Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Black Swan

The Crying Game 1992 was released in England to savage reviews1. The critics killed it at the box office. A month later Miramax distributed it in the US and scored a sleeper hit of $60million+ ($98million in today's money). The Crying Game was then re-released to success in the UK2. Lesson learned: a hit in America will generate enough buzz to hit the UK.

It’s called the Lemming Effect.

Black Swan 2010 was released wide in America on 17th December. Its critical acclaim measures 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.6 on IMDb. Its domestic box office performance to date is $75million3 (on a production budget of $13m). It is a confluence of critical and commercial euphoria. It is perfect for awards season.

Yesterday morning BAFTA nominated Black Swan for 12 statuettes. As impressive as that reads the film has received a prior 159 nominations4 (which includes 44 wins eg Natalie Portman best actress Golden Globes5). The Academy Awards will announce their nominations next week.

This doesn’t sound like a horror film.

Black Swan was marketed as horror to draw in a demographic that can make a hit out of the worst film of the year – if for one weekend only. The deception completed and the box office boosted Black Swan set about wooing its real target: the crossover into mainstream.
Aronofsky's feature debut Pi 1998
Darren Aronofsky is an art house filmmaker. Although his second feature Requiem for a Dream 2000 is best known for its soundtrack it is a wonderful piece of melancholic storytelling. One of Aronofsky’s strengths is the performances he elicits from his cast. The Wrestler 2008 is lauded by the wrestling community – of which I am a proud member – for its depiction of the industry. It too received mainstream attention, awards and accolades for its actors.

Black Swan is art house. It is psychological drama; the story of a ballerina in rehearsals for the lead role in a production of Swan Lake. Swan Lake is ballet. Ballet is art house but Aronofsky does not leave the mainstream audience adrift. Where The Wrestler depicts a breaking body Black Swan witnesses a breaking mind.

The Wrestler tells the story of a has-been – both onscreen and off. Aronofsky resurrected Mickey Rourke in the mainstream. Now he’s rolled a similar albeit easier die with Natalie Portman.
Golden Globes 2011
Despite the talent promised in her debut Leon 1994 Portman has struggled for roles to best showcase her ability. She’s like a songstress looking for a ballad; once upon a time Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey weren’t divas. Now aged 30 Portman has found her song at last. Now she can become Meryl Streep or Sigourney Weaver.

Age is a factor in film especially for female actors. This is a theme explored in Black Swan. Winona Ryder is the aged ingénue Portman replaces in the movie. In real life like Mickey Rourke Ryder has fallen from our grace. The former darling of Generation X is now a celebrity ridicule to sneer at despite numerous comeback attempts. It is a disaster for her that in this film Aronofsky draws attention to her criminal thievery.

Parents see the passing of time in their children. How young can a woman be when her baby girl is now an adult? Barbara Hershey plays Portman’s stage mother to a brilliant tragic effect. Scorcese devotees will know of Hershey when she was Boxcar Bertha 1972. The Horrorfolk remember her from The Entity 1981.
Cassel (left) in La Haine 1995
Vincent Cassel may not be the most famous Frenchman in the world but he’s the most famous French actor. In this film he plays the exotica; the foreigner with a foreign accent with foreign ways that seduce the natives. For an untold reason Anglos find the French alluring. Another French leading man who tried his accent in Hollywood is Gerard Depardieu. His character in Green Card 1990 summed it up: to paraphrase – in his own country he’s just a man. Abroad he is superman.

When I think of the French I think of Vichy6.

Cassel plays the ballet director. His character dominates Portman’s. He bullies her. He inspires her. He elevates her. She wants to please him. She wants to please her mother. She wants to be friends with her coworkers. Perhaps she can be friends with new girl Mila Kunis. Aronofsky’s camera hounds Portman like a paparazzo – like a poacher chasing a swan.

The psychological drama should not be misinterpreted as horror. It is a worthy subgenre that includes Blue Velvet 1986, Les Diaboliques 1955, Vertigo 1958 and Repulsion 1965 by the child rapist Roman Polanski. They are taut by necessity. Although Black Swan has a running time of 108 minutes it is a film without mystery – the plot is laid out in the first act. Thus by act three the ongoing story is redundant. The flourishes of horror are exciting to see but boring to watch because they lead to nowhere. The film would have been too long at 90 minutes.
Then this is a character study. As such it is an indulgence. It is pomposity of narrative and hysteria of visual motion. There is perversion in the sexuality. That kind of thing should be left out of the cinema nowadays. Everyone has access to the internet.

The art house Nazis who grovel in Black Swan’s pretentious tide can cheer for the celebration of their beloved ballet in the cinema. Ballet is patronised by the elite. It is exclusive and anti-proletariat. Cinema is for the masses. Film critics should serve as a filter between the film companies and the consumer. Their mass hysteria over Black Swan is a further example of the homogeny of opinion in the mainstream and their desperate elitism.

It’s called the Lemming Effect.

Black Swan is on general release in the UK 21st January.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Never Sleep Again
1 The Crying Game Empire magazine
2 The Crying Game Wikipedia
4 Black Swan nominations Wikipedia
6 Vichy France Wikipedia
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