Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Annie Leibovitz's "The Red Shoes"

Dancing Days
A trained ballerina, Adams stars here in a reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes,with her Big Eyes director, Tim Burton, as the cobbler whose shoes ensorcell a young girl.(Note, he appears to be making her new feet...)
This December 2014 fairy tale photoshoot for Vogue was quite the surprise to many geek and pop culture writers online. Here we have Tim Burton as the Puppet Master and Amy Adams as Karen, giving you an insight into their film Big Eyes. I'm thinking this is because they weren't initially familiar with Andersen's "The Red Shoes", looked up the plot on Wikipedia and flipped out over the gruesome. Annie Leibovitz's fairy tale shoot sensibilities tend to lean heavily toward the happily ever after, Disney branding (after all, she is THE Dream Parks fairy tale campaign photographer), but this is... not that. 

It does, however, pay great homage to the classic (and wonderful) film The Red Shoes, the connection of which I'm sad to say seems to have been lost on most commenting on the images online. It also means that the opportunity of paralleling the trials, addictions, self-destructive/crippling mentality, tragedies and, yes, also transcendence that can occur in the life of true artists, has been lost on them too, not to mention the fact that this held true, in many ways, for Andersen himself.
The Puppet Master - Yes Amy Adams really is en pointe here
Citing Andersen's true-life inspiration for his fairy tale The Red Shoes, it's easy to see how he saw the incident as a graphic metaphor, and one that certainly would have been very impressionable (especially when you consider that leather is actually skin...): 
Andersen explained the origins of the story in an incident he witnessed as a small child. By his report, his father was sent a piece of red silk by a rich lady customer, to make a pair of dancing slippers for her daughter. Using red leather along with the silk, he worked very carefully on the shoes, only to have the rich lady tell him they were trash. She said he had done nothing but spoil her silk. "In that case," he said, "I may as well spoil my leather too," and he cut up the shoes in front of her. (Wikipedia)
Big Eyes, the story of the real-life (and still living) artist Margaret Keane, (film directed by Burton with Adams as Margaret herself) has received quite a bit of criticism for its bleakness (and possibly lack-of-typical-Burton-ness). Leibovitz's promotional photo shoot, however, gives color (as in, emotional texture as well as on the light spectrum) to an otherwise drab-looking movie and finishes it on a more positive and impacting image than the movie is reported to do, as you can see below. (Not having seen it personally, I'm told we have 'positive resolution' mainly in the form of text on the screen, letting us know how things turned out well in the real world, but no lasting visual impression of this from the film itself).
Wings of Desire
The magic shoes bring the dancing girl to a cliff, where she is transformed into a bird. Leibovitz looked to Barbara Bazilian’s 1997 retelling* (see synopsis at end of post) of Andersen’s fairy tale. Alexander McQueen ivory ostrich-feather dress. 

Big Eyes is still showing in my local theaters but it's not one I'm in a hurry to see. I might have been interested, however, if The Red Shoes, was the vehicle, or touchstone, that Burton used to tell poor Mrs. Margaret Keane's story, because the parallel works quite well. 

As it is, though, this is as close to fairy tale as that film is going to get. A pity really, since much of the unique (at that time) big-eyed art, would be a great doorway into the fairy tale soul of this story, complete with all its heartache and triumph. 

-sigh- I think it's time to watch The Red Shoes again.
Léonide Massin as the Grischa Ljubov/The Cobbler and Moira Shearer as Vicky Page/Karen
in the classic and filmmaker favorite film, The Red Shoes
Additional sources: here and here

* Synopsis on the 1997 Bazilian retelling from School library Journal: The only elements of Andersen's story that Bazilian retains here are the name of the heroine and the coveted red shoes. Karen saves her spending money to purchase the shoes, and the shoemaker warns her to be careful about what she wishes. She dances brilliantly in the shoes but is troubled that it is increasingly difficult to remove them. Finally, after the ball where she dances all night, she cannot remove them, and she cannot stop dancing. Exhausted and frightened, Karen approaches a cliff and wishes to become a bird. Her wish is granted, and when she returns to her grandmother, she repents her vanity and is restored.

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