Searching for an online script of The Red Shoes I came across this great page which has all kinds of interesting details about the making of the film. One thing in particular interested me: apparently director Jack Cardiff in his 1997 autobiography Magic Hour wrote:
“I had a gadget made to change the camera speeds during a scene so I could go from normal speed to double speed [48 fps]. This was used to great effect when a dancer leapt in the air; just before the apex of flight, I slowed the action for a fraction of a second, so that they appeared to hover in the air.” (From The Powell & Pressburger Pages)
Over the years, I’ve heard some ballet teachers offer this is a kind of ‘correction’ – “hold!” or “suspend!”, together with an explanation that this will give an illusion of hovering.
So was Cardiff attempting to do something which is part of what real dancing looks like? Or did he contribute even more to the belief in the possibility of an illusion that is only achievable with a camera trick?
My guess is a bit of both, and that music can play a role too: it’s possible to give an illusion of suspension in music by subtly lengthening a note (an ‘agogic accent’), which in effect is the aural equivalent of what Cardiff was doing – slowing down the passage of perceived time at a crucial moment. Maybe for musicians this is part of what playing well for dance means: knowing what to do to contribute to the illusion.
Another interesting fact about the film is that the 17-minute ‘ballet of the Red Shoes’ took six weeks to film. I’m just going to go away and ponder that.