By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes
Black Swan is a psychodrama about a ballet dancer, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), who flips out in her quest for perfection. By popular request, Holmes and I recently went to see it so we could give you a review from the perspective of an author/bellydancer and a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations.
Holmes and I agree that Black Swan puts the psycho in psychodrama. Aside from the fact that we’ve both spent a great deal of effort eliminating psychos from our lives, and sitting in a room with them for two hours isn’t something we would ordinarily choose to do, we also agree that it was an excellent movie. Beware, however. Do not take your kids. As far as this small town girl and this rather worldly boy are concerned, Black Swan stretches its R rating to the limit.
We both also thought the queasy cam effects, while reflective of Nina’s growing instability, were a bit much. By the way, queasy cam is that documentary-type, shakey image that promotes a feel of instability and makes you seasick just watching it. Holmes says it well for both of us. “Charlie Chaplin and his pals went to great lengths to develop methods of avoiding that effect, and I wonder how horrified he would have been to see such violent camera work.”
Now on to our individual comments. . . .
I knew nothing about Black Swan when I walked in except for what I got out of the SNL skit the other night with Jim Carrey.
As an author, I was impressed with the character development and the plot movement. With no visible back story, we know soon enough that Nina is a head case. This is well represented throughout the movie by her relationship to her skin. Also, I appreciated the smooth ebb and flow of tension, with each wave building on the last. The exception to this for me was the gratuitous lesbian love scene. That theme could have been handled with much more class and subtlety.
Everyone in Black Swan is a nut job of some variety, and they are excellent nut jobs, at that. Just the kind you’d expect in any dance company, frankly. We have the frigid, obsessed Nina, her “sexual harassment lawsuit looking for a plaintiff” artistic director, Thomah (Vincent Cassel), and, the anti-Nina in the form of uninhibited party girl, Lily (Mila Kunis), who, in the real world, would be on the Lindsey Lohan fast-track to rehab. All beautifully written and played.
My favorite whack job, though, is stage mom Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey). She’s driven and obsessed with her daughter, yet all the while she reminds little Nina that she ruined her mother’s life. Damn near drove me crazy just watching her. I could swear she walked right out of the local PTA meeting for parents of “gifted and talented” children.
As a dancer, I thoroughly enjoyed the performances. The dancers all have excellent posture and beautiful hands, and they manage to avoid my two major pet peeves of ballet. Their spins are vertical with no Leaning Tower of Pisa Turns, and they do not subject the audience to any Great Divide Crotch Shots. That’s where the man lifts the lady to grace the audience with the vision of her tutu framing her hoo-hoo as she splays her legs. Indeed, I’m happy to say I never once got the same view of Natalie Portman’s crotch that Mila Kunis did during their lesbian scene.
One more thing. In spite of artistic director Skumbag being a skumbag, he is 100% correct in his instructions to Nina. There is an essence to Dance that transcends perfect steps. As I always told my students, Dance is the elimination of thought between the music and the motion. Discipline gives Dance its tools of expression.
Aside from being in a room with psychos for two hours, I thoroughly enjoyed Black Swan.
When I was five, my first crush was my teacher, Sister Miriam. I asked her to marry me. She explained that she was already married to Jesus. I pointed out that Jesus wasn’t here, and I was, but for some reason, she didn’t go for it.
A year later, I saw my first ballet, Swan Lake, performed by the New York City Ballet company, and I found true love. You have to understand that Swan Lake holds a special place in my heart, and I don’t like to see it messed with. It’s a ballet that, because it was the first one I saw live, has outshined every other ballet I’ve seen. So when I went to see Black Swan, it was like going to visit my pristine first love and finding a drunken convict on top of her.
I thought it was a very good movie, though, and I would have seen it even without the lesbian love scene. I found that scene both unnecessary and unnecessarily brief, not to mention unrealistically dry. They could have drawn out the action there without losing my interest. However, it was a fairly predictable and pedestrian trick, and it seemed like they worked pretty hard to fit it in. In fact, I think they just threw that in to get guys to go see the movie with their wives and girlfriends. It will probably work.
I’m being overly critical here, but in terms of psychosis and neuroses and such, it was a bit muddled. If Nina was that deep into her sickness, she wouldn’t have been able to hold it together to be the prima ballerina of the New York Ballet. They are on stage every moment of their lives and have to handle intense stress. If she was that crazy, she would have broken sooner.
