Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Alan Webber: Why I Love Moira Shearer

On the anniversary of Moira Shearer's death, BMFI patron and film fan Alan Webber shares with us his movie memories of the luminous dancer and actress and her best-known performance in The Red Shoes.

Autumn Bonfire
By Alan Webber, BMFI Patron

Like many American males I first fell in love in the darkened balcony of a movie theatre. The reader has no need for caution here: I was no stumbling Clearasil-addicted teenager groping at elbows, but a young boy of six years. It was somewhere around 1950 in Larchmont, New York and my mother dragged me, a runny-nosed youth I’m sure, to a matinee one October Saturday. It was a nearly perfect autumn day and I remember that my new white sneakers brushed against the embers of burning leaves at the curb of Chatsworth Avenue on the way. Little did I know of  what was in store for me that crisp day or the gifts I was about to receive…the first of a lifetime of movie loves and my first movie memory.

Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes

A little over two hours later when “FINIS” lit across the blackness, I knew that I was totally infatuated with movies and this alluring beauty on the screen. I didn’t know what “FINIS” meant but the film appeared to end very tragically for her in Monte Carlo…wherever that was. I knew it was very far from Larchmont.

Her name in the film was Victoria Page and she was a fiery redhead who raged across my innocence in a spinning fantasy of Technicolor and dance. “Vicki” was her screen name, but I gradually learned she really was Moira Shearer of the Sadler Wells Ballet and I have never fallen out of love with her in The Red Shoes, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s eccentric, melodramatic and voluptuous masterpiece. Even director Powell was taken by her "cloud of  red hair," which "flamed and glittered like an autumn bonfire.” In retrospect, I see that she was my very first Object of Desire even before my younger self flirted with an idea of sex. She was also the probable origin of a lifelong smoldering fondness for fair-skinned redheads.

After the release of The Red Shoes in 1948 she became the best-known ballet dancer in the United States and perhaps the world and with this fame she was able to popularize ballet more than any other contemporary. Many today, myself included, believe that it is still the greatest ballet movie ever made and Moira Shearer was crucial to this success. However, the reception of the film by the public wasn’t without problems. “The film was a huge success when it opened in London in the spring of 1948,” she said to one interviewer, “but, just as I had suspected, the British public didn’t much approve of my appearing in it…..I just wish I had been a more rounded performer at the time.” It was never a movie she wanted to make for she believed she was a novice at acting and felt hampered by her lack of experience. If she felt that way, it didn’t show on the screen.

Following The Red Shoes, Moira Shearer made four other films in which she danced and acted including The Tales of Hoffman for Powell and Pressburger and Black Tights for choreographer Roland Petitt. Her dancing career essentially ended in 1952, after which she acted, wrote, and lectured.

She died on January 31, 2006 at the age of 80.

In the film, Vicki, who has fallen in love with the ballet company’s composer, is warned, “A dancer who relies upon the 'doubtful comforts' of human love will never be a great dancer…never.”

On those scarlet autumn days when I am in a reflective mood and the air is crisp again and I watch The Red Shoes, I can rely on these “doubtful comforts” and remember the Moira Shearer of my boyhood, the autumn bonfire, who has warmed my heart for a movie-going lifetime.

Thanks, Alan!

Film fans, if you would like to submit a post of your own about a movie or film star that you love, please contact Devin Wachs with your idea.

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