seen @ Chelsea Clearview Cinemas, New York NY
LAMB Acting School 101 is a monthly event in which LAMB bloggers discuss the work and career of a given actor. This month's subject is Natalie Portman.The complete list of posts for this month will go up December 29 at the LAMB site.
I met Terry over a year ago. A mutual friend and her band was playing a gig in the city and she introduced us and we hit it off pretty well from there. She's a ballet dancer as well as a fine artist. She kind of got off to a late start in life as far as training goes, but as far as I can tell, she's not looking to play Lincoln Center or tour the world with a troupe. She just does it because she loves it. I mean, she gets a genuine joy from it that really completes her life. Unfortunately, I have yet to see her perform - I think she's still slightly self-conscious about it - but hopefully sometime next year that'll change.
When I told her about this new movie coming out about ballet called Black Swan, she didn't need too much convincing to see it, not even after I told her that it's got some... weird elements to it (to put it mildly). We were gonna see it on Saturday, but she got invited to a party at the last minute. Too bad, because Saturday was the better day weather-wise. Yesterday it was pouring rain. The 7 PM show was sold out, so we got tickets for the next show, which was 8:15, and after a quick dinner, we came back to the theater, though we had to settle for second row seats on the side because the place was packed.
The Chelsea is located just off Eighth Avenue in the gay-borhood of Chelsea. Greenwich Village has historically been Rainbow Central in New York for decades, but this enclave on the west side of Manhattan, just north of the Village, has become a serious contender for that title. Terry lives uptown, but she loves coming down here, sometimes with her girlfriend, sometimes with her pals. The last time we hung out she took me to this gay gift shop on Eighth. I'd actually been there before, but it's more fun, I think, going in there with friends, so you can marvel at all the kooky and kinky items on display.
The movie theater caters to the gay crowd. The Rocky Horror Picture Show plays there every weekend, for one thing. (Yes, I have my Rocky story to tell, and it's a great one. Stay tuned.) Also, the new Cher movie Burlesque is currently playing there too, and in the lobby, there's this huge showcase containing mannequins with costumes presumably worn by Cher and Christina Aguilera in the film, along with related paraphernalia. Terry hated Burlesque, but as she was leaving she saw a bunch of spectacular-looking drag queens headed for the next show. She says she can't understand why gay men love this movie.
I wanted to like Black Swan, I really did, but I found myself unmoved by it, and indeed, found it ridiculous beyond the point of pure camp. (Terry thought it was campy too, but in a good way.) One part Showgirls, two parts All About Eve, with a dash of Carrie and a generous helping of An American Werewolf in London (!), this didn't come across as terribly original as people would have you think. The more I think about it, the more I think Darren Aronofsky (whom I still respect as a filmmaker, because making a movie like this took brass balls) should've gone all the way and made it a true horror movie instead of just an is-she-going-crazy-or-isn't-she thing.
So instead, let's talk about the one thing that makes Black Swan watchable: Natalie Portman. I remember the first time I saw her in a film; it was Beautiful Girls, back when I was still working in video retail. That was a popular movie to watch in the store, in large part, because of her. Eventually I learned about this French crime movie she made a couple of years earlier, called Leon in France but known in America as The Professional. I bought a bootleg VHS copy of the director's cut after seeing the theatrical cut.
I've seen Portman in these films: The Professional, Heat, Beautiful Girls, Everyone Says I Love You, Mars Attacks!, all three Star Wars prequels, Closer, V for Vendetta, The Darjeeling Limited (and Hotel Chevalier), and now Black Swan (and I'll likely see her next summer in Thor). I may not have loved Black Swan, but man, she absolutely nails it in that movie. Terry said she could tell Portman wasn't a professional dancer who had been training all her life, but then she's got a better eye for that sort of thing. I found Portman absolutely convincing as a ballet dancer, but in addition to the exhausting physical challenges, which are impressive enough, this film puts her through an emotional wringer like few actresses ever go through - and even if was in service to a histrionic, way over-the-top plot, she makes you invest in it. This is without question her greatest role to date, and if she wins the Oscar it'll be well-deserved.
I realize, however, that a lot of love is being thrown this movie's way, so if you liked it, feel free to tell me what exactly it is I'm missing about it, because this appears to be a love-it or hate-it kinda movie. (If you hated it, though, then tell me that too, so I know I'm not alone!)