December 7, 2010

"The Black Swan"

From my review in Taki's Magazine:
The Black Swan’s central problem is that the heterosexual Aronofsky, who directed Mickey Rourke so well in The Wrestler two years ago, appears more inspired by professional wrestling than by ballet. Despite Aronofsky’s undoubted cleverness (Harvard Class of ’91), he seems to love the idea of ballet far more than he cares for ballet itself. A film stronger on analysis than artfulness, The Black Swan’s dancing, while competently filmed, is seldom electrifying.

Aronofsky’s intentions can’t be understood in isolation from his last movie about a quasi-athlete’s alarming dedication, The Wrestler. Rourke portrayed a charismatic old professional grappler crucifying himself in training for one last comeback that will surely kill him. In The Black Swan, Natalie Portman plays a bland young dancer, a Little Miss Goody Toe Shoes, who destroys her health and sanity to be the prima ballerina in Tchaikovsky’s high romantic masterpiece Swan Lake.

The Black Swan intellectually complements The Wrestler in a fashion ideal for explicating in a Film Studies 101 term paper on dualities such as masculine v. feminine, experience v. innocence, heavy v. light, steroids v. bulimia, vulgar v. aristocratic, and (regrettably) moving v. overwrought.

Read the whole thing there.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

Aronofsky, portman, Kunis,
is it me or are they getting less and less concerned with even including a token goyim anymore?

none of the above said...

I was so hoping to see a movie version of Nassim Taleb's book....

Fred said...

"Aronofsky, portman, Kunis,"

Don't forget Ryder (née Horowitz).

"In contrast to Rourke, Portman is a fine young lady who could do many worthy things with her life—except, perhaps, be a genuine movie star. Watching Portman act always sets me to musing about whether it’s not too late for her to become a pediatrician."

Classic.

Anonymous said...

He's got the lovely Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis playing sexy ballerinas and you're complaining that they're Jewish? Man, some of you are really committed to your white nationalism.

Avshalom Kor said...

You mean "goy", not "goyim".
"im" is for pluralization.

Anonymous said...

Watching Portman act always sets me to musing about whether it’s not too late for her to become a pediatrician. Or like Shirley Temple Black, maybe she could serve her country as a charming diplomat.

In before somebody asks "which country is that"?

fish said...

Watching Portman act always sets me to musing about whether it’s not too late for her to become a pediatrician.

Thanks for giving me the best laugh I'll get all day! Anyone have Mayim Bialiks phone number?

Thursday said...

The best ballet films are Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes and Bergman's Summer Interlude. The Red Shoes is also the great sacrificing-your-whole-life-for-art movie.

I should also mention Robert Altman's The Company. It isn't a great film as a whole, but like almost every Altman film it has some marvellous moments.

Anonymous said...

hi Steve, have you read NYT cover story today?

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/education/07education.html?hp

Waiting for your take on this.

Anonymous said...

OT.

http://www.tnr.com/article/world/magazine/79062/global-turkey-imam-fethullah-gulen

A most fascinating article about the Gulem movement. It seems to have learned from the Mormons and the Jews... which may be why TNR is both sympathetic and wary of it. Sympathetic for its Islamic moderation and subversive style(that Jews know so well) and wary as a potential rival to global Jewish influence.

Anonymous said...

It's true about injuries, athleticism and courage in ballet. I know because I saw a PBS documentary many years ago about Edward Villela.

In this sixties TV documentary, Villela a Principal Dancer at the New York Ballet was followed around for a typical week. He had sustained crippling injuries and writhed in pain backstage until his cue in the music was heard. Then he flew back on stage and skipped about on his broken feet.

This was at the height of Bruce Lee's popularity. I told everyone I knew that Villela should be the next great kung fu action star.

And of course that's just what happened with Patrick Swayze.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

wow commenters really bringing the anti-Semitism

classy

Truth said...

Hey, I thought Barry was supposed to be a communist!

Anonymous said...

"wow commenters really bringing the anti-Semitism"

Anti-Semitism is a social construct.

michael farris said...

A few years ago there was a BBC backstage documentary series about I think Covent Garden with one episodes devoted to the ballet company.

At one point there's a backtage view of the end of an act as the dancers gracefully held their ending poses and the curtain came down. As soon as the music stopped the lithe young and fit seeming bodies all contorted into hunched over figures who moved like arthritic 70 year olds.

Kind of a mood killer when thinking of ballet.

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

Portman was terrific as a child actress - "The Professional," "Beautiful Girls" - or in any role where she's basically portraying a child ("Garden State").

Not so much anymore. She seems almost incapable of expressing genuine emotion on camera anymore.

Yeah, she should go the pediatrician route.

As for Aronofsky casting all-Jew leads: it's his flick, he can cast whoever the hell he wants. I believe most people here would say that should be the right of any business owner. Strangely, the right to do so seems only to apply to Hollywood.

Anne said...

