Blog posts written as part of journalism studies at Northern Illinois University October-November 2009.
Movies for moms seem stylistically similar
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, a 2005 film based on a memoir of the same title, plays like a Preston Sturges film infused with the current trend in realism in its depiction of Evelyn Ryan, mother of 10 and ingenious jingle-writer in the 1950’s and 1960’s. For the same reasons that I enjoy Sturges’ films, I succumbed to Defiance from the get-go, feeling the intense joys and disappointments of the expertly-portrayed characters and strengthening my faith in everyday miracles. The film and the memoir are both true stories, hard to believe in light of the tremendous last-minute good fortune borne of Ryan’s creativity that enabled the family of 10 to survive.
Because of my knack for nitpicking, I could mention a few details about the film which detracted from its enveloping illusion of truth. However, it is not my point to critique this film or any other, especially because, overall, Defiance was a delight and an inspiration.
My beef is that motion pictures with a fairly well-defined target audience not only seem to market themselves in the same way, but also stylize the film similarly. For instance, Defiance was a movie that had the most appeal for adult women and mothers. So was a 2007 movie called Waitress. I was miffed to notice that in both films the action was frequently peppered with quirky little narrations by the female leads and incorporated visual montages involving their interests – in the case of Defiance, jingles and products being advertised; in Waitress, pie. Down to the color palette, the similarity struck me so much that I looked up the production team for each film. Defiance was directed by Jane Anderson and produced by Jack Rapke, while Waitress was written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly and involved a three-person production team which did not include Jack Rapke.
I wonder why movies which might appeal to the same audience should contain the same stylistic elements, rather than ones distinctly attuned to the nature of the film. Won’t these mothers feel they are watching the same movie over and over again after a while? Luckily, in the case of Defiance I felt that the story (a true one, too!) and superb acting talents of Woody Harrelson and Julianne Moore relegated all qualms I had about the filmmaking style to the realm of an afterthought.
WATCH ROCKY II – I DID
Just a week ago I had never seen any of the movies in the “Rocky” franchise. Yet when my friend started talking about “Rocky” I found I could competently join in, because the legendary quality of this movie seems to have made such a pervasive kind of impact. It infiltrated my consciousness without my having to see the movie. But after talking to my friend, I wanted to. A story about an everyman hero digging deep down inside of his soul and unearthing a champion? Count me in!
When I did pop in “Rocky II” I was able to understand the story despite never having seen “Rocky,” the only film in the Rocky series which Sylvester Stallone did not direct (John G. Avildsen did). For starters, “Rocky II” starts off with an extensive recap of the final scenes in “Rocky,” and deliciously the action in “Rocky II” picks up right where “Rocky” left off. The climactic scene of “Rocky” is the first thing you see in “Rocky II,” and in that pressure-cooker kind of situation the characters rapidly come to life. Immediately Rocky Balboa’s sentimentality and unpretentiousness come across as he shouts his girlfriend’s name over and over whilst the crazed crowd and the press swarm about him. The fight was declared a draw but somehow the way Rocky fought and the way he WOULD NOT FALL DOWN made him a champion in everyone’s eyes.
After this epic fight, Rocky’s romance and pursuit of a normal kind of life take center stage, and these developments are no less engaging and poignant than when Rocky is bleeding all over the squared circle. You really feel for the guy when his comical, distinct manner of speech arouses a cruel outburst from the director of a commercial who tries to hitch his wagon onto Rocky’s star. And the beautiful, soul-mate relationship between Rocky and his shy Adrian makes you want everyone in the world to have the chance to experience that kind of love.
The blood and sweat and grueling workouts that arouse in all of us feelings of vitality and glory are part of “Rocky II” as they are part of all the “Rocky” movies, but the continuing narrative arouses many other wonderful, human feelings, and that is why this series has so many faithful fans.
Well, I think I’m off to watch “Rocky III” and I hope you do the same.
