This article is part of our One Perfect Archive project, a series of deep dives that explore the filmmaking craft behind some of our favorite shots. In this entry, we highlight the movies influenced by The Red Shoes.
There is no other movie like The Red Shoes. And there never will be. Only the team of producer-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and editor Reginald Mills with a score by Brian Easdale and art direction from Hein Heckroth and Arthur Lawson could have created such a masterpiece. And yet it’s one of the most influential movies of all time.
While no movie since has replicated the whole package of the 1948 British drama, filmmakers have taken bits and pieces from The Red Shoes as inspiration for similar sequences or to pay homage to the beloved classic. For more than 70 years, we’ve seen numerous followers maintaining the movie’s legacy, mostly made by the next generations of great directors. Below is a varied highlight of some of the very best of its descendants.
An American in Paris (1951)
The greatest and most memorable part of The Red Shoes is arguably the performance of the Hans Christian Anderson-based Red Shoes ballet in the middle of the film. The sequence begins as a more diegetic look at the stage production of this ballet before expanding outward into fantasy territory. A few years later, Hollywood musicals An American Paris and Singin’ in the Rain featured their own lengthy, literally showstopping dance numbers inspired by Powell and Pressburger’s.
Gene Kelly, star of both musicals, reportedly actually screened The Red Shoes for MGM executives to get them to back An American in Paris. Producer Saul Chaplin also claimed that the idea to do such a long dance sequence — originally planned for a similar midway placement rather than at the end — was inspired by the one in The Red Shoes, with the aim to “do it better,” of course. Whether they succeed in topping the Robert Helpmann-choreographed Ballet of the Red Shoes is debatable but it’s great either way.
Raging Bull (1980)
“There’s no film he makes that’s not influenced by The Red Shoes,” Thelma Schoonmaker said of Martin Scorsese in an interview promoting Shutter Island. That film indeed pays homage to the staircase shot in The Red Shoes. Schoonmaker should know, too, not just because she’s Scorsese’s editor but also because she married Powell. Scorsese has named The Red Shoes among his five favorite films of all time. He talks about it a lot. And he’s paid tribute in everything from Taxi Driver to The Age of Innocence to Casino.
The one I most think of as relevant to The Red Shoes, though, is Raging Bull. There’s the direct influence of Powell telling Scorsese the boxing gloves in early test footage was too red, which prompted the younger filmmaker to go black and white for the sports biopic. There are also some quick whip-pan POV shots during Jake LaMotta’s first match against Sugar Ray Robinson that references the pirouette POV shots from the Swan Lake performance in The Red Shoes. You can see them compared side by side in the documentary Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff. And if you think about it, Raging Bull is really a kind of dance film in a way.
The Line, the Cross and the Curve (1993)
The Red Shoes is also one of Kate Bush‘s favorites, and she proved it by naming her 1993 album after the 1948 film, as well as one of its main tracks. The songs on the album are fittingly fantastical and feature orchestral arrangements by a movie composer (Michael Kamen). While only the title track is definitely tied to the Anderson fairy tale and 1948 movie, that and five more of the album’s 12 tunes could be brought together narratively.
Specifically, the six songs make up the soundtrack for the Bush-helmed tie-in short film, The Line, The Cross and the Curve. This is sort of just a music video collection adapted from the album and linked loosely by a plot based on Powell and Pressburger’s movie with Bush in the Moira Shearer role and Miranda Richardson as a villainous witch who gives her the magically unstoppable footwear. Many years later, Bush called the whole thing a “load of old bollocks.”