Thursday, December 10, 2009

Red Shoes and "Culture"

I took a look at Michael Powell's Red Shoes earlier this week, for the first time in 54 years and I'd say it was worth the effort. Not that it was any kind of nostalgia trip: the only thing I remember about this movie from the first time around(in the Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs, Ohio, about 1955) is that I so didn't get it: lots of dancing, and posturing, and a story-within-a-story. All the initiated in my circle knew about it, and knew that one had to see it (many had seen it before). But I was only a connected guy at that point , and I knew what I didn't know and what I'd better shut up about. A bit surprising, perhaps, when you consider that way back in high school, I had already seen and loved American in Paris (though I certainly kept that fact secret from my uninitiated high school friends). I certainly didn't know it then, but I can see now that American in Paris is just one of the many progeny of Red Shoes.

Indeed, perhaps "progeny" is the operative word here--or better, "genealogy" because it is eye-opening to recognize (in retrospect) just how deeply embedded into the history of American culture this movie is. A Star is Born is an important ancestor; Wizard of Oz gets cameo credit.

But the real point is what neither I nor anyone else could have understood ini 1955. That is--just how pervasive its later influence would come to be. Riffing on David Thompson, I'd say tha Red Shoes came to define just about everything that my generation came to understand as "culture." I mean--how many fluttery schoolgirls from Ohio showed up at the stage doors in Manhattan, cardboard suitcases in hand, tutus on the ready, set to take their place in the spotlight? And not just the schoolgirls at the stage door: how many others who stayed home and read about life in the big city--how many of these, too, got their definition of "culture" from what was presented to them by Michael Hoffman? I'd venture to say you couldn't imagine Public Television without them: all those nights at the opera, with Beverly Sills and Hugh Downs telling us what to love and how to love it--how could we have known how to love it, without Red Shoes go show us how it was done?

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