and sometimes poetry

Black Swan (2010) | Review by Mark Leidner

Character is a collision of philosophies. That is why realistic dramatization of human conflict is so difficult. You have to manage this collision and the schizophrenia of results it produces, instead of simply chart the course of a single idea safely through a series of sensual scenes. The latter course is of course exactly what Aronofsky charts through the claustrophobic corridors and… ballerina places of Black Swan. Ballerina places are anywhere where ballerinas are, and I encourage everyone to adopt this neologism immediately so I can get some… word fame. The first two thirds of this movie were tedious because they don’t star people, they star idea. No matter how much technical mastery you muster, you gotta get down on your knees and expose some not just vulnerable, but slutty piece of your self in order to awe your viewers. And I would agree that most unconvincing art is a product of privileging purity of intention over effect. Fine enough of a strategy if you’re a genius. You are your own audience of multitudes and woo the writhing crowd within. But most of us are like the white swan. The amoral animal we carry with us rarely seems to even peep a paint-chipped toenail into the front door of our oeuvres, oeuvres that, thirty years later, are as forgettable as they are capacious. We want to be the fancy and delicate arrangers of our own legacies, not the ragged-out whores of it… after the audience has arranged it for us, with a bulldozer of applause grinding through our minds. But that’s what it takes.


When stiff but visionless Natalie Portman (perfect casting) actually has to transform into the film’s eponymous bird in the third act, that part was the shit. I love ballet! I love… dance! I love movies! It was like scratching a lottery ticket-thin story for an hour and a half before finally uncovering a $5 win. Expression burned through the fog of theme, shining brightly on my white male face, and for a brief moment I found myself somewhere in that performative metamorphosis, and all the secrets of the universe unlocked. Then the last line reversed all this, renewing Aronofsky’s commitment to exposition of theme like one of those weird curved penises that is so curved, it pisses on itself. Part of me can see a defense of this movie taking shape in my mind as I criticize it. Let us call it “the fairy tale” defense. Why burn a filmmaker on a stake of character in the flames of realism when his intention is to dramatize a moral, or panegyrize a genre, satirize a style? To which I would respond BS‘s expression isn’t virtuosic enough to do justice to the lessons about art it deigns to teach, nor sharp enough to bite very deeply into whatever it’s supposedly satirzing. The script is slow, what isn’t handled in expository dialogue the score telegraphs, and no potential ambiguity goes unsledgehammered. If Tarantino taught a Kaplan course on how to send up a form by embodying it down to the eyelash, I would pay the thousand dollar fee myself so Aronofsky could attend.

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3 responses

  1. Ann

    Meaty, dense writing! Now I know what oeuvres, by itself, and neologism mean. Marvelous clear metaphors, one curvy one was a bit over the top for me, kind of like Aronofsky’s last line. Re-reading the review is fun, but I still don’t feel in a ballerina place. Maybe we should use our senior discount Monday movie time to see the movie?

    January 31, 2011 at 11:02 am

  2. thanks for commenting ann! i apologize for the crudity of some of the above… sometimes sensationalism overwhelms good sense… but if you go see black swan let me know what you think. some of my friends really liked it, and even if they hated it, everyone loves talking about it

    January 31, 2011 at 11:25 am

  3. Odd , this page turns up with a dark color to it, what shade is the primary color on your web-site?

    June 4, 2012 at 7:49 am

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