Sunday, 19 June 2011

Black Swan

It is easy to be snobby about Darren Aronofsky's recent mainstream offering Black Swan. Particularly in comparison to his earlier works - it doesn't have the edginess of π or the daring desparation of Requiem for a Dream. It's about ballet dancers. Competitive, bulemic girls. Creepy coreographers. Stereotpyes, or at least exaggerations, for which it has rightly received criticsm from the dance community.

The dance communtiy has also praised it. It was possible such a film could alienate the very world it attempts to portray, and there was some scepticism at the casting of an actress to play the role of a ballerina. Keen to allay any fears, the production saw Natalie Portman spend half a year training as a dancer, and she received praise for her performance, both as an actor and as a dancer. The supporting cast were less than impressive when it came to dancing, but Black Swan is a film, not a ballet, and acting is the skill required. Dancing is secondary. If you want fantastic dancing, go and see Swan Lake.

The film is typically atmospheric, with intense cinematography, from the outset, and a brilliant soundtrack by Aronofsky's regular collaborator Clint Mansell. The orchestral score holds true to its subject matter, building on Tchaikovsky's ballet, twisting all the main themes to suit the psychological thriller it is being adapted to. 

While it is less distinctive and affecting compared to his earlier works it does contain (toned down) elements of them all, to great effect, and deserved mainstream success. People that saw Black Swan without having seen Requiem were disturbed by it, while those that had sat through the harrowing addiction themed masterpeice, were less so. They knew what they were getting themselves into, and this was nowhere near as horrifying.

And that is the key to Black Swan. The delicate balance of genre - by turns psychological thriller, horror movie, and almost a coming of age drama as a young girl finds herself in her own self destruction. It is disturbing, but not nearly as distrubing as Requiem. It is shot in an exciting and pacy manner, but not as edgy as π, it is beautiful to look at but not so lanquid and self indulgent as the Fountain. And the crux is that it takes elements of them all, and, where each element could overpower the story telling here, he tones them down, throws them in a blender with some more typical Hollywood tropes, to make something whole and watchable.

Maybe this isn't a better film than Requiem but it is more cohesive, watchable and with a broader appeal, making its box office success (taking 35 times Requiem and still 4 times The Wrestler in the US), predictable if not as deserved as some of its director's earlier work. It is still a better piece of compelling escapism than most other mainstream films of its ilk out there.

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