MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

The DVD Geek: The Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky has made several obnoxious, tedious films about madness and metamorphosis, seeming not to understand that there has to be something approaching an appealing human being in the center of such a story for a viewer to care about what happens next.  Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake has also been considered obnoxious, for its overly sweet melodic structures and its iconic presentation of women as birds, as if that were the penultimate expression of dancing.  So, can one obnoxiousness cancel out the other?  That would seem to be the case with Aronofsky’s cross between The Red Shoes and Repulsion, Black Swan, released on Blu-ray by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.  About a ballerina, played by Natalie Portman, who is having a psychic meltdown while practicing for her big break in the leading dual role of Swan Lake, Aronofsky resorts at times to his annoying images of grotesque growths and wounds, but he always gets reeled in by the beauty of the music and the nobility of the dancing.  And as much as a plain, straightforward presentation of Swan Lake would make a potentially lovely Blu-ray, using the ballet as a backdrop (and an excuse to awash the audio at times with Tchaikovsky’s haunting themes) for a rich dramatic exploration of artistic pressure, vocational dedication and emotional sacrifice is a much richer intellectual experience.  Whether it would beat out Swan Lake as entertainment would depend upon the dancers and choreographers at hand.  Aronofsky tends to disguise the dancing a bit too much, avoiding Portman’s legs and feet whenever possible, but that is only noticeable if seeing Swan Lake live has trained you to never take your eyes away from that part of the dancers’ bodies.  Otherwise, it is a deft and believable sleight of hand.  Portman, who seemed positively busty in Attack of the Clones, is petite and gaunt, while never losing the requisite muscularity that her character would require to ply her trade.  Barbara Hershey plays her rather scary mother, although you don’t really know how much of Hershey’s character is imagined and how much is real.  That basically goes for everything in the movie, but to give Aronofsky credit, the beats of the finale are perfect, and rescue a drama that could just have easily gone off the deep end.  Viewers are to be warned, however, that along with his penchant for gore, Aronofsky is very frank when it comes to the sexuality of his characters.  This is not the dance movie you want to show your eight-year old who dreams of becoming a ballerina.  Or maybe it is.

The 2010 production runs 108 minutes.  The presentation is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1.  There is a natural grain in the cinematography that is preserved, for better or worse, in the image transfer.  In that the entire world of the heroine may be crumbling about her, the grain seems appropriate, and after the first few minutes, it is no longer a bother.  The DTS sound mix is excellent, and the directional effects are often chilling.  There is a French track in 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and English and Spanish subtitles.  A second platter is included with the set that contains a copy of the film that can be downloaded onto handheld viewing devices.  Along with a trailer, the BD contains 92 minutes of production featurettes and interviews, which reveal how some of the more clever moments were accomplished as well as conveying a decent sense of how the film was conceived and executed.


More than 11,500 DVD reviews by Douglas Pratt are available on the CD-ROM, DVDs by Douglas Pratt.  For more information, email
Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

The Ultimate DVD Geek

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon