[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/73740?ns=guardian&pageName=Surrealist+artwork+from+The+Red+Shoes+to+go+on+display%3AArticle%3A1308092&ch=Art+and+design&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Exhibitions%2CArt+and+design%2CBallet%2CMartin+Scorsese+%28Film%29%2CFilm%2CUK+news%2CCulture+section&c6=Charlotte+Higgins&c7=09-Nov-20&c8=1308092&c9=Article&c10=News&c11=Art+and+design&c13=&c25=&c30=content&h2=GU%2FArt+and+design%2FExhibitions[/img]BFI Southbank to exhibit paintings and sketches of 'Freudian ballet' created for the film by Hein Heckroth
The Red Shoes, Powell and Pressburger's 1948 masterpiece, is one of the most visually spectacular movies in British history, and an abiding inspiration for artists such as Martin Scorsese, who counts it among his favourite films.
Now, ahead of its re-release in a newly restored version, its colours returned to their original Technicolor vividness, visitors to BFI Southbank in London will have the chance to see some of the original artwork for the film, created by surrealist painter Hein Heckroth.
The Red Shoes, the story of a dancer's struggle to achieve greatness against the demands of "normal" life, has entranced balletomanes and cineastes in the 61 years since it was made.
The most ambitious aspect of the film is the extended ballet sequence at the heart of the story, in which The Red Shoes ballet is danced in full by a company created especially for the film and with Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann and Lιonid Massine in the lead roles.
The 17-minute long Red Shoes sequence may begin as a conventional scene of dancers on a stage set, but it almost instantly departs from realism. As Michael Powell put it in his autobiography, A Life in Movies, "once the curtain had gone up for the performance, we would no longer be in a theatre, but inside the heads of two young people who were falling in love." Those two people are the ballerina, Vicky Page (Shearer) and the conductor/composer, Julian Craster, played by Marius Goring.
Drawing on the surrealist tradition, Heckroth created an astonishing visual world for this "Freudian ballet" as Powell called it. After the first seconds, we are no longer watching a stage, but we experience the piece through the fantasy and subconscious of its lead ballerina, Vicky.
The idea was to create as near a Wagnerian complete artwork as could be done through film. Choreography, music, art, dance, storytelling: all would be combined to create an artistic masterpiece that ran entirely contrary to the then current British fashion in film for documentary-style realism.
Heckroth, a Hessian who had trained at the Bauhaus, moved to Britain the 1930s with his Jewish wife. His "straight" painting career was championed by critics such as Herbert Read, but he had also created avant garde designs for Ballet Jooss, and had worked on Powell and Pressburger's previous film The Black Narcissus.
To create the world for the ballet sequence, he made 130 beautifully worked oil paintings β several of which are to be shown at the BFI. The works were turned into an animated film, which can also be seen in the exhibition. Then, using the animation as the basis for the work, the choreography, by Helpmann, and the score, by Brian Easdale, were created.
In fact, according to BFI curator Nathalie Morris, Heckroth and his collaborator Ivor Beddoes created around 2,000 storyboard sketches, drawings and paintings for the film as a whole. But the work put into the design of the ballet sequence was something special. "Something on this scale was unprecedented," said Morris. "These are beautiful works of art in themselves."
It is the artistry of the ballet sequence β as well as its setting in a ballet company, headed by the extraordinarily charismatic Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) β that accounts for its hold on artists such as Scorsese, who knew Powell and Pressburger in their later years. Speaking about The Red Shoes at this year's Cannes festival, he spoke of "the spell that this film casts" and its concentration on "the mystery of the obsession of creativity and the creative drive". It is a film about the compulsion to make art. At the start of the film, Lermontov asks Vicky, "Why do you want to dance?" She flashes back, "Why do you want to live?"
According to Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese's editor for 30 years and Powell's widow: "It's such a beautiful portrayal of artistic collaboration. It's stunning for us who work that way all the time. It is also about committing yourself to art and what that does to your life. For anyone who has a strong pull towards art, it's a seminal film."
Scorsese has lent various items to the exhibition, including a script of the film inscribed from Pressburger to "My dear Martin β giving you the last copy of my Red Shoes script has made me not poorer, it made me richer." Other items in the show include letters between Powell and Pressburger, early versions of the script, and a portion of the ballet score manuscript.
In The Red Shoes, art begins to bleed into reality as the Red Shoes ballet seeps into Vicky's life. A similar blurring of art and life occurred during the making of The Red Shoes. Easdale took on the score at short notice β recounted in Powell's autobiography in such a way as to uncannily recall the passage from the film in which Julian Craster is commissioned to write the ballet music. Meanwhile, the character of Lermontov was, according to Pressburger a mixture of "something of Diaghilev, something of [Alexander] Korda, something of Michael [Powell] and quite a little bit of me".
The Red Shoes exhibition opens at the BFI Southbank in London on 26 November. The restored version of The Red Shoes is released on 11 December.
Martin Scorsese and the trail of The Red Shoes
Scorsese has made no secret of his love of The Red Shoes. According to his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, who is also Powell's widow, it is "a huge influence" on Scorsese. "You can probably see touches of it in every film." In their forthcoming movie Shutter Island, look out for a shot of a spiral staircase. It is, says Schoonmaker, a quote from the famous passage of The Red Shoes when Vicky rushes down a spiral staircase to her death.
Ballet and boxing may not appear to be natural bedfellows, but the film theorist Lesley Stern argues in her book The Scorsese Connection that his Raging Bull (1980) is essentially a reworking of The Red Shoes. Both films depict characters in the grip of a powerful obsession that threatens to escape the confines of the stage (or ring) and destroy them; both are interested in the nature of performance β whether in a theatre or a boxing ring; and both are powerfully concerned with totemic objects β the red shoes for Vicky and the boxing gloves for Jake La Motta.
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Guardian: Surrealist artwork from The Red Shoes to go on display
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