Wertheim to give modern look at classic film ‘The Red Shoes’

Taylor Rogers | Staff Writer

“Why do you want to dance?” Boris Lermontov asks of the young ballerina Victoria Page in the 1948 film “The Red Shoes.”

“Why do you want to live?” Page answers effortlessly.

“The Red Shoes” was the first film to place dance at the center of its plot, making it significant not just to the film industry, but also to the dance world, Elaine Wertheim said.

Wertheim will discuss the film’s significance to both industries in “A Critic’s Review of the Classic Film ‘The Red Shoes’” at 3:30 p.m. today in Smith Wilkes Hall. The lecture is hosted by the Chautauqua Dance Circle.

Wertheim’s familiarity with motion pictures comes from years of studying the cinema and art. She is an instructor of art history and film appreciation at Mt. Lebanon School District, and she’s also conducted several Special Studies courses, including one this season during Week Eight, titled “Made in America: American Realism.”

Three clips from the movie will structure Wertheim’s lecture. She said she’ll discuss the importance of each as well as why the film is still relevant today.

The first two scenes familiarize the audience with the characters, she said.

Moira Shearer plays Page, a talented ballerina who must decide to either follow her love for dance or run off with a man. Anton Walbrook plays Boris Lermontov, a strict and obsessive ballet impresario who pressures Page to choose her craft over her heart.

The third scene Wertheim will show features the 17-minute ballet, which shares the movie’s title and is placed in the middle of the film. Wertheim said placing an entire ballet in a movie was quite avant-garde at the time.

“That is a very significant and innovative scene,” she said. “Nothing like that had ever been done before.”

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger directed this Technicolor film, among others, which the Academy nominated for Best Picture that year. Their casting was ideal.

“Pressburger and Powell hired dancers that could act rather than actors that could dance,” Wertheim said.

Renowned dancers Ludmilla Tchérina and Léonide Massine star in the picture, making the dancing more believable without sacrificing drama.

But the movie’s impact spans across time, Wertheim said. Martin Scorsese, who has professed his adoration for the film, used its theme of a person’s craft becoming internally destructive in his 1980 picture “Raging Bull.” Obvious parallels also exist between Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 movie, “Black Swan,” and “The Red Shoes.”

The UCLA Film & Television Archive restored the movie in 2009, and Wertheim said she’ll use that version to show her clips.

The Chautauqua Dance Circle hosts weekly topical lectures that aim to enhance dance knowledge and appreciation.