Thursday, December 23, 2010

Black Swan and the revenge of the good girl

First impressions 
When I first saw the Black Swan trailer and heard Natalie Portman breathy, mumbly little girl voice, I have to admit: there was eye rolling and eyebrow raising. Ballet movies are mostly just bad. (I make exceptions for Anaheim Ballet's fun short YouTube movies though.) So cheesy! So stilted! So artistically disappointing.

Then I read this SF Chronicle article where Portman talks specifically about that little girl voice she used in the role. In the interview, she brings such an awareness and intelligence to the work she does that I decided to look into it more, maybe give it a chance in the theater (no small decision when it means we have to arrange babysitting).  This was the quote in particular from Portman that made me give this movie a second look:

"I noticed a lot of the dancers I was meeting had these really high voices. It was part of how they were kept as little girls in these companies. It's an art that stars women and is usually run by men," she says. "They're kept really skinny. If you see certain companies where they don't emphasize thinness, the girls who do the same, exact physical (moves) have breasts and hips.
"Look, there are different bodies; there are very healthy thin dancers. But a lot of them are depriving themselves. That's very much keeping women as children, not allowing them to have womanly figures and not allowing them to have their own pleasure.
"Part of Nina's transformation is her finding her own pleasure, someone who gets in her own body and sees the world through her own eyes, and that's what makes her an artist. She's killing the little girl in the end and becoming a woman, with the bleeding and everything that womanhood brings."
Now that's something a little heftier (storytelling-wise) that I could get into. There's going to be something beyond pretty for pretty's sake, horror for horror's sake. I realized I love the idea of throwing off the chains of other's expectations (especially, especially about what it means to be good) and I love the idea of "seeing the world through [one's] own eyes" and that that's where your life becomes art as you live it.

If this story is about liberation like that, well, get me a ticket right now. I never bought the argument that bad girls have more fun, and I still don't, but I do like the idea that maybe all the women who are having fun aren't bad after all. (They're just drawn that way?) They're just confident in what they want and what they believe in and what they'll fight for, and they're having a damn good time doing it. Is this what the Black Swan is really about? Then maybe it's not a horror film.  Well, maybe it's like childbirth was for me-- an intensely painful halluncinatory bloody transcendent terrifying experience, and two years after the second birth, totally something I'm amazed by (now that I've gotten over the shock of transformation into a swan- I mean mom). Also, the wings are so cool, aren't they!

Ah yes-- according to Vogue, this theme of growing up and becoming a woman is the heart of the move. This is the storyline I'll be watching for:

It’s no accident that Nina means “little girl” in Spanish[...].  Black Swan is a lurid but effective parable about growing up, a stylized horror tale full of mirrors and blood that owes large debts to Brian De Palma’s Carrie, Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes, and Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. But its premise allows Portman to give a superb, extreme performance that replaces the child with an awe-inspiring woman.