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December 01, 2010


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Castle Bravo

Not looking for a fight. But I knew what was up early on, then when it blew off the rails 2/3 through every decision felt arbitrary, and rather than becoming more sucked in I felt more disappointed and distanced. It's a movie about technique for the sake of technique both dramatically and also in and of itself.



I'm really happy you have a paying job over a MSN, but I have to say it: I hate the site and hate reading reviews on it. I find it slow, ugly and unfriendly. How I miss the olden days of the print edition of Premiere.

Now that I got that off my chest I'll also say, I would read your work anywhere, even if it was written on a public bathroom wall.

Thank you sir!

Tony Dayoub

Thank god! You get it! I just read your take on BLACK SWAN and find it tracks remarkably close to mine. Did this after leaving a respectful note of disagreement at another blog of note after its chief critic lit into the film for being unrealistic, chauvinistic, and immature. Chauvinistic? Maybe. But I thought unrealistic and immature could easily be viewed as expressionistic and deliberately naive.

Great film.

Mr. Peel

I can't wait for BLACK SWAN to open. And I've seen it already.

Stephen Whitty

Loved your thoughtful, spot-on reviews of both of these, Glenn, thank you. (Even though that's shamelessly self-serving, as I pretty much agreed with you straight down the line.)

Still, I don't quite get the complaints from others that "Black Swan" doesn't make any sense, or goes off the rails or falls apart toward the end. The movie's delirious, yes, but -- and if this is a spoiler at all for anyone at this point, consider yourself warned -- so is its protagonist. I know it's mad, but so is she.

Yet it seems to leave some people perplexed. Before I saw in Toronto, an actor there -- generally given very high marks for his intelligence -- told me that he'd just seen it and that the movie completely "pulled the rug out" from under him. He wasn't complaining, mind you, but genuinely impressed that the film seemed to be heading in one direction, and then swerved.

But I think, right from Portman's first ride on the subway, anyone who's seen "The Tenant," as you mention (let alone "Repulsion") knows where this is heading. And the pleasure is in letting Aronofsky take you along for the ride.

Lance McCallion

Good review Glenn. Hopefully seeing this tomorrow when I pull into D.C. then possibly a second time later this weekend with friends. Mainly for the Malick trailer *cough, looks around* but also because I love the look of the sensuous roaming camerawork I've seen in trailers and the promise of The Red Shoes meets Suspiria meets Repulsion meets The Company. Mmmhmm.

Castle Bravo


My problem with BS jumping the rails was the opposite of the example you gave. For me, the problem was that I DID know what was going on. And for me, that's why it was no longer working. I saw it with an actress and we both had the same reaction -- we'd both been in high-stress creative situations where reality blurred, but BS went completely overboard and defeated itself. Plus, instead of following Swan Lake all the way down, it should've only used the source as a set-up, then move into its own.

And *spoiler* how the fuck does somebody dance on stage with a bleeding stab wound and NOBODY either on stage or in the audience notices?... Like I said, off the rails.

Stephen Whitty

Thanks for the reply, Castle Bravo. A matter of taste, I guess -- "going overboard" was what I LIKED about the film. After all, it's told completely from Portman's point of view -- she's the queen of unreliable narrators, and everything we see and hear has to be filtered through that exaggerating prism.

As for that final spoiler detail, though...

Tony Dayoub

I agree, Stephen. Particularly with the way Portman's unreliable narrator is the window into this story, allowing Aronofsky to compress and extend time, manipulate events and perspectives, who's to say Castle Bravo's spoiler concern should really be quibbled over? One could even find cause to speculate whether Portman ever gets the part in Swan Lake at all, as things start to get surreal at just about the point the part becomes available (not that I necessarily believe this, but the film is malleable enough to allow for that).

Castle Bravo

I don't think it is malleable. She's a dancer, technical perfectionist, lives her work, lives in her head -- and she goes off the rails under pressure. That's really all there is to it. It's not The Shining where it starts out entirely in Jack's head until it's revealed that the hotel is actually haunted -- and that worked because we realized there really was an external threat. In BS, there is no real threat -- it's all internal; if she triumphs, it's her doing, and if she fails, it's her doing.

I've been in crazed, stressed creative situations that blew me out. There was one time I was working on a project and the computer I was using got hacked. That completely set me off and I spent 2 weeks in the dead of winter living a real life paranoid film noir. Walking down the dark streets at night, am I being followed, who's trying to get me, making lists of people I know, etc. But you get over it, cool down and move on. You don't accidentally murder yourself.

I think BS is very well-made film. But, like its main character, it's solely devoted to technique. Technique as an end in itself.

And I do think the stab wound dancing is idiotic. No argument's gonna change that.


Saw an advance screening of this at LACMA, and Glenn, your comments on the film possibly inviting misunderstanding and/or laughter are so bloody spot-on. The audience was cracking up early on in what I thought were unnecessary moments (but laughter is a way to combat nervousness after all), but in the riveting last third, there was an arresting silence that emerged once Natalie's performance hit its delirious apex, leading to raucous applause at the end credits. Yes, they probably thought it was too outrageous, but they completely swallowed it all up.

Loved the homages to early Cronenberg (one shot explicitly calls out CRASH), Gialli horror, The Archers, Polanski, and even a bit of Hitch. I talked to my friend at length afterward about how the film, in certain ways, was a perverted version of THE RED SHOES. He had never seen or heard of it, so I invited him over for a late-night screening in my apartment afterward, and he was literally blown away. That's what great pictures like BLACK SWAN do---attract a new exposure, a re-appreciation for the classics.


I haven't seen BLACK SWAN and suspect I won't like it, but the argument over the "stab wound dancing" reminds me of the ridiculous arguments that WHIRLPOOL is a fatally flawed movie just because it's so implausible that Jose Ferrer could hypnotize himself into making it all the way to Barbara O'Neill's house with a hole in his gallbladder.

John Keefer

I just attended Black Swan and man oh man Aronofsky goes for it! Was quite taken with the ballsy-ness of it, love it when a film is willing to have a sense of humor about its subject and take something like melodrama to what may be its ultimate expression.

Out of sheer curiosity, are there any interesting film podcasts that are out there that you could recommend? I've recently become addicted to Marc Maron's WTF podcast and would love to have a show that is as frank and honest and penetrating for film as WTF is for comedians...though that willingness to expose oneself may be uniquely related to comedians and is entertaining because they are funny...oh well, who cares? Any recommends?

And if you don't listen to WTF I highly recommend it, especially the Louis C.K. 2 parter and the last one with Mike DeStefano, crazy stuff.

dome cameras

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Fabian W.

John Keefer - "The Marketplace of Ideas" has the occasional film-related guest, like Phillip Lopate. People seem to like the Ego-Podcast "The Tobolowsky Files", starring Stephen Tobolowsky telling all sorts of "crazy" or "insightful" stories from his past, but I don't really see the appeal.
And of course, there's always Kevin Smith and the Smodcast. Har. Har. Har.

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