Typical guy causes demise of Oedipus Rex
I’ve heard several common themes in analyzing Sophocles’ classic tragedy, Oedipus Rex. One popular interpretation is to boil the tragedy down to the hero’s tragic flaw, his myopia. Another explanation considers Oedipus a normal human being with regular strengths and weaknesses, but the tragic circumstances arise from the fact that Apollo chooses to doom Oedipus.
I’ve found another idea within the text for why it all goes wrong for Oedipus. It’s not as black-and-white as those other explanations because it involves human feelings and decision-making. Pretty complex, gray-area kind of stuff.
The human feelings I’m talking about don’t even belong to Oedipus – they belong to an average-Joe type person, the shepherd character in the play. This shepherd had been a servant in the palace of Thebes when Laios and Iokaste ruled. He was sent to ensure that Laios’ son perished on a mountaintop, because Laios had heard a prophecy that his son would rise to kill him. Laios meant to thwart this fate by having the servant kill his son as an infant.
“I pitied the baby,” admits the shepherd later. He couldn’t do it. His human aversion to harming a defenseless baby meant that Oedipus survived to fulfill his awful fate. That is how this lowly shepherd put the first nail in Oedipus’ coffin, by doing something that most humans would do in his place.
Then, he does something else I think most of us would do. He saves his hide. It’s years later, about two decades since that baby did NOT get disposed of. The shepherd witnesses the grown-up Oedipus killing Laios somewhere outside Thebes. By the time this stressed-out shepherd makes it back to Thebes, Oedipus has already married his own mother Iokaste and taken Laios’ place as king. Now the shepherd knows the horrible truth of the situation, but he could earn himself a death sentence by speaking out about Oedipus’ incestuous marriage and patricide. So he flees, leaving the truth to lie latent until it would eventually overwhelm Oedipus with misery.
It’s interesting to me that the grand, powerful characters of Oedipus Rex are always trying to outsmart their fates and undermine the gods. The plans they devise to eliminate the possibility of doom-prophecies coming true fail to account for one thing: the fact that human beings will have to carry them out. The natural human tendencies of the shepherd are as powerful as Apollo’s crafting of fates in the first place, because without this shepherd’s involvement they may not have come true.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to posit this interpretation of Oedipux Rex, but it is not as popular as some other interpretations. Maybe we should more readily consider the kind of effect that a human being, acting like a human being, can have on shaping events. Even in epic tragedy.
Leadership, Japanese medieval clans, and Obama
Kagemusha by director Akira Kurosawa is an epic war movie set in medieval Japan. But the most engrossing action does not take place on the battlefield – the focal point of this movie is the legacy of one charismatic leader. After I watched the film and thought on it for a few days I began to think about Obama and the role of personality in leadership.
A short while into the 3-hour film, Takeda clan leader Shingen dies. With his last breaths, however, Shingen makes his closest advisors promise to keep his death a secret for three years by using an impersonator. Shingen knows that there will be drastic consequences if the enemy clans learn that the Takeda have lost their brilliant leader.
A complication: the exact look-alike the advisors find was a convicted thief with vulgar mannerisms. This man must adopt the powerful, stoic, wise persona of the leader loved so well by the Takeda clanspeople. And the ruse must be passed off on the Takeda themselves – Shingen had dictated that only those who were most loyal to him, and worked most closely with him, should know the impersonator’s true identity. The internal struggle of the thief, who realizes the greatness of the man he poses as, gives the movie its richness and depth.
In both Shingen’s and Obama’s cases, I find a chicken-egg scenario. Both of these men have great authority within their realm. Both of these men can be said to possess charisma. Their power and the sentiments they evoke among the people they lead seem inextricable. It makes me wonder whether these were men born to be leaders, or men who were challenged and rose to that challenge.
