Martin Scorsese: interview

A longtime fan of The Red Shoes, director Martin Scorsese helped get it restored

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Director Martin Scorsese

On his first impressions of The Red Shoes

When did it catch on here in New York? 1950? So I must have been eight or nine. I remember abstract impressions of colour and movement. Later, it became a very intense psychological vortex of passion, like a whirlpool sucking in the lives and souls of these characters. I was intrigued by the obsession, the need to dance. To be an artist. I guess it all comes down to that wonderful exchange early in the film when Anton Walbrook confronts Moira Shearer at a cocktail party. ‘Why do you want to dance?’ he asks, and she answers, ‘Why do you want to live?’ There’s no choice about it. The look on his face is extraordinary.

How the film inspires him

Over the years, if I’ve found myself weakening, it’s not that I summon up the exact atmosphere and experience of seeing The Red Shoes, but that determined state of mind has definitely become part of who I am. I feel that this movie has given myself and plenty of other filmmakers the courage to keep going. It’s about directing. But it’s also about a dedication to what you do. You may not do it well [laughs], you may do it very well. But no matter what it is, you have to do it. And often, that’s a dangerous thing, not only to you, but to the people around you.

The magic of the film’s colour

No, the colour in the movie isn’t realistic. But it reflects the heightened world of the ballet, of theatre. Colour is always something that is going to be an aesthetic comment, no matter how you do it. When you see The Red Shoes from the centre of the tenth row, you get submerged in a kind of reality, so to speak. You see these extraordinary close-ups of these people’s faces, with this amazing make-up on their eyes and red, red lipstick. It’s so blunt. Halfway through our screening at Cannes, the audience spontaneously applauded. I’ve never seen the print looking this good. 

How The Red Shoes influenced Raging Bull

The movie hasn’t inspired me shot by shot. But the idea of whether your determination is going to take you off the cliff and you perish? That’s Raging Bull. It’s funny: when Michael Powell saw some 8mm test footage of De Niro sparring in 1978 or ‘79, he said, ‘You know, it’s interesting, this sparring, but there’s one thing wrong.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘The red boxing gloves are too red.’ I said, ‘You’re absolutely right.’ That was one of the reasons we decided to make it black-and-white.

By Joshua Rothkopf


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