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Film Club: 'Black Swan'

December 15, 2010 3:03 p.m.

The critics on the KPBS Film Club of the Air discuss "Black Swan."

Related Story: Review: 'Black Swan'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ALISON And you're back on film club of the air, with me, Alison St. John sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh. Beth Beth, and and, and Scott Marks, author of the film blog,, and Anders Wright, film critic of San Diego City Beat. So guys, the next film we're gonna talk about is the Black Swan, and the film is directed by Daren Aronofsky, who made the acclaimed indie film The Wrestler, and passionate ballet dancer who suffers enormous pressure to live up to expectations when she's picked from the class to dance the lead roles in swan lake, and that role has a dark side, ands the pressure mounts, Nina begins to enravel psychologically. In this scene, the artistic director of the ballet company, played by Vincent castle, tells Nina what it takes to be a star ballerina, and at the end, he grabs her and he kisses her. So let's take a listen.
In four years, every time you dance, I see you obsessed, getting every move perfectly right. But I never see you lose yourself. Ever, all the discipline for what?


ALISON ST. JOHN: You can't help sympathizing with her after that, can you? Beth what did you make of this movie.
ACCOMANDO: Well, I liked it, but it's flawed. And one of the main problems that I had with it is that I wanted to see more of a descent. I wanted to see her start at a point that was a little more normal. You talk about her unraveling, to me; she was unraveled from the beginning. She seems very kind of skittish and off balance.
WRIGHT: I think that's in there too, you're right.
ACCOMANDO: And to me, it would be more interesting to see her start from some place that's normal and descend to this kind of questioning what's going on. Because I never doubted that these kind of flights of fancy or these moments of, you know, where you're not sure if it's real or it's not, I always felt that those were from her perspective and it was her losing her mind. I never was, like, caught in this moment of tension thinking like oh, is she crazy? Or is this really happening?
ALISON ST. JOHN: You knew from the start 92 and for me, that was the biggest problem I had with if. Buzz I thought -- there was a lot of things in it that I really liked. And I admire Arenofsky for being ambitious, and if his film fails I think it fails in interesting ways but I just didn't feel that this was tightly put together.
WRIGHT: Don't you feel that this idea of her starting out as crazy and getting exponentially worse, that was definitely a choice that he made.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, I think so. But for me, it made it harder to get into the film because I already knew that she was losing it and there wasn't any sense of tension or surprise or suspense.
ACCOMANDO: No, she starts out being totally unravelled, she skittish, she --
WRIGHT: She's seeing things even early on.
MARKS: But you want an explanation?
MARKS: Because this film is not about explanations.
ACCOMANDO: No, I don't want an explanation. I want her to seem a little less insane from square one.
ALISON ST. JOHN: It as you understands like this is the kind of pressure that would drive anybody crazy, even if they did start relatively normal at the beginning.
MARKS: But this film is not about truth of it's all about melodrama. And people who are sitting and looking at this film like it's some profound piece of film making, accept it for what it is, it's a hysterical mellow drama, it's all about eve with a little bit of baby Jane thrown in there. It's just a crazy over the top mellow grandma, it's oozing with style. There's enough style in this film to fuel the King's Speech.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay. Well I think that's one thing that a lot of people really respect your perception of style. So tell us, what is the style that's so good about this movie?
MARKS: The camera, just the whole insanity with this film, the whole purposely trying to make you feel uncomfortable. I like that. I mean, I like when movies try to do that. When I will say, can we talk about blue Valentine compared to this? Blue Valentine got an NC17 rating for a scene of --
ACCOMANDO: Which has been changed.
MARKS: And this gets an R because I think Hollywood finds lesbians appeals. Oh, there's something kinky and hot about it, but if it's just a couple in disarray, that's wrong. That's dirty. So I don't know why this film was favored, why it got a pas. Because I think ultimately when you look underneath the feathers, there's not really anything [CHECK AUDIO] than a great time thea the movies.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So I am will confused here, which is unusual with you. On the one hand, you like it, you said it's great style, and on the other hand you're sort of dissing it here and saying --