I do not know whether Shingen was elected clan leader, but if he was I imagine there was already evidence of his favorable qualities as a leader when he was selected. Similarly, the liberal media was called out on its love affair with Barack Obama before he was elected President.
There are many, many people out there who can express much more succinctly than I can the kind of effect charismatic leaders have on people. There are people who, last November, cried tears of joy and said “Yes We Can!” And the emotionality of their connection to Obama, and the hope they felt as a result of his election, is something that transcends time, so long as great leaders from the past are not forgotten and new ones continually rise up.
What can you learn from a 70-year-old baby?
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, struck me as a beautiful piece of writing. In terms of style, Fitzgerald wrote “The Curious Case” using lighthearted, charming language that made pleasurable reading of a story that opened up into some pretty grave themes.
Loneliness and isolation, pain, ridicule, and confusion intrude on Benjamin Button’s life from the moment he enters the world as a baby born with the physical and mental manifestations of a septuagenarian. Roger Button, Benjamin’s father, finds his only son to be a source of great anxiety. Raising a child is enough of a challenge without the child being the only person in known history to age backwards.
However, Fitzgerald leads the story down a comical, c’est la vie sort of path rather than one bogged down with the implications of Benjamin’s strangeness. How? The humor of the situation first arises when Roger Button goes out to buy clothes for his newborn seventy-year-old.
“He’s an unusually large-size child. Exceptionally – ah, large,” Roger is forced to explain to the store clerk.
Despite his chronological age, Benjamin finds companions in those nearest his physical age throughout his life. As a child, appearing to be in his sixties or seventies, Benjamin whiles away the afternoons with his grandfather, enjoying the same kinds of placid activities. When Benjamin enters adulthood, he and his father (both appearing to be about fifty years old) spend evenings out at social gatherings, passing as brothers. And as Benjamin’s life nears its end, he plays with his grandson “under the supervision of the same nurse.”
The ironies and heartaches of Benjamin’s life do not get omitted from the narrative, but they are presented in due proportion to the joys and felicities. This realistic view, neither pessimism nor Pollyannaism, enables the reader to empathize with Benjamin. His troubles are relatable because everybody in childhood has felt that they could never grow up soon enough, and everybody in old age will wish, if just for a moment, that they could relive their younger days. These wrong age, wrong time feelings are universal.
I’m not sure F. Scott Fitzgerald intended to relay a specific message through “The Curious Case.” The title says it all, I think – Fitzgerald was exploring an interesting possibility that sprung from his imagination. What if?
However, I took from this story a kind of lesson. Every person is unique. Benjamin is very noticeably unique, maybe even shockingly unique. But one’s degree of uniqueness has no bearing on what I believe to be the universal duty of all unique people: to accept themselves, and to play the hand they are dealt. Benjamin made the best of it in the face of a society that did not understand him, and countless other people must live their lives misunderstood and isolated. In today’s society, Benjamin may have fared better. Maybe today’s society can adapt so that people who are different are not alienated. I think great strides have been made but the journey is not over.
“To Be Above the King” …or the madding crowd?
I read a novel excerpt entitled “To Be Above the King” from Dustin Michael-Edward Davenport’s Myth of Melody and the piece, due to its writing style and depiction of a riot scene, evokes great tension and some very powerful feelings. Feelings of confusion… a sense of extreme circumstances erupting out of seemingly normal settings… and only two focal characters, who act as guides through the chaos.
The excerpt opens with the two characters, simply called “the boys.” It is soon established that one is older than the other, but neither is ever named. The writing, though simple and with a natural flow, calls up detailed images regarding the setting: it is an evening in a community, and there are celebrations going on inside many of the houses, and outside as well. Great festivity, lights and music, and the suggestive presence of police patrols making their rounds through the neighborhoods. Then…
A presence, a fearful impetus of some kind, enters, as complex and alive as though it were itself a character. The actions of the community members change from the wildness of a good time to the wildness of terror, confusion, and rage. The boys, who readers attempt to follow amid the crowd, are swept up in the sudden chaos, too dumbfounded to act. Pyres and people alike burn publicly, screams fill the air, policemen contribute to but do not mitigate the violence and hysteria… And finally when the boys have distanced themselves from the scene it is somewhat ironically stated by the older boy that “they do this every year.” The denouement of the excerpt gives both the boys and readers a chance to breathe and somehow try to comprehend everything they just witnessed.
