Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Moira Shearer

This will only probably mean anything to classic movie fans, but dancer Moira Shearer has died. Shearer was the star of The Red Shoes, a fantasy/romance film by seminal British filmmakers the Archers, better known as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Powell and Pressburger made 17 movies together, most of which rightfully belong on the list of Greatest British Films Ever, and their works ran the gamut from exciting action adventure (The 49th Parallel, The Battle of the River Plate), to romantic melodrama (Black Narcissus, I Know Where I'm Going!), to far-out artsy-fartsy experimentation (The Tales of Hoffman). The Red Shoes is considered their masterwork, a movie Martin Scorsese calls one of his all-time favorites, and one which Kate Bush named a whole album after. And it's in a genre that few "serious" filmmakers worked in in those days: fantasy.

Yes, on the surface, it's a straightforward romantic-triangle movie about a ballerina, the Svengali empresario who makes her a star, and the composer whose music makes her dance. But its overtly melodramatic elements go down convincingly because of the overt inclusion of fantasy. The 17-minute ballet sequence is one of the most famous setpieces in history, a dazzling display of color and pre-CGI visual effects that is still wondrous to look at in the post-Peter Jackson age. Indeed, the whole movie is thought of as having some of the finest use of Technicolor in all cinema. (The Archers also delved into fantasy filmmaking in Hoffman and Stairway to Heaven.)

I remember, ten (choke! gasp!) years ago, going to see a whole lineup of Powell/Pressburger films with my friend Hollye at the now-closed Texas Union Theater, as part of a retrospective program UT-Austin's film program was running. To see these old movies on a theater screen — The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, now one of my all-time favorites, was also one of them — is the kind of privilege that just doesn't come along any more. It's just one more awesome thing that no longer exists in this town, that those of us who have lived here for years have come to lament.

Moira Shearer was 80. But the few films (with the possible exception of the badly dated Peeping Tom) she made with the Archers are timeless. I think I'll pop the Criterion DVD of The Red Shoes in my player tonight. And if you consider yourself a classic movie fan and haven't seen it, you really ought to add it to your Netflix queue.

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