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The “Black Swan” Dancing Controversy Makes No Sense

The “Black Swan” Dancing Controversy Makes No Sense (photo)

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If you saw “Black Swan,” you likely remember the scene, late in the film, when Nina (Natalie Portman) confronts her rival in the ballet company, Lily (Mila Kunis). Nina is the lead in their production of “Swan Lake” but she worries that her director might replace her. Paranoid, hallucinating, and quite mad, she physically attacks Lily in her dressing room to defend her role. The scene is quite deliberately over the top. But given the news that’s been coming out about the backstage world of “Black Swan,” and watching how bitterly real ballet dancers react when the feel mistreated, maybe it wasn’t quite as over the top as initially assumed.

That news, if you’ve missed it so far, is the allegation made by dancer Sarah Lane last Friday in Entertainment Weekly, that she had performed some 95% of the wide shots in which Nina is seen dancing. According to Lane, she did almost all the most complex dance routines for Portman, whose face was then digitally grafted onto her body in post-production to create the illusion that Portman herself was dancing. As she told EW:

“They wanted to create this idea in people’s minds that Natalie was some kind of prodigy or so gifted in dance and really worked so hard to make herself a ballerina in a year and a half for the movie, basically because of the Oscar… It is demeaning to the profession and not just to me. I’ve been doing this for 22 years…. Can you become a concert pianist in a year and a half, even if you’re a movie star?”

In the days that followed, others associated with the film have rushed to defend Portman, who won her first Academy Award for her performance in “Black Swan.” On Saturday, “Black Swan”‘s distributor Fox Searchlight released a statement in which they praised Lane’s double work but asserted that “Natalie herself did most of the dancing featured in the final film.” And just yesterday, director Darren Aronofsky released his own statement:

“I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that’s 80% Natalie Portman. What about duration? The shots that feature the double are wide shots and rarely play for longer than one second. There are two complicated longer dance sequences that we used face replacement. Even so, if we were judging by time over 90% would be Natalie Portman.”

Good for Portman. But you know what? Totally irrelevant. Lane could be correct, and Portman would still deserve her Oscar. Why? Because movies are illusions. To create those illusions, filmmakers employ tricks like special effects and doubles. Replacing Lane’s face with Portman via some computer-aided trickery is just a technologically advanced version of a technique done for decades. Audrey Hepburn didn’t sing “I Could Have Danced All Night” in “My Fair Lady.” Natalie Wood didn’t sing “I Feel Pretty” in “West Side Story.” They both had singing doubles; the same double, as a matter of fact. Does that diminish their performances? Maybe in some small way. But that’s Hollywood: hokum and fantasy. If you truly believe Natalie Portman is a ballet dancer because you saw her portray one in “Black Swan,” then you must also believe that she is the queen in a galaxy a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away because she played one in “Star Wars.” You might also be relieved to learn that Portman did not, in fact, transmogrify into a giant birdwoman for the role, either.

Technically both Lane and Aronofsky could be correct: the 28 shots of Lane could be 28 out of 30 total shots of the kind that Lane described, shots in which Nina’s full body is visible from head to toe. But again, it doesn’t matter. Elizabeth Berkley did her own dancing in “Showgirls;” they didn’t give her an Oscar for it. And with good reason. As beautiful as the dancing in “Black Swan” was, Portman didn’t deserve her Oscar for what she did or didn’t dance, she deserved it for what she did when Nina wasn’t dancing, and for what else she did while she was dancing.

As I wrote in my review of the film last December, most of the ballet scenes in the film play out in close-up. That had a practical purpose — it allowed Portman to perform tougher choreography without having her footwork scrutinized — but it had an emotional one as well. It made the film less about the steps and more about the emotional journey of the character; a stylistic choice perfectly in keeping with the theories of art — that great art is messy and personal and not rote and precise — set forth by the film. Far more than the athletic feats she may or may not have undertaken on stage, Portman convinced us she was Nina with what she did with her face and her body and her eyes and her impassioned performance, all things that no dance double could claim credit for.

I can sympathize with Lane on some level. She worked her entire life to become an extraordinarily talented dancer but she’s receiving a fraction of the attention that a less talented dancer is receiving in the same role. Maybe that isn’t very fair. And that inequity could eat a person up inside. But that sounds an awful lot like the plot of “Black Swan,” doesn’t it? Watch out for those ballet dancers, man. They can be tough.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.