousy from angels to humans. It’s interesting that this sort of jealousy that angels feel for humanity also comes straight from the bible itself. Don’t know how many of you guys know, but there was a group of angels in the bible that started to look down upon human females with lust. And so, they became humans so they could be with them. After taking human form, they had sex with these women and their sons became these evil giants that ruled the land, known as The Nephilim. Point is, this film is partially influenced by these ideas from the bible. Only in the bible, these angels are seen as rebellious angels, while on this film there seems to be no reprimand for these angels desires to become human. On this film this is simply a choice that the angel has. In Wings of Desire, Damiel falls in love with a trapeze artist named Marion, and I loved these scenes where he is observing her loneliness. He falls for her because he can hear her thoughts and musings on loneliness, and he feels her need to love and be loved. City of Angels (1998) was an American remake of Wings of Desire starring Nicholas Cage as the Angel and Meg Ryan as the object of his affections, though that film focused way more on the romantic/sexual side of the whole affair, and it resembled very little what Wenders did on his film. Wings of Desire is the deeper film of the two, sometimes getting truly poetic and existential.

What Wings of Desire really does is, it makes us appreciate life more. We are not like angels, we have life. We can hate, love, feel pain and joy all in the span of a day at times. The film actually kind of makes you proud to be able to feel, even if its pain that your feeling, because it means you’re alive. At one point Damiel is amazed that he can now bleed like every other human can. So basically, the film asks us not to take life for granted because every little speck of life, every little insignificant little moment matters because it is life. And life is wonderous and bitter at the same time. It might be dull at times, but it is also filled with discoveries and wonderment at the next turn. In one moment, Damien (now human) asks Peter Falk (also an ex angel) “Waits! I want to know everything!” and Peter Falk tells him “You need to figure that out for yourself, that’s the fun of it!” Wim Wenders followed this film with a sequel entitled Faraway! So Close in 1993, looking forward to seeing it soon.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Wings of Desire (The Criterion Collection)Wings of Desire [VHS]Wings of Desire (Special Edition)What Women Want-DvdThe Prophecy

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Film Connoisseur takes on The Wizard of Oz

Hello to everyone out there in Blog Land, today I will be analyzing the 1939 MGM version of The Wizard of Oz. There are many versions of The Wizard of Oz out there, but you’ve probably never seen them because the MGM version is the one that hogs all the attention. But older film versions of Baum’s Oz stories go as far back as 1910, some of these films made by Baum himself. I will also be talking a bit about Sidney Lumet’s The Wiz (1978) which was a Motown version of The Wizard of Oz that’s rather interesting, it presents us with the idea that the Land of Oz is actually an alternate version of New York City, with the Emerald City being in Manhattan. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you do! Theres also a couple of new Oz films down the line, one of which is set to be directed by Sam Raimi and possibly starring Johnny Depp as Oz.  

The thing with this post is that I will be talking about my own interpretation of these films from an anti-religious point of view. I am not alone in thinking this. In fact, many Christians have caught on to this way of interpreting the books and the films, and have even organized The Wizard of Oz book burnings (right next to the Harry Potter book burnings) and have even lobbied to get the books banned. Since I know that religion is a touchy subject, and since I don’t want to alienate any of my readers, if you don’t like people talking negatively about religion, then you are welcome to tune out my friend. But if on the other hand you are a free thinking spirit who doesn’t mind reading about other ways of looking at the world, then welcome, and read on!

So it’s no secret that I abhor religion. If you’ve been reading The Film Connoisseur, you probably know that to me, its one big fat lie. A fantasy that they make you believe from childhood so that you will become a sheep, following the orders of the shepherd; the shepherds in this case being religious leaders, and the government. It’s all one big elaborate plan to make you a docile servant of ‘the system’. Follow these ten rules and you will be alright. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with not killing, not stealing, and being faithful to our partners, but why do you have to make people believe that there is an invisible God watching over all of us? The way I see it, its like George Carlin use to say: “There is an all powerful force watching over all of us. Unfortunately… it’s the government” Look into the origins of religions, it will all make sense. Ever wondered what religion you would believe in had you been born in some other part of the world and how the religion you believe in today was probably chosen by chance? By what your parents believed in or by what country you were born in? Ever wondered who created God? Ever wondered why you only see him in paintings and movies?

Plus, when you’ve studied and read about as many religions as I have, then you kind of get a grasp of what religions are all about, and how similar they all are. They are all there to provide humans with something that’s missing in life. An explanation to the big questions in life, amongst other things. It is only natural to want to know the answers to these questions since life and the existence of the universe makes any logical mind come to ask them. But just because these questions have no answers doesn’t give us the right to make answers up and then believe in them. Why not simply accept that we just don’t know? That the true nature of life and the universe is one gigantic mystery?

