12 December 2010

Three Times: Black Swan

Three reasons to see Black Swan:

1. You have to wait an unconscionably long time, but when Nina (Natalie Portman showing every vein in her neck) breaks out as the Black Swan it is a breathtaking five minutes. The fantasia of the music and the Swan's phantasmal feathers had me on the edge of applause.

2. I think Darren Aronofsky has found his calling card (like Hitchcock appearing in all his films). He will always use an actor or actress who has undergone horrible plastic surgery and use them to scare the audience straight. As many others have pointed out, Barbara Hershey (as Nina's smother) has far too little skin in parts of her face and too much in others--a deadringer for Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.

3. Mila Kunis is a pleasant diversion from the relentless tightness in the rest of the film. It's amazing how she sounds exactly like she does in Forgetting Sarah Marshall or That 70's Show or anything she's ever been in and it somehow works as Nina's "liberated" rival Lily.

Three reasons to miss Black Swan:

1. For the cuticle obsessed, like myself, this is a hard movie to watch. I wanted to scream at Nina to, for the love of god, use some moisturizer. Some really expensive Norwegian hand cream. Despite Ms. Hershey's best efforts, the scariest thing in Black Swan is the scene where Nina tears a strip of skin from her cuticle down to the second knuckle of her finger. The horror, the horror.

2. It feels like Aronofsky went about the casting with cruelty in mind. In addition to the Hershey freakshow, there is Winona Ryder as a washed up dancer in the troupe who later becomes a crippled washed up dancer. And Vincent Cassel is wasted with the insultingly repetitive lines he is forced to spit out as ballet director Thomas (pronounced toe-MA) Leroy.

3. The whole film, in fact, is terribly repetitive. Nina goes to practice, comes home, has a freakout in her teenybopper bedroom then wakes up to go back to practice. There's no narrative propulsion to the project, just anticipation for the next lurid activity.

Three things to know about that Portman/Kunis "hot lesbian sex scene" in Black Swan:

1. There's no nudity.

2. Any eroticism is mitigated by the CGI goosebumps spreading over Portman's skin the whole time.

3. And it's all in Nina's imagination (as Lily delicately puts it, "you had a lezzie wet dream about me?"). The more diverting scene is the one where Nina wakes up and starts masturbating until she realizes that her gargoyle mother is the room with her.

Three reasons you might want to just watch The Red Shoes instead:

1. Powell and Pressburger understood that a dance film is more entertaining if you actually get to see dances being performed. The Red Shoes offers wide shots of entire pieces before audiences, instead of closeup fragments of pieces seen only in rehearsal. The demands of the profession are shown but the film is not about endless drudgery and dry skin.

2. While Black Swan has lots of creative shrugs and leg warmers over leg warmers, The Red Shoes has a much more impressive array of costumes. The impresario Boris Lermontov's green dressing gown outstrips anything the Mulleavys came up with.

3. The Red Shoes relies on a far better metaphor of performance. When the Swan Queen dies her martyr's death at the end of Swan Lake, it's really a relief for Nina because her life is torturous. Compare that to the story of the red shoes, as described by Lermontov: "Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the red shoes dance on." Such is art as it should be, never tired.

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