This passage from Myth of Melody most intrigues and delights – yes delights, if you can find delight in a story even when it does not leave you with a feel-good message – because it explores something that is a serious phobia for millions of people: the crowd.
The crowd dynamic is something that differs in almost every situation. There’s some kind of magic at work when large numbers of disparate individuals come together and some feeling fills the air, like a hovering mist, a palpable byproduct of a collective. If you’ve ever attended a huge sporting event, gone to Disneyland, participated in public protest, or shopped on the day after Thanksgiving, you know about this phenomenon.
In “To Be Above the King,” the crowd forms from members of the same community who originally are convened for no concrete purpose except to revel. The power of the collective is evinced by this celebratory group morphing into something violent and frightening. No single person committed an act to change the mood, but it evolved out of the group. Then, individuals could be recognized acting under the group influence, such as the people who lit themselves on fire. This underscores the paradox of individuals within large groups, and the blurring of the solo identity with the collective identity.
This passage, through a somewhat stream-of-consciousness style, creates in the reader in this overwhelming feeling of being part of a crowd. This is something I think every young adult could benefit from reading, because as we progress through adulthood we ideally stand on more solid ground insofar as we know ourselves, and thus our collective identity becomes important to understand. Not to mention this evocative excerpt makes for great reading. It is available at http://dansemacabre.art.officelive.com/tobeabovetheking.aspx.
Souls on the market for a measure of success, Or Best Offer
In Part I of Dustin Michael-Edward Davenport’s short story, entitled O.B.O., we meet two friends: Jonas and Raymond. Jonas owns a jewelry store but the business is failing, apparently due to a lack of entrepreneurial effort. Jonas is no savvy marketing strategist, but he cares deeply about his gems, appreciating them for their beauty and their histories within the earth around the globe. Raymond works as a mechanic.
The two men are very different from one another, mostly because Raymond talks, acts, and appears to think like an “adult,” whereas Jonas comes off as a perfect wondering child, though both characters are presumably around the same age. The story opens with Jonas’ closing remark in a phone call: “I can’t hear you but I love you.” Everything Jonas says throughout the first part of O.B.O. follows this same vein of disarming simplicity. Conversely, his buddy Raymond’s speech has the flavor of a sarcastic, perhaps cynical man accustomed to the kicks and shoves of an unkind world.
Supplementing the actions and dialogue of the characters are descriptive passages that glue it all together. These carry an objective tone. The reader learns what happens but is free to interpret Jonas’ and Raymond’s behavior as they please. So I did, and Jonas came alive for me. I always appreciate Davenport’s work because he achieves a kind of balance between fully creating a character and allowing the reader to flesh out the character with people from their own lives.
Jonas, to me, embodies the qualities of children which make them such blessings to themselves and everybody else. He derives more pleasure from sharing something than he does from possessing it alone. Whilst Raymond counsels him as to maximizing his financial gain, Jonas is absently dropping most of his croissant on the sidewalk for a group of pigeons. Serious matters like credit bills and this business advice don’t enter Jonas’ consciousness; he brushes it all off (literally, in the case of credit notices which he sweeps off of his desk onto the floor) and devotes his attention to better things in his life. Jonas contemplates a photograph of his wife; he basks in the multicolored glow of his sunlit jewelry displays; he spends the afternoon with a grandmotherly old magpie and gives her a bargain price on a new jewel, which plunges him ever deeper into debt.
