Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ms. Icarus Risen

Kiss Me Deadly (1957) happened to be on TCM as I was suiting up to go see Black Swan at the Brooklyn Academy of Music today, and something I hadn't noticed before caught my attention: the "Swan Lake"-ish classical background in the scene where Ralph Meeker rummages through Chloris Leachman's boarding house room. Coincidence?

Then I got home, The Eye remake starring Jessica Alba was on Lifetime: Jessica Alba looking in the mirror and seeing someone looking back who, while a lot like her--hot, damaged and mildly Mexican--is not her. Coincidence tambien?

There was a moment in the crowded matinee BAM theater when the black swan Portman looked down at me with malevolent intensity (I sat in the fourth row center) and her eyes were like two white opals, her eyes they were like two white opals, coming together in a shaman bouquet and I thought of how weird I'd felt all last week while sick and hallucinating and possessed with a medicine-spiked serenity, focus, stillness and the ability to listen to Patti Smith's "Birdland" on endless repeat. The black swan of Birdland possessed me through the miracle of fever dreams, down on that New England farm.

Movie audiences these days drive me nuts with nonstop blue lights of cell phones and people whispering loudly but I can hear every word, this time I merely hissed, like a swan might at a tourist going for his eggs, and let it go. They may have yelled the whole time I wouldn't have noticed after that. I felt the liberation and the intensity of the swan! My insane rage at their uncouth bourgeois unconsciousness brought me closer to the Blanche Dubois-meets-Ms. 45 gonesville of Portman! Portman! Bravissima

I could go off in multi-hued directions about Black Swan in comparison with Aronofsky's last film, The Wrestler (see "Mess with the Horns"): together they are the his and her fictional artist career capstones. Oscarbait elegies to artists caught in amber at that pivotal acrobat swing from the arms of Ben Vereen to Jessica Lange's in All that Jazz (1979). They are Icarus, amber-frozen in the Led Zeppelin Swan Song label instant, the war-face grin of true freedom and anticipation affixed, dissolving the final mylar shield between the priceless comic book and the greasy thumbs of the collector's ten year-old child, transcending and blinding the screen in front of you, the seats below you and the Exit sign behind you; even the blue cellphone glow and whispers of the annoying latecomers incorporating beautifully into the complex aural soundscape of scratching black swan wings fluttering like the rain of pine cones on ANTICHRIST's tin roof. The whoosh of feathers and clatter of feet on floors, the horsefeather hoofs of two opal-white blondes with nice legged ponies and blonde boy haircuts--one dead, one missing-- boggles Mike Hammer's sadistic mind in KISS ME DEADLY, the beating of its hideous heart-monitor and the applause of the crowd.

Is Aronofsky the Patti Smith of his generation, going fearless into the two white opals whiteness of credits with nary a pause of regret or doubt? I burst into slow applause a few seconds as wild applause rang out on screen, and the people around me started to applaud by reflex, and then caught themselves--shot me waves of accusation in their gun-like glances. Why do we applaud in movies that aren't premieres, i.e when cast and crew are there? Are we applauding ourselves for 'getting' the morbid black comic gut punch of it all? Are we applauding because our moms would hate it? No, we're applauding because we've forgotten we're watching a movie. We applaud because those around us are, but in this case, at first, they're not - unless we're in the movie, too. That's how Aronofsky tricks us, and it's the best of tricks, the trick of only the greatest art, where it bleeds out of the screen and all over your lap.

As I walked out of the BAM, then and headed up towards Park Slope again I felt free, the reality behind the screen, the audience of the world in rapt aww looking up at me, and me swimming through a thin walkway past the godawful under-construction Barclay Center, feeling safe in coat and iPod against onrushing lights and tires up Flatbush avenue past desperate storefront Xmas lights, the diva swan sculpture chrysalis-talizing into Sofia Coppola twirling the ribbon in Spike Jonze's acrobatics video for that Chemical Brothers song whoisthisdoin'thissynthetictype-a-alpha-beta psychedelicfunkin? - Coppola's trophy case the same as that Buffy the Vampire episode with the cheerleader mom witch getting trapped, a la bruja en ├ímbar... in her own trophy!  Sophia Coppola going on to direct a film about suicidal virgins - "Cecilia was the first to go."  Trip Fontaine reaching through the suffocating lather of Catholicism that binds them; Sinead O'Connor ripping her papal way to freedom on SNL; Tyra Banks looking through light blue eyes back out the TV at the pictures of her contestants behind you on the wall; Annie Hayworth's sockets hidden by picket fences in THE BIRDS; Marlene Dietrich covered in ink black feathers slashing the screen open with her swan talons, letting the rotten corpse fruit come sagging out.

