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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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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