I’ve always had a fascination with theatrical life. Nowhere else can you find so many people doing so many different things all to facilitate a performance that only lasts a few hours. So much work goes into making those few hours as perfect as possible. Indeed, that’s what it takes. Much of it is thankless work, I would imagine. Here, however, we get to glimpse the muscle and sinew, organs and bones of the theater.
Start with Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy (1999), a view into the life of the Savoy Theater as they put on the premier performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. This film itself keeps the lens focused on the creation and execution of the play, but there’s a lot more here than is immediately apparent. Also a powerful character piece, Topsy-Turvy leaves the viewer to find the truth of its actors who often maintain the performance long after they leave the stage.
Round off the evening with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948). Following the careers of a fiery, graceful ballet dancer (played by Moira Shearer) and a newly graduated composer (Marius Goring), The Red Shoes is behind-the-scenes look at the Ballet Lermontov as it tours with its new production of the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Red Shoes.” Shot by the inimitable Jack Cardiff, the film is as much a feast for the eyes as for the mind. Bright, striking colors ooze from every pore of this seemingly candy-coated confection. There is, however, a darkness here that slowly becomes apparent. It raises the question “When does art end and life begin?” The answer, not so immediately apparent, comes with equal parts ambiguity and acrimony.