Great news for those who don’t live in any of the 18 major cities where Black Swan is currently playing. The film, which had a limited release on December 3, will be expanded to more than 1,000 theaters nationwide by December 22 (find out where on Foxsearchlight.com). But at least American moviegoers won’t have to wait until next year, as is the case in France where the movie is set for February 9.
Almost two months ahead of its release, Darren Aronofsky attended a special press screening last night at the MK2 Bibliothèque, on the right bank of the Seine. Flanked by a moderator and translator, the director took the stage at the end to discuss the film, reveal his drunken evening with Natalie Portman and how he has “always wanted to remake Godzilla.” What, you ask? More details after the jump.
For nearly 30 minutes, Darren Aronofsky spoke about his poetic fantasy ballet thriller, taking questions from both the moderator and the audience. He was full of humor, albeit flustered at times with the translator’s lack of interpretation skills (and as an American, I understand his pain). “For some reason when he translates, everything gets much shorter!” he said.
While the obvious comparisons with The Wrestler, which you can read about here, often came up, many wondered whether The Red Shoes,a 1948 classic by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, was an influence. “I didn’t see The Red Shoes until recently,” he said. “But we were very, very deep in the development of the movie. I think ballet hasn’t changed that much as a classical art form that there are similarities which can show up.” He admits, however, that The Hoffman Tales (1951), by the same directors, had “one shot that we were very influenced by but we ended up not using it. It’s when they run up the cliff and we were looking to approach our ‘cliff’ scene that way.”
His main inspiration was the world of ballet he was exposed to growing up. “My sister was a ballet dancer, so I grew up with it. So that sort of influenced me.” And to make sure Natalie Portman became a prima ballerina, the director says “she took dance classes for a year, eight hours a day. I realized what I asked of her wasn’t for three or four months, like on The Wrestler. Pretty much anyone can become a wrestler in three or four months! So I got very, very nervous for a long time, but with a few camera trickeries and her hard work, it worked.”
But her dancing ability isn’t exactly why he picker her for the role of Nina. Like the swan, he discovered she had a darker, “bad girl” side. “She’s always cast [in] very young [roles] because she’s so youthful-looking and beautiful. And I got drunk with her once and realized she wasn’t really that young and I thought that would be a really good thing to show the world.” Suffice it to say that Portman nails the role (Oscar nomination anyone?).
The other bad girl is Lily, played by Mila Kunis whom he first noticed in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. “It’s a stupid American film. You guys watch a lot of stupid American comedies,” he shot at the French press who consider her as a comedic actress. “I thought she was really exciting. And then Natalie said, ‘What about my friend Mila Kunis to play the role?’ I was in London and she was in Los Angeles, so we Skyped. I actually hired her off the internet.”
As for Vincent Cassel, and household name in France and who plays the ballet teacher Thomas Leroy, Aronofsky wanted to give him a break. “He’s this little star in need of a job. I’ve been a big fan since all of his French work. I met with him in London and we got along very well.”
Filming a movie centered on dance is difficult. A schizophrenic ballet dancer is even harder to bring through. “We always see movies about doubles, and in ballet there are mirrors everywhere. So we knew we were going to have to do many, many mirror shots, but I think the mirror shot is one of the oldest horror gags in the world, so we wanted to do something fresh and exciting.”
Black Swan is beautifully terrifying, unexpected, multilayered and rich in symbolism with some flippant characters (Barbara Hershey as Beth’s mommy dearest is stupefying). It’s ultimately a quest for identity and perfection, and the dark ride the Swan takes to get there, which leaves me wondering how obsessed with perfection Aronofsky is himself.
Another challenge was the score, beautifully arranged by Clint Mansell.
“We knew it was going to be a huge challenge to do the Tchaikovsky score. To take something that’s been a public domain for a hundred years and used in everything from Bugs Bunny cartoons to Volkswagen commercials and make it fresh for the cinema was a big challenge. So Clint spent about 6-7 months deconstructing Tchaikovsky and turning it into something new and fresh. So it’s part Clint, part Tchaikovsky.”
My favorite take on Swan Lake was a 1992 commercial for Lindt chocolate, directed by French photographer-director Jean-Paul Goude. It’s got a bit of Aronofsky in it.
His next movie will be The Wolverine, but when a journalist asked him whether he would like to remake Frankenstein or Godzilla one day, Aronofsky asked the laughing audience, “Why is that so funny? That’s all I ever wanted to do – remake Godzilla.”