The Quarantine Stream: 'The Red Shoes' Is Technicolor Passion Come To Life

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they've been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)The Movie: The Red ShoesWhere You Can Stream It: HBO MaxThe Pitch: Aspiring ballerina Vicky Page (Moira Shearer, in her feature debut) catches the eye of ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), who chooses her as his next muse after his prima ballerina quits his ballet company to get married. But when Vicky falls in love with Lermontov's rising composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring) during the rehearsals for her debut as lead dancer in The Red Shoes, the ballerina begins to crack under the pressure to choose between her two passions: art or romance.Why It's Essential Quarantine Viewing: There's no question that The Red Shoes is one of the most gorgeous Technicolor films to ever grace the screen. Shot in three-strip Technicolor, a process that's no longer used because of expense and technical complexity, The Red Shoes blazes with color and light and vibrancy to the point of being intoxicating. It culminates in the film's famous 17-minute ballet sequence, an impressionistic piece of fantasia that would go on to inspire Gene Kelly's ballet sequences in Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris, and mark a cinematic high for director-writer duo Powell and Pressburger.

"Why do you want to dance?" Lermontov asks Vicky at a post-show party, after Vicky's aunt tries to orchestrate an opportunity for her to dance in front of the ballet impresario. "Why do you want to live?" she replies. "Well, I don't know exactly why, but...I must," a taken aback Lermontov says. "That's my answer too," Vicky quickly replies, instantly making an impression on the jaded genius.

It's a conversation that sets up the film's grand ideas of artistic passion, and how quickly it can snowball into an all-consuming obsession with fatal consequences. The Red Shoes is the kind of epic tragedy that befits the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale that inspired it, but in Powell and Pressburger's glorious Technicolor vision, it feels fresh, thrilling, and exhilaratingly cinematic.

The central conflict in The Red Shoes is that of classic melodrama: duty or love? Career or family? Ambition or a life as "a faithful housewife with a crowd of screaming children and finish with dancing forever," as Lermontov so cruelly puts it to Vicky while attempting to convince her to return to dance the lead part in The Red Shoes. A harsh reality for a woman in the 1940s, but an extreme vision of those who are wholly dedicated to their craft.

Written, directed, and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the duo behind Black Narcissus and other British classics, The Red Shoes is considered one of their greatest achievements: an ode to artistic ambition and a display of the intensity and artistry of dance that is still unmatched today. While its themes and twisted view of the pursuit of art would be touched on and expanded upon by other filmmakers (Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan in particular comes to mind), The Red Shoes is still unrivaled in its ecstatic command of color, and is the apex of what Technicolor could be.