Some seem to think that we need religion, the bible and the belief in God to be good. I don’t subscribe to that point of view. I think we all have the natural tendency within us to be good. With the exception of a few rotten apples, humans enjoy being good to each other. I am all for having a society with high moral standards, a set of values and a sense of what is right and wrong. My question is: why can’t they get people to be good without having to feed them a big fat lie? Trust me, you can be a godless person and still be good. There is a common misconception out there about non-believers. A lot of people seem to think we are amoral people because we don’t believe in Jesus, and that my friends simply isn’t so. I don’t believe in baby Jesus, yet I think I’m a pretty decent human being. I try to be the best human I can be. Making people conform to a set of rules, by using fear and lies as a means to do so, is not right on itself. That’s actually a contradiction right there. Getting people to do good by teaching them lies? Whatever happened to “thou shalt not lie?”

Personally, I’d prefer a society in which people would do good because logic tells them so; because in the end, it’s what makes life worthwhile. I’d prefer a society in which people would make choices based on the common good of all human beings and of ones self. I am fond of the idea of not doing anything if it’s going to harm you or your fellow neighbor. That works for me. That’s a whole lot better then being good because you are afraid that a made up God (whom you’ve never seen or heard) is going to send you to hell if you’re not. That’s controlling people through fear and lies, and I’m not about that. Because really, who can prove God exists? Nobody. Imagine if instead of teaching you about god, angels, demons, and hell, they taught you that this life is all there is, and you’d better make good use of it! Teach kids that life is finite, that we eventually will die and that we don’t know what happens after. Imagine if right from the get go they taught you to believe in yourself to achieve your goals instead of teaching you to wait on Gods help for everything. And imagine if people didn’t kill each other over their religious beliefs the way it has happened in the past, and still happens to this day?

Still, religions around the world are extremely popular. They offer people something they need. Hope. Hope that someone has got our backs in the midst of this dark world. Hope that there is something after we die; hope that we keep going on after our bodies turn to dust. Hope that there is such a thing as an afterlife; that death isn’t the end of it all. Some people can’t take the fact that maybe, after we die, there is nothing else. We might simply die and that’s it. Maybe if reality was taught to us from childhood, it would be easier, but right from the get go we are taught not to accept death. We are taught that we turn into some sort of spirit that goes to heaven or hell, depending on your behavior in this life. And the idea of an afterlife changes, depending on your religion. Some religions teach reincarnation, the idea that you come back after you die in another body. Others believe that you’ll live in a Paradise forever and never die. And so on. Take your pick, whichever strikes your fancy, that’s how it seems to go with religion. There are so many of them, you can literally go through and pick one. The problem is they all have one thing in common: you have to believe in them without an iota of proof that their beliefs are real.

Religions also offer people a sense that there is an all powerful force watching over you, guiding and protecting you through life. When the shit hits the fan in life (as it often does) people are taught to resort to praying to a god for help, when in reality, all the help you will ever need comes only from yourself. Still, talking to some invisible force and thinking that said force is going to help you might comfort some, and it might even motivate them to find a solution to their problem. And though they will probably think that it was God helping them, they probably solved the problem themselves and didn’t even realize it. Why can’t we teach ourselves to believe in our own power, in our own strength to solve problems?

Which brings me to today’s discussion about The Wizard of Oz, which to me is one of the most anti-religious movies there is. What? You never noticed? Okay, here me out then. As I’m sure many of you already know, The Wizard of Oz is a film about a girl named Dorothy who gets whisked away to a magical land where everyone believes in an all powerful Wizard named Oz; a wizard that can supposedly solve all your problems. He can whisk Dorothy back to Kansas, he can give the Cowardly Lion some courage, The Scarecrow a brain and he can give The Tin Man a heart. So off they go on their journey, believing in their hearts that their problems will be solved once they get to the Emerald City and visit the “All powerful Oz” Now, if calling Oz all powerful isn’t enough of an allusion to God, then I don’t know what is. In Sidney Lumet’s The Wiz Miss One (one of the good witches) calls Oz “The Big Guy, The Big Honcho, Numero Uno!”

