Martin Scorsese on his favorite movie

We caught up with NYC's most revered director to chat about The Red Shoes.

On a recent weekend, Martin Scorsese, 66, took time out from editing a documentary on British cinema and inspecting some color film stock—“Yep, a typical Saturday”—to talk about his longtime love for The Red Shoes. A romantic fantasy about a doomed ballerina, the 1948 feature, codirected by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, has been recently restored with the help of Scorsese, and comes to Film Forum this week. Here are his own words.

His first viewing
When did it really catch on here in New York? 1950? So I must have been eight or nine. I remember abstract impressions of color 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—for no reason you could articulate—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 her, and she immediately answers, “Why do you want to live?” There’s no choice about it. The look on his face is extraordinary.

The courage to keep going
Over the years, if I’ve found myself weakening at any time, it’s not that I summon up the exact atmosphere and the 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. Absolutely, 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.

Red lipstick, applause
No, the color in the movie isn’t realistic. But it really reflects the heightened world of the ballet, the heightened world of theater. Color 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 tenth row center, 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 makeup 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.

From ballet to the boxing ring
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, completely. You have to go there and not be afraid of it, and hope that the audience will go with you. 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.” And that was one of the reasons why we decided to make the film black-and-white.

Reclaiming the cinematic past
Peeping Tom completely destroyed Michael Powell’s career, and I helped get that film rereleased. There was a complete dismissal of his work. A great deal of it had to do with the style of filmmaking coming out of England in the 1960s, excellent pictures like This Sporting Life and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. A new realism, yes, but the filmmakers had to eschew what came before them—a shame. We went about reclaiming those films. I even had an Anton Walbrook Cossack shirt I wore—yes, a velvet one. I still have it. [Laughs] It’s a little warm. I think it had to do with the lack of central heating in England.

Hey, Marty: Off the top of your head, name your five favorite American musicals.

The Band Wagon
Meet Me in St. Louis
Funny Face
Singin’ in the Rain
It’s Always Fair Weather

The Red Shoes opens Fri 6 at Film Forum. Find showtimes

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