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17 January 2011 @ 06:11 pm
movies - they're cool  
My thoughts on three films that I managed to actually see this winter.  Films!  They are good!  And more fun than a bag of bricks!

Visually, this was a particularly appealing film - I loved all of the dancing, the transformations that Natalie P went through were really lovely in their horror (particularly when she pulls her fingernails off - I had to cover my eyes with my hands because of that one, bit I peaked through  my fingers).  Ballet is particularly beautiful, and those bodies, while I'm freaked out by the methods used to get them, are amazingly lithe and graceful when dancing.  The flicker-flash of the extacy scenes, and the eroticism of the growing relationship between Natalie & her protege/changeling was particularly well done -  Mila K's beauty was alluring and deeply hot. I thought Natalie's Black swan dance was an emotional triumph - when her wings unfurled I think I literally gasped because it was so appropriate.

That being said, I was utterly disappointed by the ending.  While intellectually I understand why it ended with Natalie P dying just as she completes the final dance of the white swan, emotionally it was a total let down.  It rendered all of the psychotic drama of Natalie's transformation completely safe because it was an hallucination.  The creepy question of if it was actually happening to her that persists throughout the film was transformed into something flat - it felt a bit like a big 'don't worry folks, this is just what it takes to be great as a dancer, you won't ever suffer it' kind of way.  And perhaps I didn't see it coming because I didn't *want* to see it coming - because I prefer my mysteries of the psyche to be mysteries, not to be all in the poor woman's head.

Additionally, though, it felt like an extremely dated film.  What do I mean by this?  It's not like it was set in the 80s, or that no one had cell phones, but simply that the themes it explored, and the way it explored them, were INCREDIBLY dated. 

First, the whole artist suffering for their work thing - do we really really have this kind of paradigm still?  That the artist must suffer a psychotic break in order to fully realize art?  Why is that important to us - haven't we found ways to make art that is compelling and beautiful without turning ourselves inside out? WHY do we need this paradigm - didn't we pull down the walls sitting artists in ivory towers and somehow valorizing them so that art was no longer this remote unintelligible thing that can only be comprehended and created by a few?

Second, it's dated in that it creates an entirely sexist and 1950s way of seeing women - there's the virginal, stiff, intellecutalized and somehow cut-off/sheltered woman on one side that we're supposed to empathize with (and who HAS to confront and harness her own 'dangerous' sexuality in order to succeed) and the brimming pot of sexy that is Mila K who doesn't do everything technically right but who works on instinct and is oh so frigging alluring because she lives in the world and enjoys it and her own body blah blah blah.  Because of course we can't have a more nuanced depiction of women in this day and age, can we?  There are no roles for women but the ingenue and the harlot.  And OF COURSE the Natalie character has a psychotic break trying to be all sexual, because she's so frigid because of her life and the influence of her mother, and oh, yay, there's the complete bastard of a theatre director there to push her into that break.  And sure you might say that it's an indictment of that kind of binary, because after all she does have a psychotic break and it's based on him forcing her into a role she's not comfortable with, but WHY THE HELL DO WE NEED THAT BINARY ANYWAY?  And the dictator/man as the catalyst to it?  Can't we get away sometime of THAT being the only interesting question for women?  That art is always bound up with sexuality and self knowledge?

Finally, the race and class thing - Aronofsky had to make a movie about ballet dancers?? Really?  Could he be any more fascinated with the problems of art in the modern day - is the ballet arena really the place where these things happen? Which, no matter how it has changed over the years, remains an upper class white kind of form ... and no, Natalie isn't so much shown as being upper class, but she and her mom, who has the time to be an overbearing theatre mom, have the trappings of upper-middle-class whiteness stamped all over them.  The entire movie does.  Additionally, did you know that Black Swan is actually the term for an African-American ballet dancer?  Once again it's a movie about what basically adds up to a white people problem and there's no acknowledgment ANYWHERE that there's a kind of racial issue automatically being called up with this scenario. 

I just can't actually forget this kind of stuff - i think in other movies i might be willing to enjoy them without pointing out the problems like this, but with this one, the hype and the recognition in both a casual setting and in the press seems out of control compared to how annoyed I was when i watched it, and afterwards when i thought about it.

Tron - oh the trony-ness

Now, I just got through bitching and moaning about how problematic Black Swan was and then I went and saw Tron twice even though quite frankly it gender fails worse.  But I wasn't actually holding Tron to any standards other than 'is it pretty'?  And it pretty much fails in all other respects but that one.  But it was pretty!  The actors were pretty! The colors were pretty!  The battles were pretty!  Especially the light-jets (light-planes, i dunno, whatever they were).  Garrett H & Olivia W are pretty!!!  I liked looking at them! I wasn't disappointed because I wasn't expecting it to have a good story line ... and it lived up to that - it was completely banal!

