Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ballet and Birds

**SPOILER ALERT**  I'm going to discuss my thoughts on Black Swan.  Nothing too detailed, but some ideas expressed in the movie will be revealed.  You've been warned.

For the first time in my life, I went to the movies alone.  My boss at TBC (and dear friend), Kenny, used to go to the movies by himself all the time.  He loved it.  I didn't understand why until Sunday.  In some ways it made me really sad and I was reminded of how many friends I have/had in Baltimore and how I never had to be alone if I didn't want to.  I could ring up any number of people and paint the town.  Solitude was a choice back then.  However, once the movie started, I was transported to a different world.  

I wanted to see the movie as soon as I heard of it because of the cast.  I LOVE Natalie Portman.  I have since The Professional - French title "Leon" (note:  if you haven't seen this movie, do yourself a favor and get on it.  It's definitely in my top 10).  I also have a bit of a girl crush on Mila Kunis.  I just assume she must be awesome since she does a voice on Family Guy and after she worked with Jason Segel on Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I was smitten.  Add ballet into the mix, and I was sold (I danced competitively for 13 years).

That's all I allowed myself to learn about the movie.  Every time someone started to talk about it, I would quickly shush them.  I didn't know it was a thriller or a horror-ish type of film until my little sister spilled the beans comparing it to Requiem For a Dream in "fucked-up-ness" (I politely disagree).  The only other bit I heard was that there was a Natalie masturbation scene and some lesbian oral sex action.  So aside from those things, I went in blind.

Because of my dance training, I am always leery of actresses portraying professional dancers, but I must say, this is the second time I have been utterly SHOCKED at how amazing these actresses danced (the first time being Julia Stiles in Save the Last Dance).  I know Natalie had some sort of background in dance, but it's near impossible to be that talented if you study your entire life and dedicate every single day to the craft.  It blew my mind.  It also made me miss dancing terribly...  For a few reasons.

One, the camera work often was right on Natalie's shoulder, so you felt like the lead.  This was incredible during the performances, and convincingly uncomfortable during the anxiety fueled scenes.  The brilliant costuming and choreography certainly didn't make me miss performing any less, but the things that got me the most were surprisingly the ritual associated with preparing brand new pointe shoes for wearing (sewing on the ribbons, burning the edges, breaking the shanks of the shoes, scoring the bottoms), the ballet class fashion (wraps, leg warmers, itty bitty sheer skirts over the palest pastel leotards), and most of all-- throughout the entire movie-- the audio.  Seriously.  Whoever did the sound design for this movie deserves lots of awards.

The sound of pointe shoes, the sound of the cracking rosin under her toes and heels before she went onstage, the accompanying piano playing or strings in the practice room with her, her breathing.  It transported me right back to dance class.  I could smell my old studio.  I remember vividly the smell of my ballet shoes and that movie brought it right back to me.  The director did an amazing job at making you feel that you were in the room with her, if not living her role.

Okay--  so, aside from all the visual and audible stimulation (that I thoroughly enjoyed), there were other filmmaking elements that I really loved.  The mom's character immediately drew up visions of Joan Crawford/Mommy Dearest and the mother in Carrie.  There was something very 70's quality-wise about the actual film and lighting during the scenes in the house with the overbearing (and obviously living vicariously through her daughter) mother.  Her character was almost a joke because of how heavy-handed her actions and lines were delivered.  It added a certain kitsch element that was reminiscent of 70s and early 80s horror that can't be topped.

There were some special effect elements I thought worked (skin), and others not as well (feathers).  CGI isn't quite perfected when it comes to certain textures and movements and knowing something fake is happening can detract from certain important moments in a film (that's all the detail I'll go into there).

Overall I really enjoyed the movie.  As far as the stresses she dealt with in the film and the struggle within, I could type for miles about how I interpreted that, how I identified with that, the metaphors I found within the movie, etc.  And maybe I will at a later date when I don't feel like I would be spoiling the movie too much for too many people, but I refrain for another reason.  This movie has gotten such high praise from the masses, which I find strange in one way and predictable in another.  Art school ruined even semi-artsy movies for me in a way.  Many audiences rave about these "films" for no reason other than not understanding it and feeling like they had to be smarter than they actually are to "get it".  I have a big problem with that and also with the shit movies that pretend to be so clever and high brow so that they are held in high regard, but with no real substance.  It's offensive to the viewer, I think.  I do NOT think Black Swan was one of these movies, but there are pieces of it I would love to dive further into at a later date concerning this topic...

I didn't find the film overly gory, unnecessarily sexual or unwatchable at any moments (granted, after a childhood filled to the brim with horror films, I have a bit of an iron stomach).  There is one scene I really loved and even looked away from unintentionally, but I still don't think the discomfort level before, during or after the film reached the heights Requiem did.

I also wouldn't recommend bringing your 12 year old daughter to go see it with you (like the woman and her daughter in front of me). I don't care if she takes ballet.  Even I was asked if I was over 17 when I bought my ticket (which I know the woman selling me my ticket was old and therefore probably had less than 20/20 eyesight, but it still made me smile).  There's definitely reason for the R rating, and it's not just for blood, filthy language or a nipple popping out...  A mature 12 year old can definitely handle this picture (picture?  what am I?  80?), but being that I've been a 12 year old before, I would NEVER want to see this with my parents (and I'm sure my parents feel the same).

I'd love to start a discussion.  Anyone at all who has seen it and feels differently or loved it for different reasons, please feel free to leave comments and maybe sometime after the film has left theaters, I will write further.  For now, I'd just suggest paying the full ticket price and see it for yourself.  Alone.


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