I cannot help but to love Jonas, so easily does he warm my heart. Jonas’ failure is the world’s failure. That a gentle, generous person with wonder and appreciation for all he encounters can be harshly left to sort through credit notices proclaiming his failure… it tells me that the world only provides for those who maximize, who multitask, who scrutinize and doubt and devote their time and thought and energy to back-up plans and strategies.
You may call Raymond wise and circumspect in his skepticism, but probably not lovable. I think the world has a long way to go in terms of cultivating people’s dreams and encouraging their true strengths of character. America’s definition of a valuable individual seems far too narrow, considering all the beautiful souls like Jonas’ that get left by the wayside.
O.B.O. is currently appearing in Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine. http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/obopart1.htm
Tough economic times in fiction and reality
In part two of O.B.O. by Dustin Michael-Edward Davenport, the community which Jonas and Raymond live in appears to have been hit by economic hardship. “An unsettling amount of independent business owners were forced to close their doors in the following weeks” serves as the first sentence of this section.
But the story goes on to describe the new development not as a dark, lean, joyless time… rather, the townspeople display great ingenuity in finding new ways to sell their goods in the absence of a storefront, shelves, and doors that lock.
A family of bakers begins operating out of their apartment, selling fresh loaves of bread in the midst of other booths where the town’s entrepreneurs attempt to do business despite the loss of their offices, salons, and stores. Manicurists, clothing racks, a giant meat freezer with a willing butcher wheeling it around the sidewalk…
Jonas meanders into this scene in typical dreamlike fashion. He’s not driven by hunger for money or redemption for having failed at the jewelry store. He could care less about competing with the other street vendors. But he does have an apartment full of gemstones, and he no longer has a store to sell them in; so he accepts this development and decides to join in seemingly because it was something to do.
And Jonas takes pleasure in the modified routine of his jewelry business. He spends happy hours in the evenings selecting gems and creating tentative arrangements that will enhance the shine of each individual stone, and often can’t contain himself when a customer approaches his stall, so excited is he to impart his knowledge of the stones and their exotic origins to interested appraisers. Jonas refreshed me as much as ever. He’s a character I really care about, and I was happy to see that the tough times were hardly causing him to blink an eye.
Aside from Jonas’ side of the story, this section was particularly rich due to the descriptions of the people in Jonas’ community. Even though Jonas is largely unconcerned by events that alarm others in his town, the author chose to highlight some of the goings-on regardless of the main character’s disinterest in them. The collective creativity and perseverence among the street vendors reminded me in particular of a girl I saw this summer trying to earn money in an unconventional way.
I was staying in Naperville for a few weeks and would walk my dog around the block every afternoon. One house the pooch and I always passed had a large sign hanging above the garage – “Dresses for Sale.” In the cool shade of that garage I glimpsed a girl, probably in her mid-twenties, seated at a folding table with clothing racks lined up behind her and some material strewn across another table.
I looked at this girl’s simple, community-based endeavor to support herself and felt proud that she did the work and took the risk. I made the assumption that she sought income this way because other avenues had failed, she had been laid off, or she was having trouble finding a job because of the poor economy. How inspiring, that she would look to something she was good at and enjoyed doing in defiance to these times that leave us strapped for cash and constantly worried about finances.
I may have assumed wrongly her reasons for selling hand-made dresses out of her garage, but she inspired me nonetheless, as did Jonas’ fellow entrepreneurs in O.B.O.
The story is available at http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/obopart2.htm. Happy reading!
Hope’s questionable survival
“The way things happen all at once.” This is Jonas’ final piece of dialogue in O.B.O. by Dustin Michael-Edward Davenport.
In this third part of the serialized story, great depth is imparted to the story and its main character, and economically I might add. We get a sense of Jonas’ intimate friendship with his wife, and the interplay of Jonas’ solo feelings with those of frustration and longing which he shares with his mate, stemming from the physical distance separating them.