True Grit - westerny westernness

I was told this was a 'straight' western by my housemate (meaning it wasn't sarcastic, or self reflexive, or at all self aware), and really, it wasn't at all.  I mean, it was a straight film in that all the characters took themselves at face value, but really, it was funny (and intentionally so).  It was very much a cohen brothers film.  Besides the really creepy sexual tension going between Matt D & Hailee (i mean really he has to sexually threaten her verbally even though he's shown up in her room already threatening her?), I adored it in all of it's straightfoward, unrepentant cookyness.  And Hailee was simply excellent!  Of all the movies I saw this one was definitely my favorite, even though it was the one I was least excited about going to in the first place.

also posted to dreamwidth | you can reply here or there | um, but don't worry, i'm still an lj girl
Taraelementalv on January 18th, 2011 02:14 am (UTC)
True Grit, the original, was the only John Wayne film I was ever interested in watching whenever it came on television, so I was thrilled to see that they remade it. Honestly? I think the Coen brothers did an excellent job with it all the way around. And the ending was better in the remake than in the original.
my monkied brain: _nihon-flowerkatekat1010 on January 18th, 2011 05:31 am (UTC)
I haven't seen the original but I have heard it's actually worth watching! And I thought they did a great job (additionally i like to think the creepy stuff was intentional)
(Deleted comment)
my monkied brain: _nihon-flowerkatekat1010 on January 18th, 2011 06:30 pm (UTC)
Hi lady! Thank you so much for your thoughts!!

Ok, so first off i think we will perhaps have to agree to disagree - we're coming at the film with two different sets of experience and knowledge and reading it in our own ways (which is the mark of an interesting film to say the least i think). Reading it against your own dance experiences and your own life experiences is certainly valid! I wouldn't necessarily read Natalie's trauma as the onset of schizophrenia because what she experiences creates a narrative that is meant to be understood (and in my own family's experience with schizophrenia many of the hallucinations do not actually create a cogent narrative like this one), but that's not meant to invalidate your view point!

And what I meant about the dated comment perhaps read as a little confusing - there *are* cell phones and technology and it's obvious these dancers live in our contemporary world. It's the themes that are dated - so I think in some ways we agree there.

Thanks for the link to eleusis_walk's write up - it was interesting to see how she felt this was a feminist narrative, even if I do disagree with her on it.

As far as it not bringing up racial issues, it doesn't, and in that sense I find it problematic *because* it doesn't - but again, I think we'll just have to agree to disagree!

And I hope you like True Grit when you do see it!
BJ: Han Would Mock The Fandomdara_starscream on January 18th, 2011 05:19 am (UTC)
Turn it on its ear; the only roles for men in the dancing world are as props or perverts?

The characters aren't nuanced because we're not supposed to see them as people, exactly. Assuming Nina's point of view is never trustworthy, we're seeing them as she does, and she's not capable of picking up nuances. Her worldview is so skewed and so self-centered that nobody has any reality in and of themselves. I think making everyone into a type like that was a delibrate choice, not a flaw in the flim.
my monkied brainkatekat1010 on January 18th, 2011 06:35 pm (UTC)
Your first question is actually a pretty good one, and I think the reading you're offering is an interesting one. It doesn't redeem the movie for me because, if we're reading it that way, there isn't really an inditement of her perspective ever then - and if it's supposed to be in some way suggesting that artists, or dancers, or all of us, when we look at the world in our own narrowed views, see reality in incredibly narrow terms, then Nina's completion of the dance in some way validates that as a perspective instead of making it problematic. Ugh, not sure if I'm coherent with that last statement, but hopefully it makes sense.
BJ: GIR Saw a Squirreldara_starscream on January 18th, 2011 09:46 pm (UTC)
Nina commits murder (in her own mind) because she thinks she's killing the supernatural being trying to steal her life. I don't think insanity is a worldview that can be validated or invalidated.

Different perspective, is all. For me, Black Swan is less about a "realistic" look at the life of a prima ballerina and more about what happens when someone who's lost touch with reality cracks under the strain of living her life.
Professor Fancypants von Deth, Esq: EA - maskdwg on January 18th, 2011 05:30 am (UTC)
Upon reflection, I agree that Black Swan is incredibly dated in the attitudes of the dancers. I can't talk with any authority, but between behind the scenes documentaries and So You Think You Can Dance, I'm choosing to believe that even the douchiest choreographer would have enough humanity to notice if one of their dancers was having trouble.

Likewise, I'm not buying into Vincent Cassel getting away with being so molesty. I'm stuck in this mindset that narratively, I can understand why it went that way, but at the same time, I can't suspend my belief that nobody would notice what was going on and report it. I don't think all the dancers in the company would be so eager to screw their boss or be jealous of anyone who was. While Nina may have felt isolated, she clearly wasn't.

And after The Fountain, this whole thing feels like a bit of a let down.
my monkied brainkatekat1010 on January 18th, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
And I think possibly much of my frustration comes from saying - ok, you're gonna tell us a story about ballerinas, but tell us that story in a *new* way instead of relying on this triangle of lust/molest/fantasy stuff! Cuz i would have liked to see that movie!