A Black Swan of a Controversy

Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan has come under fire recently. How much of the complicated dance sequences did she really perform herself? How much was performed by a dancing double? Sarah Lane, the double, came forward and said that Portman only performed about five person of the dance numbers. Fox Searchlight, director Darren Arnofsky, and Mila Kunis have all defended Portman’s performance.

Lane has written a compelling post about the rigorous demands of ballet and what a film like Black Swan means for the ballet world in the Wall Street Journal. She writes: “My only wish is that Natalie, Darren and certain others who worked closely on the movie, could have grasped the beauty and the heart of true ballet. If they had, they would have advocated for this art more and given the real dancers the credit that they deserve.”

Is Lane justified to bring her concerns to the media?  To an extent, yes. She obviously feels as though she has been cast aside by the film’s producers in favor of Portman, the star who went on to win the industry’s biggest award. Lane feels that the media is the only place she can turn to justify her concerns and gain any sort credit.

But there is an oversight in Lane’s commentary. She seems to have seen a different version of Black Swan than I did. Yes, Black Swan is about the beauty and heart of true ballet; there is no doubt that the film captures and respects this notion.  But it is also a highly nuanced and intricate film about, for instance, the decaying female body, mental instability, sexual repression, and personal desire. Ballet serves, in many ways, a metaphor for all of this. On top of all this, Black Swan is a feast of special effects and visual creativity.

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Natalie Portman’s performance is about more than whether or not she  dances en pointe. Her strongest scenes are not these dance sequence that become inundated by these special effects, including the use a double. It is in the scene early on in the film when Nina seeks out Vincent Cassel’s Thomas Leroy to convince him that she deserves the part of the Swan Queen. Until this moment, Nina had been a mostly silent character, shown to be meticulously dedicated to her craft and overwhelmingly quiet. It is Portman’s first scene with extended dialogue. During it you see how Nina, the character, attempts to morph into something she wants to be for the part she desire most. She wears her hair down, she wears bright red lipstick, and she attempts to really use her voice. Scenes like this are the reason why Portman won an Oscar for acting.

This is why when Lane came forward with her grievances, I thought “So?”. Lane has unintentionally exposed her naiveté about how movies are made. Yes, movies are an art form, but they are also apart of an industry. Lane, unfortunately, just became a sort of pawn in that industry. Lane has a right to express her opinion on the matter. But there is a considerable difference between what Natalie Portman did in Black Swan and what Lane did.

What are your thoughts on this controversy? Does it affect your perception of Black Swan? And, perhaps the more pressing question, how long did you wait before purchasing your copy of Black Swan?

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A Best Picture Challenge

The Academy Award nominations have been announced. Now it is time for some fun.

There are 10 films nominated for Best Picture. Can you include all of their titles in one sentence? This is my attempt:

In the 127 Hours before the Inception of The King’s Speech, The Fighter learned that The Kids Are All Right because they had True Grit during Winter’s Bone when the Black Swan joined The Social Network to watch Toy Story 3.

The rules are simple: it can only be one sentence and you have to include all ten.

Ready, go!

The 2011 Academy Award Nominations

The Oscar nominations are in!

The King’s Speech, Tom Hooper masterful period film about King George VI and his st-st-stammer scored 12 nominations. After being shut out at the Golden Globes, Joel and Ethan Coen’s revamped True Grit followed with 10 nods. The Social Network received just eight nominations, as did Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Toy Story 3 became the third animated feature nominated for Best Picture. The complete list of nominations is available here.

After The King’s Speech topped the Producer’s Guild Awards this weekend  and the Academy’s  lack of showering The Social Network with accolades, skeptics are questioning whether or not 2010’s critical darling will win big on Oscar night. (Deep breath, TSN fans. The Facebook-saga will do just fine.)

Other notable omissions are Julianne Moore for The Kids Are All Right and Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine. Their on-screen spouse (Annette Bening and Michelle Williams, respectively) both received best actress nominations. For performances that are so symbiotic, it is a shame the other half was left off the ballot.

I was also secretely hoping Barbara Hershey’s performance as the wonderfully creepy arand manic stage mother in Black Swan would score a supporting actress nomination.

Are you satisfied with the Oscar nominations? What do you see as the biggest Oscar snubs? Sound off below.

Continue reading “The 2011 Academy Award Nominations”

Saturday Night Live Does Black Swan

You know that a movie is having a major cultural impact when there is a Saturday Night Live sketch about it. On last night’s SNL, the first of 2011, Nasim Pedrad, Bill Hader, and host Jim Carrey poked fun at Black Swan‘s big theme: sexuality. Donning an over-the-top tutu, Carrey shows off his dance moves and, um, buffalo chicken wing tattoos.

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Black Swan, Take Two

Some movies should be seen twice. With Black Swan, which I saw for the second time last night, not seeing just the plot, the shocking moments, or even having the “Hey, Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman are having sex” moment enriches the viewing experience. The second time around it is more captivating, frightening, and even more poignant.

Briefly, here is what struck me as more profound after the second viewing.

Nina’s development from a childlike and naive character to a self-aware woman with a freedom of expression is wondrous. The color scheme – white, pink, gray, black – used in her bedroom, her attire and how it transforms is a symbolic development in her character. This monochromatic color scheme is also why the use of red – Beth’s lipstick, blood, and the overwhelming saturation of red in the club scene – stands out.

The costuming in Black Swan is conceptually wonderful and drenched in symbolism. How feathers and other dance costumes are carried out into the real world. When Nina wears pink, when she wears black. It all matters.

Much of Natalie Portman’s performance revolves around the physical performance – her expressions and dancing – and not her dialogue. In the film’s first moments, Nina has little spoken dialogue. She says a few meek sentences to her mother, the other dancers. She’s soft-spoken, trapped, and controlled. When Nina meets with Thomas in his office, this is the first instance in the film when she has significant dialogue and the ability to assert herself. Her conversation with Thomas is strained. She doesn’t know how to fight for what she wants and she only gets it when forced.

Barbara Hershey’s Erica clearly struggles with manic depression and other mental illnesses. I didn’t know how to process this character after the first viewing as anything other than mentally ill. Yet there is genius behind Hershey’s performance. This is a woman who never had the career that Nina has and she has molded her daughter into the dancer she dreamed of being.  There is also something to be said about Erica in comparison to Ellen Burstyn’s Sara Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream.

Throughout the film, Lily and Nina discuss Thomas’ expression “My Little Princess” that he uses to show affection for Beth. Is it sweet? Is it creepy? Nina has no problem with it. Because her mother already has a pet name for her, “my sweet girl”. Of these two expressions, her mother’s is creepy, even frightening.

The best shot of the entire film occurs after Nina and Lily return to the apartment after their night out. Standing side by side, their images are joined and split by a mirror. In a movie all about doubling, reflections, and split personalities, this shot encompasses the entire film’s artistic conception perfectly.

After Nina performs as the Black Swan in the finale, she stands off stage. Her breathing, a motif throughout the film, is harder and louder than ever. In a way, she is essentially having an orgasm and it is not like the orgasm she experienced during her romp with Lily. It’s more real and passionate because it comes after Nina gets what she wants most: a perfect performance.

Through its heavy symbolism and cinematography, I found Black Swan to overwhelmingly driving at one idea. (It’s more noticeable the second time.) Everyone is controlled by two sides: the innocent and the dark. Only some people are recognize that. The realization leads to sexual satisfaction, even personal happiness.