Monday, December 13, 2010

Black Swan

Black Swan
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-borho
od 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 Christi
na 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 Ab
out 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!)


  1. I actually really loved this film, so I don't concur with your negative reaction to it. But I must commend you highly for the wonderful structure of this review!

    I love not only watching movies, but the entire experience that comes with going out to see them...

    The sort of theatre you choose to watch it in (especially in a big city)...the thoughts going through your head on the way there...the inevitable post-film discussion over beer/wine/coffe/etc...and the company that we choose to see these films with.

    I don't see enough of that in the reviews that I read and it has made this one stick out for me in a wonderful way!

    It's what sets your reviews apart for me - please promise me that you'll stick with this format

  2. Well, I basically agree the tone was pretty ham-handed, but it moved me pretty strongly; I especially enjoyed all the mind-bending tricks the film played on me. Actually didn't feel nearly as manipulative as "I Love You Philip Morris" (although that one was a lot of fun; but only because I love Ewan MacGregor no matter what he does).

    By the way, what's the name of that gay gift-shop? I feel bored lately; I could use a new distraction.

  3. I believe it's called Rainbows and Triangles. Bring John; this place'll be like heaven for him!

    Hatter, posts like this are exactly what WSW is all about. Like it says at the top, I don't consider these 'reviews' in the traditional sense - partly because I'm not as erudite about film as guys like you or Castor or Rachel, but mostly because I want to take a different approach to writing about film. Sometimes these posts will read more like reviews, but most of the time they won't - and that's totally by design. So yeah, this is what I do.

  4. Darren Aronofsky is as dark and quirky as ever, while Natalie Portman shines under his direction.

  5. Naaaaaaaah... this isn't camp. It's too serious and dire. There's no bad taste or irony here. "Black Swan" could've easily went the way of the B-movie (as in "OK, so she's turning into a literal swan?" or by being beaten over the head with symbolism) but the whole thing was too beautiful, too cringe-inducing, and too thought-provoking. Pair that with the fact that Natalie Portman is on-screen for almost the entire film, and yet never gets tiresome, this movie is a winner.

  6. I'd be willing to see it again at some point. It's certainly the kind of movie that people react strongly to, one way or another.

  7. I don't see the 'camp' factor but I totally understand that you didn't love this movie, Rich. I appreciate the effort that went into this and there are beauty to beheld, but overall it's just too bleak for my taste. But then again, Aronofsky's work are generally not my cup of tea so I sort of expected that.

  8. And yet you saw the movie anyway. That's saying something.


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