Friday, April 8, 2011

Putting on The Red Shoes

Recently, I watched The Red Shoes for the first time. Not because it was recently released, not because anybody told me I had to see it, and not for a class. I watched it in part as a responsibility as a screener for Bard Film Committee but mostly because I was intrigued. I had first heard about The Red Shoes from A Chorus Line, where the girls sing about what inspired their love for ballet. Of course, everyone had seen The Red Shoes.

But I hadn't. And I haven't seen a lot of movies, a constant reminder I need to hash out at people when they assume that, being a film major, I've seen everything, from Raging Bull to Casablanca to The Room (which I also recently finally watched) to whatever random movie you can dream up. I can guarantee, I haven't seen a lot of movies. Just browse People there have seen way more movies than I have.

Back to The Red Shoes. It is a beautiful movie, a movie I would watch again, a movie that is both inherently similar and extremely dissimilar to Black Swan, another ballet movie only the one this generation will think of more often than a 1948 masterpiece like The Red Shoes. You can tell it is older. There are no gross-out moments, the psychology present inspired by the ballet The Red Shoes for our female protagonist is very different from the psychology inspired by the ballet Swan Lake for our female protagonist in Black Swan. The people in their lives are very different.

But I didn't write this blog post to compare and contrast two very different movies that both happen to follow a similar idea of a ballet affecting a ballerina's personal and professional life so strongly.

There is a moment in The Red Shoes that I kept wanting to bring up in my Aesthetics of Gaming class yesterday that stuck with me but I could never find the right moment, particularly because we were discussing something that the medium of film just wouldn't have fit in comfortably with. We were talking about narrative and games, the debate over whether games are narrative or if they merely share elements of narrative because games are so inherently different. We have spoken in the past about game logic and we spoke today about gameplay and about what are the characteristics of games, a question we have been approaching all semester.

In any medium's logic, there are things we would take for granted or that we do not question because of the medium. There are plenty of moments like that in every film. Film is interesting, not unlike most mediums in this way though, because people do expect different things of film logic. Sometimes we expect films to make sense linearly. Sometimes we expect films to test our suspension of disbelief. It doesn't matter whether it makes sense because it is in the film and that is how the film goes along.

The moment in The Red Shoes that stuck with me is not one of those more grand special effects moments come into play, like when the waves crash onto the stage or when the newspaper turns into a person and back into a newspaper again. The moment I am thinking of is when Vicky jumps, literally, into the red shoes on the stage. It is a moment of editing that has been used for a long time and a technique to signal a sudden appearance or disappearance. It is not new, it is not revolutionary, and yet I couldn't help but think "if this were not a film, if this were a real ballet, how would she get the shoes on? Would she sit down, pull off her normal ballet shoes, and put the red ones on? Would she go into the shoemaker's shop and emerge wearing them?" It too a while before it hit me - this isn't a ballet, it has no reason to be a ballet, and the logic that would fit into a ballet or some other form of live theater does not apply to film. This is a problem when people compare film and theater too literally, because the logic is so different. We don't need to see what we see in theater - we can see something much different. Both will make sense in their homes, but if we were to see theater logic in a film or vice versa, what we would see instead would be even odder, I think. If we had seen Vicky sit down and put on the red shoes, I would have thought "oh, well, she's performing a ballet in the film so of course they need to show the ballet logic she would actually be performing." But that would not fit in with the rest of the special effects we see throughout Vicky's performance of The Red Shoes. The film chose to use film logic in a way that we would understand that this is not how a ballet would go, but this is how the film goes.

This made me think, amidst our class discussion yesterday, about the way in which different mediums interact with each other and whether viewers or players are aware of those differences, if we just accept them, or alternatively, if using one medium's logic in another medium's would not be bothersome or noticeable at all. Many elements can cross between different mediums, as our discussion of elements of narrative fitting in with games proves, but there are techniques, there are greater pictures that are specific in their way to their medium, I believe. And it is odd to think about them, and jarring to imagine them cross-pollinating.

In the end, my main point is that I would encourage further observation for moments like that. That, and I think everyone should go see The Red Shoes.

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