The style of the movie was completely operatic, with many Hitchcockian devices which effectively enhance the story. I felt like I was watching an opera about ballet, as everything about the timing, the over-dramatization, and the acting seemed calculated to be visible to the people in the “back row.” There was no subtlety in the actors’ physical movements or in the story line. Anyone who likes opera, stage theatre, or zarzuela will like this movie.
Overall, I enjoyed Black Swan, but I could have used more Swan Lake and less queasy cam.
Holmes and I rate Black Swan at a .357, or, it’s worth the prime time price if you can stand the crowd. (Click here for our ammo rating system.) We certainly recommend this movie. The acting is excellent, the story line is engaging, and it uses old suspense movie devices to great effect in conveying the psycho nature of the drama. Not quite a life changer, but definitely interesting and unique enough to be entertaining.
All the best to all of you for a week without queasy cam.
OK, you started off with “PhychoDrama” which is always the term i have used to best describe my mother in law. She’d come in and it was more grand than @StephenThomas15 making an entrance in his purple bedazzled thong. It was like I’d been visited by @davemalby @billzucker all manic at one time; and they were trading jokes, only the miserable opposite of that.
I hear phychodrama, i’m thinking: i hate it when they do the crappy background music, and the long pauses while i’m supposed to figure out what the awesome hot chick is thinking…. give me a few min, i’ll …
Oh, wrong channel….
I better go take a nap, i’ve worked myself all outa shape…
I tweet at http://twitter.com/Samuel_Clemons
No precious hollywood narcissists were harmed in the commenting on this blog; although I sure wish Chico would start peeing in the dark again, I heard that Drunk Owl got rehab’d with homeless voice guy.
Lol. What a hoot. Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. 🙂
Another great review – thanks Piper (and Holmes)! I was already planning to pass on this one, as “two hours in a room with assorted psychos” pretty much describes most of my days, and I’m not sure I’m necessarily willing to pay someone else for the privilege of doing what people usually pay me for. That said….
… I’m also tagging you with the stylish blogger award. Enjoy!
Wow, Susan. Thanks so much. I really appreciate your support. Glad you enjoyed the review. 🙂
I have indeed seen Black Swan and already had my say for the most part as I was curled in a fetal position wondering how little Nat Portman could get inside my head so much (http://t.co/V6vJbIk). I liked the flick. Great thoughts on it. The Holmes take is so dead on for guys. The girl on girl scene was “both unnecessary and unnecessarily brief…”
We had to sit in the 2nd row of the theater so add that to what you already know about the mindslash.
Lol. 2nd row does sound a little overwhelming. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂
You have peaked my interest about this movie…great critique!
Thanks for the compliment, and thanks for stopping by. 🙂
One of my favorite comments about this film came from Pointe Magazine: “Not another crazy ballerina movie.” As a former dancer in both ballet and modern dance companies, I agree. I also think Holmes is spot on in saying that if she was that crazy she wouldn’t have lasted so long in a major ballet company. It’s also a shame that they didn’t give enough credit to the body doubles who were professional dancers.
Swan Lake is one of my favorite ballets, too. At the end of one memorable performance I saw, when Sigfried flings himself off a cliff into the lake to die, he bounced back up. Oopsie! 🙂
The incredible bouncing Sigfried. How funny! Sounds like that particular Sigfried missed his calling as a circus performer. Good point about the body doubles so I’ll recognize them here. They are Kimberly Prosa and Sara Lane. According to Ms. Prosa in The Huffington Post, “They were shooting my feet from the waist down. I did stunt doubling as well, fight scenes and getting pushed through mirrors, so I got pulled into different aspects. . . . Natalie took class, she studied for several months, from the waist up is her. Sarah Lane a soloist at ABT, did the heavy tricks, she did the fouéttes, but they only had her for a limited time, a couple of weeks, so I did the rest of whatever dance shots they needed.” Thanks so much for stopping by, Kathleen. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by.
While this is obviously an extreme case, it was interesting to relate to how the pressures of performing and how closely related your art can be to your soul can affect your psyche so much. I totally got it – don’t worry though, I’m NOWHERE near to being that crazy!! I loved the movie and your review…my favorite part “her tutu framing her hoo-hoo” HAHAHA!!
I know you’ve had some serious performing pressures, but you always come across as being a really stable person. Just warn me if you start sprouting feathers, though. 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment.
Joan Acocella, the dance critic for the New Yorker, did a talk at UC Berkely called “Ballet and Sex” discussing the presentation of the female crotch in ballet. In fact the word “tutu” comes from a French slang word for ass 🙂
Lol. I had no idea. Thanks so much for the info.
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