My red shoes. Never worn. My knees went out about the time I bought them and I never wore high heels after that. These are not as high as the heels in “The Red Shoe Diaries” which is the name of an erotic series -- all about women who keep sad diaries about disappointed love and mail them to David Duchovny. A gimmick as old as Geisha pillow books and Penthouse.
Of course, the original story is a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale from Europe and then there’s the iconic ballet movie. But this is a little different. Hans Anderson is always a bit dark but there’s a second fairy tale that slips in here: the bit of glass from the Snow Queen’s shattered mirror that prevents feeling. Except in the Anderson tale, it’s the boy who gets the glass in his eye and is frozen. The girl, the sturdy Gerda, saves him.
In this 1992 made-for-cable-TV story the girl, Brigitte Bako, gets the bit of glass taken OUT of her eye and nearly instantly falls madly in love -- or lust. She’s already involved with a brainy, angry, achieving architect (Duchovny in what is said to be his “breakout” role.) but now she literally falls into the arms of a street laborer who happens to jackhammer a hole in a water pipe at that moment in a nice Freudian geyser. He turns out to also be the salesman with the red shoes. He’s full of temptation and tricks. (Third T is trouble.)
This is frankly erotica, but soft core. That means the three B’s: butts, backs and breasts -- as opposed to hard core porn which is the three P’s: pubic, penile, penetration. In truth, it’s really more about clothes and styling. It’s one long fashion vignette except the part towards the end when the two guys take their shirts off and play basketball in the huge loft set, very Ralph Lauren. (Billy Wirth, the actor who plays the working class guy, was very impressed that the glass backboard was shattered but intact -- so classy. He was also proud of his ball-playing “moves” but grateful that the director protected him in the, um, intimate scenes.) The movie is full of styling touches: a searchlight, a strong fan, champagne flutes that are two feet tall -- trombones. A roaring fireplace. A pinata that showers confetti, glitter, and engagement rings. A free-standing bathtub. All is fire and bubble bath.
The original fairy tale is about an ungrateful little girl whose kind and generous old lady benefactors keep giving her what she wants: morocco -- or possibly patent leather -- red shoes. (Nothing quite so fancy as what Judy Garland takes off the witch’s feet.) But she is never satisfied. Then the shoes take over and begin to dance. It’s a curse. She can’t take them off. She dances and dances and dances. When she tries to go to church, an angel intervenes. She goes to the executioner and gets him to use his big ax to cut off her feet (he carves her some wooden prosthetic feet) but then when she tries to go to church her feet come dancing in the red shoes and prevent her. By now she is truly sorry. She goes home to her tiny room and prays, penitent and devout. That angel comes back, lifts the ceiling off her room and then she’s dead/transcendent -- in heaven and so pleased. Case closed.
There’s no angel in this movie, though there are plenty of sexy girls. The girl -- who is rather childlike -- takes off her red shoes, gets in the tub with all her black underwear on, and slits her wrists. She has been complaining that everyone tries to control her, but no more. She wins. No heaven. (There are, however, other episodes of this series that she’s in somehow.)
Brenda Vaccaro is a demon mother, not a nice old lady. (Absolutely fabulous green satin embroidered Chinese kimono.) This is a psychological drama -- we don’t do religion these days, though there’s a remarkable number of statues of angels here and there, This girl has the modern curse of more than one young contemporary woman: she has a black sucking hole in her psyche -- call it depression, call it narcissism -- and everything disappears down it. She is inconsolable. More than one man asks for advice about “high maintenance” women who cannot be filled up. Gifts, praise, vacations, sex, even mood altering pills -- and they just are never happy. They don’t seem to know how. Of course, it must be all the mom’s fault.
One of the most charming actors is the dog, who has become rather famous. I tried to find its name but didn’t succeed. It was always there, never stole scenes, was even willing to be intimidated by this insatiable girl when she pretended to be a dog picking a fight. Some of my fav shots were someone striding across the big floor with the dog following along at just the right pace and distance, though I also liked the moment when Duchovny unlocks the gate to his apartment stairs just as a whole bag of citrus comes bouncing down at him. This is a very beautiful movie. The music, single instruments wailing the blues -- sax, muted cornet, piano -- is as lush and intense as everything else.
Wikipedia’s informant says: “The soft core porn TV series, Red Shoe Diaries episodes were as of August 2010, running on the Canadian television channel Bravo!, early Saturday morning. From time to time, episodes can also be viewed on Showtime, on hulu.com, or for sale on DVD.” Mine was Netflix, of course. Both men and women on imdb.com reported that this movie had them enthralled, but many agreed that the shorter episodes developed from this generally-praised movie were nowhere nearly as involving or skillful. Duchovny doesn’t include it in his publicity.
One of the reasons I remain interested by intense but edgy films is that they do reach human patterns that are not necessarily discussed in polite company. Self-hating women who are seductive and easily seduced but then become deeply destructive are one of those patterns. I see there is a new book out about perfectionism, which is one aspect. Like many social evils, probably related to commodification of human beings. "Buy this or remain imperfect!" The glorification of manicures.