So down they go on their journey, walking down the yellow brick road of life, having mishaps, confronting enemies and making new friends, like we all do in life. Finally, they reach the Emerald City, a city said to be the home to The Wizard of Oz. When they get there they discover that no one is supposed to see the all powerful Oz. The Guardian of the Emerald City Gates tells them “The Wizard? But nobody can see the great Oz! Nobody’s ever seen the Great Oz! Even I’ve never seen him!” This kind of reminds me of how no one is supposed to see God. Actually, the bible says that whoever sees God will die right where they stand. That quote spoken by The Guardian of the Emerald City Gates also reminds me of how no matter how much you think you know about the bible, truth is you have never seen God, or an angel, or a demon. Its all in your head, same as Oz is in Dorothy’s head. She’s dreaming the whole thing. Oz only exists in her mind.

But anyways, when Oz hears that Dorothy has the magical ruby slippers (something he can no doubt gain benefit from) he grants them an audience. So finally, Dorothy and her friends get to meet the all powerful Wizard of Oz. But what happens then? He appears to them in an intimidating ball of fire and smoke and tells them that he will solve their problems, but that they need to vanquish his worst enemy before he can do anything for them. When they ask if they have any other option he tells them: “Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz!” Kind of reminds me how the government will send you out to war to kill their enemies in the name of church and country. And here’s another interesting tidbit of information. In L. Frank Baum’s original story Dorothy, The Cowardly Lion, The Tinman and The Scarecrow all go to see The Wizard of Oz separately, not collectively like in the film. And this is where it gets interesting: in the book Oz looks different to each of them. This made me think about the idea of God, and how it’s a different thing to everybody. What you perceive as God might be one thing, and it probably means something altogether different to the person next to you.

The Wizard of Oz presents himself in a ball of smoke and flame to Dorothy and her friends

So anyway, trusting that Oz will stay true to his word, Dorothy and company go out and vanquish Oz’s biggest enemy, The Wicked Witch of the West. When they come back, they expect to get their problems solved by The Wizard. But unfortunately for them, they uncover one big dark secret. The “all powerful” Oz isn’t really all that powerful. He is just a man posing as a God. He was lying to them from the very beginning. He isn’t all powerful like he said. He doesn’t even have any magic powers! He was just a man hiding behind a curtain of smokes and illusions. He’d been lying to everyone in all of Oz! Not to mention the poor citizens of The Emerald City. That makes him a villain in my book. A big fat liar! And were not talking a little white lie, this is a huge black lie, the blackest kind of lie there is. The kind of lie that plays with peoples minds and lives. Most politicians know that religion can be used as a tool for their advantage, not only to keep the masses in “good behavior”, but also when the time comes to gather those votes in election year.

The man behind the curtain

If you’ve seen The Wiz starring Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow and Richard Pryor as The Wizard of Oz, you’ll remember that Oz controls the people of Emerald City by telling them what color they have to wear. Suddenly Red is the color, and everything turns to red. Suddenly Green is the color and everything turns green, and he keeps them in a loop like that. Kind of reminds me of how the government controlled media can control people’s perception of things. The citizens of Emerald City are so docile that they’ll do whatever Oz tells them to, without question; reminds me of how people will believe whatever they read in newspapers and television. But Oz isn’t a Wizard, he’s a man. And a man who used to be a politician no less! Once again proving the connection between religion and government, one is the tool of the other.

Richard Pryor plays The Wizard of Oz in The Wiz (1978)

The Wizard of Oz doesn’t only comment on religion, it also comments on drug abuse (remember the scene in The Poppy Fields?) and true friendship amongst other subject matter. But the best part of The Wizard of Oz if you ask me, is that it teaches us that the solution to many of our problems lie not in the hands of some imaginary all powerful force, but in ourselves. The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man and The Scarecrow all had what they were looking for within themselves to begin with. They didn’t need a Wizard to solve their problems at all. And we don’t need no magic either to solve our own problems, for that we got ourselves and our friends.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Red Shoes (1948)

Title: The Red Shoes (1948)

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Cast: Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring


When you watch a film like The Red Shoes, there comes a moment when you realize that you are in the presence of a classic film in every sense of the word. It is a tour de force of colors, emotions and great performances. I had it on my must watch list for a while, because I’d read about its classic status, you know, basically its hailed as one of those movies that you have to watch before you die. After watching Aronofsky’s Black Swan I made watching The Red Shoes a priority because they were thematically similar. I’m so glad I finally got to watch this beautiful film!

The Red Shoes tells the tale of a young lady named Victoria Page, she wants nothing more then to dance ballet all her life. She has a passion and a talent for it, but doesn’t belong to any professional ballet group. That is until her mother invites Boris Lermentov, a famous ballet director to a party at her house. Victoria talks with Boris and the conversation leads to Victoria being accepted in ‘Ballet Lermentov’ the most prestigious of all ballet groups. While there, she earns the leading role in a ballet called ‘The Red Shoes’. At the same time, a young music composer by the name of Julian Craster gets accepted into Ballet Lermentov. Julian and Victoria develop a romance that Boris prohibits. He thinks love is a distraction and that anyone who dedicates their life to love will never become a great dancer. What will ultimately be the most important thing in Victoria’s life? Ballet or Love?

