My Dad’s overseen my film education since early childhood. While some parents absentmindedly planted their kids in front of TVs playing any old thing, my Dad took care to curate the programming I consumed. Looney Tunes, Mr. Magoo, the Disney Home video library were carefully selected to ensure I’d develop under the indirect tutelage of Chuck Jones, Clyde Geronimi, and Wolfgang Reitherman. As I matured so did his recommendations. The animation masters of my childhood gave way to Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Stanley Kubrick and eventually more contemporary filmmakers like Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, and Wes Anderson. I’m fortunate that my Dad still takes time to shepherd me in great works of cinema, as was the most recent case with Powell and Pressburger.
Around Christmas time a couple of years ago I was struck with an urge to give my Dad the gift from the Criterion Collection. But which one? It’s the literal standard for important, classic, and contemporary film collections and after all the effort he’s put into providing me with the very best in film for my entire life I could hardly afford to make a misstep here. So I did what any indecisive son would do in this predicament and I didn’t buy him any of them. I bought him all of them… via a subscription to the Criterion Channel!
If you’re unaware the Criterion Channel is the world’s best streaming service. I feel like that sentence is missing a qualifier like ‘for cinephiles’ or ‘for filmmakers’ or maybe ‘for Dads’ but… no… I got it right the first time. The Criterion Channel’s bountiful catalog includes most of the titles I considered for his gift, and the annual subscription costs as much as 3 of their blu rays! What a steal. Of all the classics available he first chose to share with me Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s classics The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes.
The three aforementioned films are nothing short of a masterpieces. Not ‘of their time’, not ‘for dramas’, and not ‘for Dads’… again I got it right the first time. In all three cases Powell and Pressburger manage to tell amazing stories, direct world class performances, and paint every inch of the screen with immaculately composed light.
My Dad and I had already watched The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Black Narcissus before I’d started the Quarantined Critic blog and by the time we got around to The Red Shoes I’d developed expectations of Powell and Pressburger. The Red Shoes would be a vibrant emotional experience full of intrigue, betrayal, and romance. And it is! It’s the story of an ambitious young dancer who’s joined the most prestigious production company in her field while facing the consequences of becoming romantically entangled with her high powered producer. Wait a minute, am I reviewing The Red Shoes or Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls? Are they the same movie? I jest.
The Red Shoes is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. The ballet sequences, the behind the scenes dramatics, the musical accompaniment are exquisite but they’re just the trappings around The Red Shoes dramatic love triangle between a ballet impresario, his star ballerina, and their show’s young virtuoso composer. The core of The Red Shoes is about love, not ballet. If you let all the beautifully crafted dialogue, performances, and shots fall away you’d be left with a compelling conflict that could easily transfer into any setting in any time. The Red Shoes is the hero with 1,000 laces.
I’m beginning to understand what my Dad likes so much about these movies, they share many of his best characteristics. They’re clever and dramatic. Quick-witted and sentimental. Romantic and visually astute. It seems like when my Dad shares these films with me, he’s sharing more than the movie, he’s sharing the parts of himself he sees reflected in the picture with me. It’s curious tho, I don’t think he’d bother sharing the Powell and Pressburger’s films if he didn’t think I too possessed those same characteristics. So in the end, when we watch these masterpieces together, we’re dedicating two or so precious hours to actively appreciating our commonalities.
So thank you The Film Foundation and The Criterion Collection for restoring and distributing these magnificent works of art. You’ll never know how your work helped my Dad share his esprit de cinema with me or how much I value it.
PS: On a completely unrelated note the Criterion Channel subscription costs $100 a year.