There is a hint at Jonas’ having a child who suffers from a serious disease. Vaguely, and without calling attention to itself, this fact arises. Jonas becomes even more real through the subtle suggestion of his life being just as boundless, rich, and challenging as everyone else’s. Everybody has intricate histories, desires, varied experiences, obstacles, a million things which we can’t even think about most of the time but which influence our thoughts, feelings, and actions every single day.
Then the closing scene hits home hard. Every jewel in Jonas’ apartment has been stolen; Jonas and Raymond look dumbfoundedly around the bare place. Raymond can’t help but to ask his friend moot questions, trying to talk about what happened, while Jonas has no words.
The previous two sections of O.B.O. seemed to be building up to such a climax. The conflict between Raymond’s advice, Jonas’ natural inclinations towards handling his jewelry business, and the changing atmosphere of the town… Everything swells and then instantaneously collapses around Jonas, who we’ve become fond of because of his childlike ease of being. He’s begun to experience exhilarating new companionship and a fresh method of selling his gems, and then suddenly he has NOTHING. I won’t spoil it – the aspect of the ending I didn’t mention derives its impact from surprise – but believe me that Jonas’ desolation is total, and the epilogue underscores this further.
The ending of this story is very dismal. I’d say it’s tragic but I think that smacks too much of melodrama, and O.B.O. succeeds in being down-to-earth. I am sad and worried about my beloved Jonas – I can’t help but to imagine the continuation of this story in my mind, and my greatest fear is that the circumstances Jonas has been dealt will squash his beautiful spirit and extinguish hope.
Jonas had watched a little bird try to get a crust of bread amid a swarm of big, snatching birds; at that time, earlier in the story, he smiles and understands. And the little bird eventually gets his fair share. My question is, now that fate has treated Jonas cruelly, will he still believe that little birds get their crumbs in the end? Will he still look at people with gentle, understanding eyes and find happiness in watching people live and err and shine?
I worry about this particularly because Jonas seems like an unspoiled, perfect child, and I think that children in our own world are (at least temporarily) corrupted and embittered when they are shown cruelty early in life. Among many interpretations, ideas, and thoughts which I have explored through O.B.O., I think the one nearest my heart is that children and the childlike must be cherished and appreciated above all else, lest they join the growing population of cynics.
O.B.O. can be found in the archives of Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine at http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/obopart3.htm
Eugenie Grandet – What would staunch feminists say?
In reading Eugenie Grandet by Honore de Balzac I found validation for some ideas about femininity that I already held. We all read literature, watch movies, and listen to the lyrics of songs with a lens of our own. We sift and search material using our own interpretations of life as a sieve and magnifying glass.
The first pivotal moment for Eugenie in the story is the simultaneous awakening of love alongside a novel scrutiny of her father’s character. Previously, Eugenie’s father had represented infallible authority. Most of us originally feel this way towards our parents, specifically our fathers. When her fashionable dandy cousin arrives, Eugenie becomes suddenly conscious of a new set of feminine roles. Obedient daughter begins to give way to attentive lover. First, appearance. There is a natural feminine preoccupation, more pronounced in some than in others, with being attractive. To exude freshness, beauty, charm.
“A tumultuous stirring began in her heart, and she kept rising and standing before the mirror. She regarded herself in it with the emotions of a candid author contemplating with great disfavor his own work: ‘I’m not beautiful enough for him!'”
Then the desire to please. Eugenie spends the first morning after her cousin’s arrival rushing around, desperately trying to cobble together a fine breakfast – no small feat, considering the absence of resources in the Spartan household Eugenie’s father runs, despite his wealth. And she has moderate success.
“All women, even the simplest of them, are capable of a little cunning to attain their ends.” She is driven by her newfound affection for her cousin to provide him with something nice. It is one of those simple gifts that people who love each other exchange every day.
