Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Black Swan - a review of sorts

So, since it was C's birthday we thought we'd go and see a film, then have a meal. What film? Whatever sounded decent and was in the right place at the right time. This turned out to be the much-praised The Black Swan.

It certainly gets a lot of critical approval at iMDb. I should confess that there have been several times in the course of my life when I have felt a strong urge to walk out of a film and breathe the fresh air - and have in fact done so now and then - and had it not been C's birthday, I think I would have been out like a shot after about ten minutes. Nor, reader, did it get better for me after that.

To call the film an insult to the intelligence is to err on the side of charity. The story involves a brilliant - or so we are told - ballet dancer (Natalie Portman) who lives with her dominating, smother of a mad mother. Dancer is in line for leading role as The Swan in Swan Lake. The trouble is, as the director of the company tells her, marvellous as she would be as the virginal, in every way perfect, White Swan she utterly lacks the sinuous wickedness that might enable her to make the necessary switch to the predatory temptress that is Black Swan. Terrible crisis! Her sheltered life, her fear and frigidity (so we understand) means she is doomed to remain mummy's girl, because mummy - who is a failure - rather fancies keeping daughter as fellow failure at home.

I trust you can see where this is heading? It takes about ten minutes to work out on a particularly slow-thinking night. What the girl needs is sex and drugs and rock and roll. Fellow dancer and rival, Mila Kunis, is on hand to take a shot at persuading her to it, but the effort is so hard that poor Natalie Portman goes mad (mad you hear me? mad!!!) which just goes to show what lack of sex and drugs and rock and roll plus an overdose of mummy does to a gal. The simple trick she misses - though we don't miss it of course - is, hey, what you need is a good occasional fuck, preferably from an ignoramus. Or, far better, from the magnificent, faintly Byronic director, whose role in the ballet might just resemble the role of the director of the film.

Polanski's Repulsion (1965) worked on a similar idea but the girl there (Catherine Deneuve) was a cosmetics assistant rather than the more significant virgin princess in a world-famous corps de ballet. That was a good film. The sex angle was hinted at and quickly understood but it wasn't turned into a parable with gorblimey special effects. It was just the Deneuve character's (and her victims') bad luck, not a moral lesson in life.

There was also, some three years later, a piece of puffed-up pretension, Girl on a Motorcycle, with Alain Delon and Marianne Faithfull, to which my teenage self was drawn because of the promised prospect of seeing Marianne naked for a brief second. But even then, reader, I knew the film was utter dross, with some French philosophe (possibly a take on Georges Bataille meeting D H Lawrence) making enigmatic remarks about the dark power of sex. At the end of the film Faithfull is having near orgasms on a motorbike when she crashes, splat. Now there's a lesson for you.

It is the Faithfull film that anyone should think of in contemplating this heap of spectacular banality masquerading as grand, self-conscious profundity. If you are happy with that you will not be disappointed, not for a second.

The meal was great.


Reading the Signs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reading the Signs said...

I was feeling glad you wrote this review so that I didn't have to go and see the film - but then Mr. Signs read it and thinks it sounds promising. So we have a problem.

George S said...

I suggest you go and see it, RS, and whatever you think of it, make sure you have a good meal out straight after.

P Lane Anon said...

I had the good meal after, after Revenge of the Sith..

So sorry about the film, given the context, and hope there were compensations on either side. We saw "The Kings Speech" recently, which broke every sacred rule historically that you could imagine, whilst still remaining emotionally feasible - and thus rewarding.

Sorry you weren't so fortunate: we nearly went for "The Blank Swan" instead. Typo unintentional, but I think I'll leave it there on this occasion.

NicoleS said...

Happy birthday to C. Shame about the film but what an excellent review. Now please could you go and see The King's Speech, which everyone raves about. I am strongly resisting peer pressure to go, for reasons of historical discomfort (the gorgeous Colin Firth as King George, for goodness sake), but might take your word for it. Not that I wish to put you through more movie-house torment, of course.

Gwilym Williams said...

Swan was awarded 6 out of 10 by FM4 film reviewers. Pretty generous I'd say. And yes, I'm not going to see it.

Gwilym Williams said...

Mike Leigh's film 'Another Year' is currently receiving some rave reviews. The FM4 people scored it 9 out 10. I'm thinking of going to see it. Anybody here seen it?

Alison Croggon said...

Hi George - please pass on my birthday love to C!

I've no desire to see this film. Zoe saw it and said it was irredeemably silly, although Portman was quite good, and it certainly sounds it. People I know love it, and say it's melodrama/horror... However, your description made me think of Haneke's The Piano Teacher, which is not a silly film at all - repressed sexuality, bullying mother, etc etc. Except that The Piano Teacher manages to do more than melodrama, I guess.

George S said...

Thank you on Clarissa's behalf for the birthday greetings, Alison! I was just thinking of you yesterday, and it's great to hear from you now. The film is just too crude - I know it is melodrama but I suspect melodrama needs a little camp in it to keep it light, and this is very heavy footed melodrama as significance. Natalie Portman is OK but it would be nice to see her play something substantial and subtle. I am so far from a cine-buff nowadays my chief movie recreation is the Coen Brothers. I trust Melbourne theatre is much better than most films even in the local arthouse - which is where we saw The Black Swan.

Alison Croggon said...

About time we waved again!

If I make it to the movies - which I seldom do - it will either be Pirates of the Caribbean or The King's Speech. Though I managed to get my hands on Tarkovsky's Sacrifice, which I haven't seen, so I should stay home and watch that instead of the tennis. My heart is broken now Rafa and Roger are out of the Open.

Late last year Melbourne theatre was giving me a dream run, but last night I saw a play that consisted almost entirely of quotes from writers of the 19th century (Carlyle, Marx, Abraham Lincoln and Whitman, etc) - and went for three hours! To be fair, it was all beautifully performed. But why, WHY???

I'm sorry, this is all very trivial. I'm having that sort of morning.

Little Skunk said...

You know what, though? It did really make me want to see the ballet.

It was disturbing, but I'm not sure I really disliked it. Perhaps the review depends on the situation before/after. You had a nice meal. I had a terrible job interview.

Then a nice meal.

J. Marles said...

Ah, Girl on a Motorcycle. Remember watching it on TV twenty years ago. Marianne Faithful always stayed bolt upright as her bike went round the corners. She was so rock 'n' roll she even defied the laws of gravity. Not a patch on the true 60s classic of the genre though, Tony Hancock's The Rebel. Now there was an artist who really knew how to epatee the bourgeosie.

I get the feeling from your review I'd really dislike Black Swan. I saw a professional ballerina interviewed about it on BBC Breakfast this week. It was obvious she was struggling hard to be polite when asked how realistic the film was. She also said the Black Swan was much easier to dance than the White Swan, which is a real technical challenge. I'm not sure I buy the idea that you have to experience intense darkness personally to play dark roles. Do actors rehearsing Macbeth now have to go on a killing spree to find their way into the part?

George S said...

Those who defend the film say things like, 'Well of course it i as melodramatic fairy tale and way over the top but it's deliberate.' They don't mention how portentous it is and how we are supposed to take this sub-sub-Freudian junk at face value.

Think of Ken Russell at his worst on a really dull Tuesday night. OK for ten minutes, maybe fifteen.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I am so grateful, George. Now I have a documented explanation for SWMBO why I can skip this experience.

George S said...

Glad to be of service, Snoopy. It might of course be that SWMBO will consider me a poor guide.

I just get easily annoyed in films and theatres.