The Red Shoes (1948)
Film Editing by: Reginald Mills
The Red Shoes is a film that I could gush about for days on end. If the number of films that can be considered true art is quite small (at least according to Roger Ebert) this is one that should absolutely be on that list. I've written about this Powell and Pressburger classic (and this very scene) elsewhere, and have written more generally about the film here for the first film preservation blogathon, but wanted to write an entry with a more focused approach.
The most famous sequence in the film is The Red Shoes ballet, but one of my favorites is an earlier scene that displays the same level of technical mastery and in certain ways provides an important introduction to the later, more cited ballet sequence. So much of its power is in the rhythm of the editing and in ways the ordering of shots play with viewer expectation.
At this point in the film Vicky (Moira Shearer) has yet to impress Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) enough to let her join the ballet company full-time.
She is given permission to perform the lead at the dinkier Mercury Theater, introduced in this dreary establishing shot at odds with the previous work put into the Covent Garden sequences to make post-war London look brighter and cheerier than it actually was at the time.
There is a disheveled, weather beaten notice to match, with Vicky's appearance hap hazardly pasted over the original announcement. The camera tracks in on her portion of the poster, boasting not only Victoria Page but the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
There is then a dissolve to a spinning record
A subtle joke about the supposed "live" music accompanying the performance.
The spinning fan and the circular speaker graphically match the record and the cheap, lackadaisical atmosphere
Victoria Page performs to the increasing tempo of the music. She begins a series of pirouettes...
... And the camera follows suit with a whirling POV shot, a first look into Victoria Page's mind that will be built upon in The Red Shoes ballet, a sequence which depends on the inner workings of a dancer to effect an otherworldly stage presence. This dizzying series lands squarely on...
... Lermontov, who has been sitting in on the performance unbeknownst to Page.
The dance goes on, including a hilarious pan where the "live" records have to be switched and all hell almost breaks loose.
The pace continues to quicken.
Finally Page finishes the dance and looks to Lermontov
But this supposed eyeline match is merely a fake out as Lermontov has already left. Another man moves into his place, leaving Vicky unsure of her fate.
Watch the full scene (and more) below.