In a lot of awful, hegemonistic writings about separate spheres and the roles of women, it is mandated that women should exist to please their husbands, their fathers, to act as support staff for the men in the world carrying all the burdens. But behind this mandate there is a natural tendency that should be encouraged if it comes naturally. In Eugenie Grandet I found explication for ideas I hold about my own femininity, my role in my relationship, and what about myself I should and should not repress.
It is probably true of most women that they would like to best express themselves and their womanhood in thought and action. Since you are a “self” first, and “woman” is a secondary classifier, you want to be true to yourself above all.
I’d say if you are naturally inclined to take pride and pleasure in an attractive outward appearance, then do not suppress it. The world should be filled with people who not only accept, but take pride in their appearance. This has myriad forms. Women of all kinds are exquisitely beautiful (I’m not excluding men, but I’m just not discussing it at the moment). And women, if driven to be supportive, and kind in word and deed towards their romantic partners, parents, children, and friends… women should embrace this! To deny such things in the name of feminism is just as wrong as labeling subservience a female duty.
I have not finished Eugenie Grandet but I am excited to see what happens next for this believable heroine and the potent mixture of feelings she has recently become host to. Despite my entry to the story being informed by my preexisting notions, I hope the story develops to shake me up out of them and come to new meaning.
An unconventional love triangle in The Red Shoes
So I have not watched The Red Shoes recently, although I own it. Unfortunately my computer, my sole means of watching films at home, crashed completely. But The Red Shoes is a movie I am never very far away from. It is a 1948 Powell and Pressburger collaboration.
There is a focal triangle of characters at the heart of the story. First, Boris Lermontov (played by the striking Anton Walbrook), manager of the greatest ballet company in the world. For Lermontov, ballet is a religion – he does not dance himself, but he demands excellence and total dedication from his dancers. The other two main characters are a pair of young hopefuls. Victoria Page (played by Moira Shearer) is a serious ballerina with tremendous passion. Julian Craster is a promising composer who joins Lermontov’s company at the same time as Victoria Page.
As the two young artists find themselves traveling parallel paths to the top – Page reaching star status as a dancer while Craster garners accolades for his original scores, a romance develops between the two. And that is where the trouble begins.
The conflict is embodied in Boris Lermontov’s core belief that artistic greatness arises only where the artist’s passion is pure and unpolluted. Lermontov first encountered Page and Craster in such a state. Both youths were solely dedicated to becoming the best in their respective professions. But as love grows between Vicky and Julian, their work is compromised. Maybe not drastically, but any detraction from the excellence of Vicky’s dancing and Craster’s composing is too much for Lermontov.
An interesting question confronts the viewer. With whom do you sympathize?
Lermontov? Should people with great talent live only to be vehicles of art, because with their talent comes a responsibility? Should people with the potential to be great artists sacrifice some of the things that contribute to a rich, fulfilling life because such things are distractions?
Or do you favor the lovers, believing that everyone deserves to experience love in their lives? Love, you would say, supercedes abstract things like creative excellence.
Maybe you disagree with the whole concept. You might contend that there is no mutual exclusion going on. That people can truly love other human beings and also be great artists.
I think the whole thing would fall flat if Powell and Pressburger had not been the directors. Their use of color – vibrant, striking, bold primary colors – underscores the drama and the strength of character in the story. I love the whirlwind shots and and the dead-stops that they use; it complements the dance sequences, making you feel more like a whirling ballerina than a stationary spectator. The events that make up the plot are often pivotal, important events – The Red Shoes could have been a story-driven story – but Powell and Pressburger did well to mute the chronological progress, blending scenes into one another, allowing it to serve as a background to the personal developments in the characters. This technique – downplaying big events (in one case, a newspaper flying down a windswept avenue proclaims the impending stardom of Page and Craster) – allows the viewer to be more closely intwined with the three main characters, and to deeply feel the heartache of their conflict.
After writing this, I curse my broken computer. But watch The Red Shoes in my stead and you won’t regret it.