Monday, December 13, 2010

Video for the Day: The Real Musical/Spiritual Precursor of Black Swan

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—This weekend, I finally saw Black Swan...and this, not Swan Lake, is what I had running through my head when the film was over:

For all the Swan Lake music featured in the film—set as it is during rehearsals for an upcoming new production of Tchaikovsky's famous ballet—I would suggest that the real musical/spiritual precursor of Darren Aronofsky's new film is Maurice Ravel's La valse. Just as Black Swan begins as a fairly realistic backstage drama with occasional surface disturbances and eventually transforms into a full-on surreal nightmare, so does the great French composer's brilliant 1920 "poème chorégraphique" build in moments of tension to break up its initial aura of Johann Strauss-like gracefulness, gradually build to a pitch of crazed intensity and finally explode in a hallucinatory swirl by its concluding moments.

I have more to say about the film—which is a total blast, by the way—but for now, if you haven't seen it and want an idea of what the experience of watching it is like...well, look—or rather, listen—no further.

Oh, and then, you can turn to another Black work—the 1947 Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger masterpiece Black Narcissus—for a cinematic equivalent. Because, to my mind, that's, in many ways, a more relevant point of comparison than the oft-cited The Red Shoes. The former may not have ballet in it...but it has built-up repression, and lots of it, as does the lead character of Black Swan.


Ed Howard said...

This morning Jason Bellamy and I posted our conversation about Black Swan over at the House, and I also made the connection to Black Narcissus. There are some interesting parallels between the two films, among them the use of lipstick as a route into worldliness for a formerly chaste character.

Kenji Fujishima said...

Nice, I will have to check out the latest conversation soon!

In the meantime, for the rest of you, you can take a look at the first part of Ed and Jason's Aronofsky conversation here. It's typically exemplary stuff from the two of them.