Do these ballerina-nerd matches actually work out? I guess they're both types of driven workaholics, so they have that in common at least. But it seems like it would be hard to move from one hot house sub-culture to another one with totaaly different values and status hierarchies.

I mean, I'm not naive enough to think that men particularly want an intellectually compatible wife. But I do think they want someone who knows enough about their line of work to recognize a triumph when it happens to them. A pretty face doesn't make up for being unimpressed with his professional triumphs.

Also, ballet is really hard and not very well paid - I can't believe many ballerinas are pure gold diggers. Or are these extra handsome, charming nerds your friend is setting them up with?

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Will ballet survive as an art form in the US past the 21st century? Very, very few North American women have the looks and build for it and of the ones who do, they can find all sorts of remunerative options that won't destroy their joints by age 28.

Also, what is the fan base beyond families driving in from the suburbs every couple of years to see The Nutcracker? The only people with the ability and inclination to support ballet companies are stinking rich old people who live in big cities. They're either dead, dying, or relocating to ultra-exclusive, gated townships.

i am the walrus said...

"Aronofsky, portman, Kunis,

Don't forget Ryder (née Horowitz).



And the mother is played by Barbara Hershey (Barbara Herzstein). Maybe the characters represent the same woman at different ages, which would have been lost if he had cast Reese Witherspoon. But what's the complaint anyway? It's hard to imagine a goy making a movie that portrayed Jewish women in a worse light than this one. There's something funny about white nationalists wanting white women to get more acting jobs.

Fred said...

"Portman was terrific as a child actress - "The Professional," "Beautiful Girls" - or in any role where she's basically portraying a child ("Garden State")."

Exactly. Portman wasn't so much a great actress as she was a precociously mature kid. As an adult, there are no special acting chops there. The same seems to be true of the Dakota Fanning as she becomes an adult.

syon said...

Well, on the upside, this film has just about the Whitest cast imaginable:Winona Ryder, Kunis, Portman,Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel, etc.Say what you will about Aronofsky, he doesn't kowtow to the People of color.

ironrailsironweights said...

I don't know what sort of fan base ballet still has, but I certainly do know that every other strip mall has a dance school

Peter

Thursday said...

Agnostic had a post awhile back about how ballet was doing fine for popularity. The same for most of the other high arts, at least in terms of popularity. And unlike, say, classical music, dance companies don't have to compete with recordings of their music.

The one high art that has suffered a precipitous decline has been literature. People just don't read books like they used to.

Anonymous said...

Anne said:

"I mean, I'm not naive enough to think that men particularly want an intellectually compatible wife."

Many men start out wanting intellectual wives, but eventually they realize that such creatures don't exist and that the only thing that really can set one woman apart from another is physical beauty. All other features are standard and invariable.

Nice try rationalizing why men aren't attracted to you, though.

BamaResident said...

"I mean, I'm not naive enough to think that men particularly want an intellectually compatible wife. But I do think they want someone who knows enough about their line of work to recognize a triumph when it happens to them. A pretty face doesn't make up for being unimpressed with his professional triumphs."

What makes you assume that ballerinas are unintellectual? A lack of formal schooling and devotion to something physical doesn't necessarily prohibit someone from grasping intellectual concepts. Considering that most ballerinas come from upper-class backgrounds, I'd venture that the majority of them are at least marginally above average in intelligence.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this yet, but this is the first less than positive review I've seen. I've read that this is a cross between David Cronenberg and Dario Argento (the good incarnations, not the more recent versions of each), which is a high bar to set.

travis said...

I just watched the international trailer for this movie. Looks like another representation of occult transformation, e.g., Barry Dunham (white swan) takes on the role of Barack Obama (black swan) and eventually becomes something freaky powerful.

Fred said...

"I haven't seen this yet, but this is the first less than positive review I've seen."

The guy from the LA Times gave it a weak review too.

Anonymous said...

What makes you assume that ballerinas are unintellectual?
they kind of tend to be feminine versions of dumb jocks- very myopic, unlike other 'arts' not really aware of the art and intellectual movements. sure there are exceptions the NYC's Jennifer Ringer got a BA in the middle of her dance career came back and her career took off - I was there the night she electrified the audience to such an extend she was made a principle shortly thereafter(i forgot the performance name curiously enough) when ballet is great it really really great - but the slightest lack of technique and inner fire and it sucks. That's why it is either immune to PC or it dies totally.

interesting that even communism could not egalitarianize it, no peasant could dance spartacus

Whiskey said...

Actress Andrea Parker (the Pretender) blew out her knee at 16 while touring! with the SF Ballet, moved to LA and did acting gigs while tending bar before getting her big break on Seinfeld as one of the sponge nurses.

That's the only ballet to actress gal I can think of. She was known to be tough in doing her own stunts, going to Willow Springs to do her own stunt driving, taking shooting lessons, doing scenes with a broken finger. Always liked her.