WRIGHT: I think if I might jump in.
MARKS: Knock yourself out.
WRIGHT: But I think it's exactly that. It's a very well made film. Again, we did give it the best directed film yesterday. But I think what you're saying is that underneath it all, there's not as much depth as some people are trying to put on it. Of it's really just about what it's about.
MARKS: It's about a movie. He's making movie genre film.
ALISON ST. JOHN: No, you were talking about movie blue Valentine. But it's also been compared to this movie, the red shoes.
MARKS: That's insane. The red shoes is one of the greatest movies ever made. To compare this to that is just crazy. Stick with all about Eve. Just because it's about ballet --
ACCOMANDO: I think they make fun companion pieces.
ALISON ST. JOHN: In what way, Beth.
ACCOMANDO: Well, because they both look at the world of ballet, they both have these flights of fancy to them. But they're very different. The red shoes is a beautifully made film, and it's a classic. But I think they make nice companion pieces. I don't think it's a bad idea to watch all about eve, red shoes, and Black Swan as a trilogy together.
ALISON ST. JOHN: And of all three, would this one be the edgiest?
ACCOMANDO: The least. No.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Oh, the least. Okay.
ACCOMANDO: But one of the things I did like, I thought the backstage seen of the ballet was really well done.
WRIGHT: Yeah, and sort of did the same thing in the wrestler too, sort of seeing this subculture world, sticking his camera right into the nitty-gritty of it, seeing the things that you don't necessarily -- that you would never think about if you don't exist in that world.
ACCOMANDO: And getting a real feel for that.
MARKS: I don't know, the wrestler -- I mean, I think it's his best film.
WRIGHT: I agree with you.
MARKS: And all the other ones are just this out, flights of fancy disturbing stuff. But when he has a great script, which I think the wrestler has, I think he makes a better film.
ALISON ST. JOHN: And what about the actors? He had Mickey Rourke for that, how does Natally Portman do in this one?
MARKS: She's terrific. I mean, your heart goes out for the kid. She's terrific. I don't think it's her best performance. I don't know what the hell Barbara Hershey was doing.
ACCOMANDO: I was so wishing it was Jessica Harper.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Is the mother?
MARKS: The mother. Yeah.
WRIGHT: Because she lives with her mother who is a failed ballerina and basically has been also completely over bearing and over protective her entire life. She's only basically been between the apartment and the ballet studio.
MARKS: But she turns it on and off. In the scene she's nurturing, she's wonderful, and she comes home and she goes nuts.
ACCOMANDO: The other thing is, you don't know what she really is like. You don't want know if this is just her perception of what her mother's like, because at the end, you see the mother in the theatre, in the audience, and she has kind of a completely different look to her.
MARKS: Right.
ACCOMANDO: Than she's had any time else. And Vincent casals' character too. In the end, he almost looks sort of goofy and naive, which is very different from this strong, manipulative director this you've seen early on. So there are certain point where is you're not sure which perception is giving us the real character. But at the end, I think you see some of these people differently than you have during the course of it, and that they are much more normal in those, like, final moments that you see.
ACCOMANDO: Than they have been.
ALISON ST. JOHN: But it drives you to feel a little schizophrenic even as the viewer.
WRIGHT: The other thing that we really haven't gotten to with this movie, is it's creepy and weird and violent and bloody.
MARKS: And dirty.
WRIGHT: Yeah, I mean, it's a very sexual film.
MARKS: Yeah.
WRIGHT: It's a violate movie. I mean, there's a lot of stuff going on here, a lot of it's psychological. But a lot of it is physical as well. And that's where I think people are looking at it as somewhere between high art and down and dirty.
ACCOMANDO: You could make it a quartet of films if you want to throw in repulsion there.
WRIGHT: Sure. Yeah.
ACCOMANDO: All about eve and the red shoes.
MARKS: And it's because of this diversity that I think Natally Portman's gonna get the academy Awart.
ACCOMANDO: Wait, wait, wait. Nicole Kidman took off her makeup. That's gonna give her --
MARKS: Oh, that's right.
ACCOMANDO: That gives her points out.
MARKS: She's so bad.
ALISON ST. JOHN: The jury is out on this one.
ACCOMANDO: I think it's definitely worth seeing.
MARKS: No, the jury's in.
ACCOMANDO: It's flawed, yeah.
WRIGHT: That's nothing like this out there. Especially being like a holiday --
ACCOMANDO: And it's really gorgeous on the big screen.
ALISON ST. JOHN: On that note, it's just say that the Black Swan is playing