I once mentioned to my uncle (a movie buff like me)
that I thought Ava Gardner was the most beautiful
woman who ever stood in front of a movie camera.
Of course, that’s a subjective call if there ever was
one; plus, considering how much movie-camera
time has been devoted exclusively to photographing
beautiful women over the past ninety years or so,
the field of candidates is awfully crowded. You could
run the question by anybody — even limiting the
time period to, say, 1915-65 — and I’ll bet you’d
have to collect several hundred votes before you
got ten who picked the same woman.
Anyhow, meaning no disrespect to whoever’s name
popped into your head just now, that’s what I said
at the time: Ava Gardner topped my list. My uncle
considered the idea, and said two words: “Maureen O’Hara.”
Well, now, there was food for thought. So I
considered his idea, and I said, okay,
Ava Gardner for black and white …
No doubt about it, when those old
three-strip cameras were cranking
and those blistering kilowatts of
light flooded the set, red hair and
green eyes — to say nothing of the
face that went with them — could be
Which raises the question: How much does the
camera matter? A lot, obviously, but exactly
how much? Can it even be quantified?
I never met Ava Gardner or Maureen O’Hara,
but I’ve certainly seen plenty of their movies,
and publicity and paparazzi photos, in both
black and white and color — enough to
convince me that neither of them were
exactly dowdy scullery drudges
away from the set.
Moira Shearer as the doomed ballerina Victoria Page. The painstaking restoration of The Red Shoes undertaken by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the British Film Institute reportedly took two-and-a-half years, and it was worth every minute. I read somewhere once that The Red Shoes was the Technicolor Corp.’s own official choice for the most beautiful Technicolor movie ever made. I don’t know if that’s true, but I believe it; I’ve never seen a print of Red Shoes that was less than gorgeous. Even so, I’ve never seen — scarecely imagined — it looking like this. The movie itself, I think, is one of the unique works of art, though to be honest, it’s one I admire without entirely enjoying; for sheer pleasure I prefer other Powell-Pressburger pictures like I Know Where I’m Going, A Matter of Life and Death or The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. But as a sheer exercise in sumptuous pictorial splendor, The Red Shoes is without equal, and this new restoration leaves me wide-eyed and gasping at nearly every shot.
The chief beneficiary of the UCLA/BFI facelift, besides Jack Cardiff’s matchless cinematography (only the spiteful insularity of Hollywood can explain why he wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar), is Moira Shearer — the dancer who never really wanted to be a movie star. Whether she’s dressed to the nines for a formal reception, as above…