Agree with Portman, like Molly Ringwald she has not transitioned well as an adult actor. Or for that matter, Jessica Biel (great in Ulee's Gold, limited now).

Color me skeptical on how the ballerina/nerd unions work out. Likely, the money and power is not enough for these guys to keep their wives, who are very feminine and want uber Alpha dominance. If a beautiful woman doesn't have a guy, its generally because she wants a very Alpha one.

Fred said...

"That's the only ballet to actress gal I can think of."

What about Summer Glau?

Anonymous said...

The only ballet to actress you can think of? You lose your nerd credentials, Whiskey.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqPIskaAJgo

Ray Sawhill said...

Great review, hilarious passage about Portman.

I'll second Thursday on "Red Shoes" as well as his half-enthuasiasm for Altman's "The Company."

Frederick Wiseman did a doc about the Paris Opera Ballet Company called "La Danse" that's worth a look -- like most of Wiseman's movies it's more focused on the institution than on the individuals. But there's a lot of dancers and dancing anyway. "Etoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet" is another doc that was released at about the same time -- it's more about the dancers, what they go thru and what their lives are like.

If you're a reader, I can recommend a couple of books by the former ballet dancer Toni Bentley: "Winter Season" about her own experiences as a young dancer at NYC Ballet, and "Holding Onto the Air," the autobio of Balanchine muse Suzanne Farrell, which Bentley co-wrote. Both books are brainy, tough, informative, and very moving.

A smart, intellectual, edgy writer, Bentley's really unusual. Dancers who dance at a really high level are generally so focused on the dancing that they've got almost nothing else going on inside them. (Well, besides sex. They're famous in showbiz as the world's greatest lays. But what, once you've had your fun together, do you then talk to them about?)

Anonymous said...

Zoe Saldana, Penelope Cruz, Summer Glau, and Charlize Theron all started as ballet dancers.

guest007 said...

Peter,

The dance studios in the strip malls are there to train girls who will become cheerleaders/dance team members.

If you look at the bios posted for college dance teams like the USC Song Girls, you will see that the members of the Song Girls have been studying dance since they were three.

My guess is that most of them stayed with it because they were better than the other girls in at local dance studio.

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

"The same seems to be true of the Dakota Fanning as she becomes an adult."

Or just about any successful child actor. Their schtick is that they exhibit a level of awareness about the world that most kids their age don't have.

Most of them abandon acting or fade into obscurity on reaching adulthood. Portman has not.

"He's got the lovely Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis playing sexy ballerinas and you're complaining that they're Jewish?"

Yeah, because if there's anything Hollywood's lacking in it's hot women in sexy outfits.

Anonymous said...

"Many men start out wanting intellectual wives, but eventually they realize that such creatures don't exist and that the only thing that really can set one woman apart from another is physical beauty."

Dear Sir,
I am very beautiful and very ready for LOVE and you will LOVE me. But please sir, I must know if I can love YOU. Before I display my charms, I must have encouragement from you in the form of your photo, iq test, location, occupation and yearly income.
Please send all above to Outer Moldovia, 909090.
If you do not want the biological me, I also come in blow-up doll versions for only 99 euros. No strings to pull. No talky.

Anne said...

I didn't ballerinas aren't intellectual, I said they aren't intellectually compatible with nerds. I'm saying if he's having trouble with his sorting algorithm, she's not going to be able to give him tips. And vice versa of course - if she thinks some famous choreographer is totally hackneyed and ripping off some other famous choreographer, he's going to look like an idiot to her when he has no idea who these people are. (Or whatever it is computer nerds and ballerinas talk about, I am neither.)

I was under the impression that the way trophy wife relationships work is she's flattered that someone like him would regard her as a trophy, and he's flattered that she's flattered, and all this mutual admiration coelesces into genuine warm and fuzzy feelings for each other. But if she's unfamiliar enough with the nerd world to know that he in fact is "someone like him", then what gets the ball rolling?

Of course I'm not a trophy wife either so I could be way off base here. It would be interesting to know whether any of these nerd-ballerina set ups work.

Anonymous said...

Dakota Fanning and Portman remind me of each other. I forgot about The Professional. Good movie. Okay, I'll give her that one. I hated her in all the Star Wars crap Lucas bored me to death with so it evens out.

Why oh why couldn't Lucas have left my memories alone?

Anonymous said...

What makes you assume that ballerinas are unintellectual?

Don't know about ballerinas but I do know about Olympic skaters. One of my friends dated one in high school so she was part of my circle when she was not training (which was a lot).

We were a bunch of redneck kids who wasted their time like the boys in Dazed and Confused and we still had more on the ball. It was like talking to a dull 12 year old.

She wasn't even the prettiest girl in the group without make up. But she did have legs to kill for so that's something right? I still see her on tv occasionally but haven't spoken to her in thirty years or so. She sounds much brighter now on T.V.