This battle between career and love is the main theme of the film. Can a person live a married life and at the same time dedicate their heart and soul to their careers? Or does one exclude the other? This theme is laid out early in the film when Boris Lermentov asks Victoria in one of the most iconic bits of dialog from the film:

Lermontov: “Why do you want to dance?”

Victoria: “Why do you want to live?”

Lermontov: “I don’t know precisely why, but I must”

Victoria: “That is my answer as well”

Her devotion to ballet takes her to great heights. With Lermontov’s guidance and lots of practice she becomes a world renowned ballet dancer. We get to see many of the ballets she performs; the most prominent one being ‘The Red Shoes’. This is really where the film shifts into surreal, dreamlike brilliance. You see when Victoria begins to perform The Red Shoes, we actually get to see the play come to life in a heightened sense of reality, where colors are abundant and vibrant, virtually jumping off the screen. Since this movie doesn’t play by any rules, but rather invents them, this whole ballet sequence lasts for more then 20 minutes. We see the whole story of The Red Shoes develop before our eyes, without a rush to cut to some other part of the story or anything. It unfolds like a fantasy or a fairy tale. The filmmakers simply decided to indulge into the ballet, and it’s really where the film earns its wings as a Bravado piece of filmmaking.

 The colors are vibrant in this film!

What’s awesome about The Red Shoes ballet is how perfectly it fits with the whole story of the film itself. You see, The Red Shoes (the ballet) is a story about a girl who puts on these magical red ballet shoes that never allow her to stop dancing. The girl grows restless, but the shoes don’t. The shoes want to dance all the time! Ultimately, the shoes wear the girl down and she dies dancing. So as you can see, the ballet is representative of Victoria’s desire to dance her life away. Lermentov, the ballet director is obsessive with his work, and he doesn’t believe that love should get in the way of ones passion for ballet, or art. He wants to create a ballet that is so monumental that everyone will remember him for all eternity, and he believes that in order to do so, love has to be ignored. The problem comes when Victoria falls in love with Julian, the composer. Can’t Victoria have both love and a career?

For me, the most amazing thing about this film apart from the colors and the surrealism, are the characters. They are so well defined, so passionate. You can tell there was some good writing involved here, this wasn’t some rushed Hollywood production looking to make a quick buck. Nope, this film was lovingly brought to life by people who were as passionate about filmmaking as Lermentov is with his ballet group. The actress who plays Victoria, Moira Shearer was such a beautiful actress. I really coudnt take my eyes off her when she was on screen, so classy and sexy at the same time. Lermontov is this over powering persona, really dedicated to his work. He takes his love for ballet to obsessive heights. He is equal parts hateful, equal parts likeable. These characters are an essential part of what brings this film to vibrant life. And the film is filled with many lively characters like these, the whole ballet group is filled with likable hard working people dedicated to their art. This film shows how a film that has excellence behind every department will bring forth a memorable picture, hence this classic we are talking about today.

The obsessive Boris Lermentov

Comparisons between this film and Aronofsky’s Black Swan are impossible after having seen both films. You can definitely see that Aronofsky was partially inspired by The Red Shoes while making Black Swan. The similarities are there: a girl who is passionate about ballet is accepted into a prestigious ballet group. She gets the lead role. The ballet director is strict and passionate about his work. He finds the girl imperfect, but is willing to give her a chance to become a great dancer. Another similarity is how the ballet comes alive at certain point in the film, making the world of the ballet seem real. The only difference between both films is that The Red Shoes extends these scenes, making the ballet come to life for a longer period of time. There are more similarities, but I’ll let you catch them when you see the film. Black Swan is definitely the darker of the two films, The Red Shoes pits devotion to ones craft vs. devotion to a loved one, while Black Swan is all about Nina’s ambiguity and her frustrating search for perfection. Plus Aronofsky’s film is more of a psychological thriller. It’s interesting how both films are extremely similar and yet extremely different.

In closing, I’d like to say that The Red Shoes is a bonafide classic that should not be missed by any true film fan. It’s a film that elevates filmmaking to its highest expression; films like The Red Shoes remind me why I love watching movies.

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Red Shoes - Criterion CollectionThe Red Shoes (The Criterion Collection)The Red Shoes [VHS]The Red Shoes (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]


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