The Red Shoes ★★★½

The Red Shoes Audio Commentary by film historian Ian Christie, featuring interviews with stars Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, Jack Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale, and Martin Scorsese

This is a composite commentary, so none of the contributors interact with one another. These are hit-and-miss; sometimes they work if they're organized in the right way, but often I find there to be a tedious amount of redundancy and a sort of lifelessness. This one falls somewhere in the middle, more toward the good end of the spectrum.

Ian Christie clearly did his homework, and brought together quite a lot of threads ranging from interpreting the misogyny in Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale to a discussion about the effects of "The Film War" between the US and UK on England's film industry and, in turn, the pressure on The Red Shoes to perform strongly.

A lot of the information Christie presents through the first third of the commentary has to do with the assembly of the key principles and their respective pedigrees in the arts world, primarily in ballet. That's a world I don't know at all, and my inability to really catch spoken Russian names was a liability. I'm sure for more knowledgeable listeners, it's downright exciting to hear all these connections, but for someone as ignorant as me, it's just nice that the pictures are so pretty.

Of the interviewees whose clips are interspersed throughout the commentary, Jack Cardiff has the most presence. His speaking voice is clear and he has some interesting anecdotes and insights. I was particularly fascinated to learn that when Technicolor interviewed him as a young camera operator about a position learning their equipment, that he had to tell them that he knew almost nothing about film lighting. Instead, he'd learned lighting from paintings.

Cardiff also shares a delightful anecdote early in which he talks about how he was sent to watch ballet performances daily until they were ready to shoot because he was as ignorant of ballet as I am. (More, actually, as I've seen a ballet performance and he had not!) He befriended Ludmilla Tchérina, who appears in the scene where Julian is stopped by the stage doorkeeper. When Cardiff praised her and her husband for their performance of Romeo and Juliet, they offered to perform it for him in his home - which they did, to recorded music! How terrific must that have been!

Moira Shearer is the most frustrating interviewee, because she drops her voice frequently, forcing you to either turn up the volume enough that everyone else is much too loud for 3:00 AM, or to miss pretty much all of her stories. Composer Brian Easdale is only cited a few times that I noticed, mostly talking about how he was hired and his approach to writing music for the film that required him to write for the ballet within the film. Marius Goring's recollections are pretty typical actor stuff. Martin Scorsese is, well, Martin Scorsese so his enthusiasm and knowledge are little oases throughout the commentary.

To be honest, I wish there was a transcript of this commentary somewhere, or at least Christie's notes, because there's a whole lot of information here. I don't feel that my understanding of the narrative is any deeper than it was before, but I do have a far stronger grasp of the context of its production. (This was my first ever Powell/Pressburger film.)