Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
There is tension between two kinds of stories in "The Red Shoes," and that tension helps make it the most popular movie ever made about the ballet and one of the most enigmatic movies about anything. One story could be a Hollywood musical: A young ballerina falls in love with the composer of the ballet that makes her an overnight star. The other story is darker and more guarded. It involves the impresario who runs the ballet company, who demands loyalty and obedience, who is enraged when the young people get married. The motives of the ballerina and her lover are transparent. But the impresario defies analysis. In his dark eyes we read a fierce resentment. No, it is not jealousy, at least not romantic jealousy. Nothing as simple as that.
The film is voluptuous in its beauty and passionate in its storytelling. You don't watch it, you bathe in it. Yes, the ending is a shocker, but you see it coming and there's no way around it; the movie tells us a fairy tale and then repeats it as real life. It's the Hans Christian Andersen fable about a young girl who puts on a pair of red slippers that will not allow her to stop dancing; she must dance and dance, in a grotesque mockery of happiness, until she is dead. This is a dire subject for a ballet, you will agree; the movie surrounds it with the hard-boiled business of running a ballet company.
"The Red Shoes" was made in 1948 by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, British filmmakers as respected as Hitchcock, Reed or Lean. Powell was the director and Pressburger, a Hungarian immigrant, was the writer, but they always took a double credit as writer-directors, and were known as The Archers; their logo was an arrow hitting its target, announcing such masterpieces as "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," "Black Narcissus," "Peeping Tom," "The Thief of Bagdad," and "A Matter of Life and Death," the David Niven classic that played in America as "Stairway to Heaven."
Pressburger had written a draft of a ballet film in the 1930s, and after the war, after their enormous success with "Black Narcissus" (1947), which made a star of Deborah Kerr and won Oscars for cinematography and art direction, they had another look at it. Powell had grown up on the French Riviera; his British father ran a hotel on Cap Ferrat, and he often saw the Russian impresario Diaghilev, whose Ballets Russes wintered nearby in Monte Carlo. The Archers used Powell's notions about Diaghilev and the earlier script to create the story of a proud, cold, distant impresario who meets his match with a fiery ballerina. Pressburger may have been inspired by a famous scandal in 1913 when Diaghilev's great but tortured star, Vaslav Nijinsky, married the Hungarian ballerina Romola de Pulszky. He fired them both.