I haven’t seen Black Swan yet, but I want to. From the trailer, it looks like a blender mix of Persona, The Red Shoes, Single White Female, and Gypsy. Natalie Portman suffered for the role in the way that wins an actress awards; she studied dance for over a year, and she lost at least twenty pounds to conform to the standard ballerina body-type that more than hints of self-denial, discipline, and eating disorders. Nothing about the film looks subtle. As a psychological horror film, I bet it will entertain as well as some other Grand Guignol films, but I’m not sure it will have the lasting camp or star power of its over-the-top sisters like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. I’ve read that Black Swan does not have a lot of actual dancing in it. I’ve seen Portman’s red carpet pics as she attends each award ceremony. People are saying she’s a shoe-in to win the Oscar. There is so much hype about Black Swan, and I do not begrudge anyone involved their success or attention, but there’s another dance movie due to be released in the US soon that will get a soupçon of attention in comparison, and I don’t find that fair since it looks to be far more innovative and original than Black Swan. It’s Wim Wenders‘s Pina.
Here’s the trailer:
When I saw it, I thought about how so many times the movies do not get dance right. A film like The Red Shoes gets lauded because it works as a film and as a collaboration between media. Its filmmakers understood they were incorporating another art form, and they offered moviegoers and dance aficionados another way to view dance. The fantasy of film blended with the fantasy of dance, and where they met offered a new (sur)reality, and Moira Shearer‘s movements did not have to be hidden outside of the box of the screen because she could dance. Subject, casting, and forms were melded to create a masterpiece that inspires little girls to try ballet to this day. The cautionary tale they witness only echoes for the adults in the audience. Little girls see beauty and success on screen.
When I saw it, I was impressed by how Wim Wenders got it right. As a fan of choreographer Pina Bausch, he got to work with another artist that impressed him, and she got him thinking about new ways to show an older form. He frees her pieces from a stage or one setting and puts them places both simple and minimal (like their original stagings?) or in the midst of a bustling city or in the great outdoors. He takes advantage of the camera as a framing device to draw our eye to certain pieces of the performance or setting, but his camera isn’t static, and he pulls back to open up the scenes more and lets us see the full bodies of real dancers. In her choreography, she expresses different states of human emotion and the human condition. He gives her work a grander physical scale by blowing up her dancers and pieces to larger than life-size and by presenting everything in 3D. We may not be able to get to a city or country where we can watch a Bausch piece live, but Wenders’s format choice gets us closer to the experience of live theatre by freeing the dancers from his screen.