In SWAN, Natalie Portman plays the ideal mix of perspiration and inspiration; a life of rigid discipline and striving for perfection, necessarily without freedom or any experience of decadence--no outlets for passion and vice or even an orgasm--living with a crazy mom and no bedroom or bathroom door locks, finally released from bondage into supernovae level ecstasy because she's required to, finally, for the very pinnacle of her art. But the freedom of ecstatic release is a Pandora's Box moment, the good and the bad, the naked, rotting corpse exposed to the angel's eyes at last--and all pain and fear and work only ever a veil obscuring it.

And if death not ends it, why bother continuing or even starting? As Oscar Jaffe said, the sorrows of life are the joys of art, which gives us a way of preserving those sorrowful joys in celluloid amber, letting our artsy life fade and wither like an en verso Dorian Gray: Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey, and now Mila Kunis - a single line of children, middle aged girls, and suicidal old corpses, but first the bloom. If her name wasn't so reminiscent of Milan Kundera I'd like Mila more, but it is, and so I think of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and 20 years ago in Seattle trying to watch it on VHS with my platonic girlfriend Beth when I  was still too young to realize that one can't not masturbate or have sex or any kind of orgasm forever and not get sullen and irritable when living in close quarters with a beautiful intelligent blonde woman and no locks on the doors, watching some European art film rank with perfume ad sex and cocksman swaggery... I wouldn't mention all that, except that it fits the BLACK SWAN to rushing, headlong, screaming "It is Accomplished" Tee.

But when the eye is for art and not for pornography, when 'I' stands for love and not for base desire, when a heart yearns for naught but is complete just to watch movies and pound Raniers and Red Hooks then Milan Kundera can go to hell. I've always been one to appreciate the purity of a chaste love... but it's so hard to find free time to take care of yourself when you're living in a commune, or with Barbara Hershey, or Isabelle Huppert's mother in THE PIANO TEACHER or Lux's parents in VIRGIN SUICIDES, or Piper Laurie in CARRIE or Natlie's stage mom psycho in BLACK SWAN. If you're feeling like you need to invade Iraq, or give up on your dreams in a fit of whiny depression, instead try Seroquell or see your Lexus Dealer...I'd like to teach the world to masturbate, but it's too personal a thing for the religious types. So we all must find out own way, our own moment, to break free even if only for a second.  Psychedelics could save the world and art could save your life but only death shows the true color of the light behind the curtain and it alone is unavoidable. They can't arrest people for successfully dying, much as they'd like to. Some of us peak behind the curtain, but most are content to wait for the curtain to come to them; it hangs like a heartbeat blu-ray vibrator, all for you Damien!

Don't listen to a word of it. There are no words to Swan Lake, nor sex, just violins reflected in the inky blackness of its surface, and inky feathers in the sprockets overheating the projector until the bulb explodes in a shower of black swan Bergman's PERSONA blood: You can live to be a hundred and never dance or you can blaze out by nineteen and never stop. But you must first get drunk to ever know true sobriety; you must become besotted to ever be bereft, must first know MONSTER ugliness to be Oscar beautiful; must first know fame before becoming eclipsed by your own empty spotlight, like Moira Shearer in the Lermontov ballet, like Lazarus risen from the dead, like Mike Hammer risen from the dead, the corpse of Chloris Leachman at his feet. Mikey! Brrrrrm! Pow! Swan-eee how I love ya how I love ya, I love you Natalie. Nat? Nat, pour me another.... and.. suddenly--just like that--you're old.


  1. It seems like applauding is a common thing with this movie, I applauded cause I loved that moment in which she finally earns her wings during her final dance...awesome moment. Applause worthy.

  2. I read this, and I say, Fuck. Me.