Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ms. Icarus Risen: BLACK SWAN

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, now walking down 5th Avenue towards Atlantic-Barclay Center. I'll go up. Or down. Don't give a shit for my feet have wings like a florist.

Movie audiences these days can drive me nuts with nonstop blue lights of cell phones and people whispering loudly but I can hear every word --but this time--emboldened--I merely hissed, like a swan might at a tourist without breadcrumbs (but who still wanted pictures) --and, having so hissed-- I let it go. They may have yelled the whole time I wouldn't have noticed after that, for I'd spoken up. I'd done my part. I felt the liberation and the intensity of the swan (along with the DXM) 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 like wax in the blazing sun, like the final mylar shield between the priceless comic book and the greasy thumbs of gravity's unclaimed child. They move beyond viewer and screen so that even the distractions become part of the whole--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--it all incorporates beautifully into the complex soundscape of scratching black swan wings fluttering like the rain of pine cones on ANTICHRIST's tin roof. The
of feathers and clatter of feet on squeaky floors, the horse-feather hoofs of long-maned and nice-legged ponies and cute girls in raincoats and blonde bobs--one dead, one missing-- one masturbating while her hysterical stage mom pounds on the door, boggling Mike Hammer's sadistic mind in KISS ME DEADLY colors; the beeping of its hideous heart-monitor and the applause of the crowd. As Smith's song goes, I'll go up /up / up / I'll go up.

Is Aronofsky the Patti Smith, then, of his generation, and Swan his Horses? Going fearless into the two white opals whiteness of credits with nary a pause of regret or doubt, at the end 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 aren't there to bow? Are we applauding ourselves for 'getting' the morbid black comic gut punch of it all? Are we applauding because our moms would hate it? To salute the projectionist for keeping it all in focus? No, we're applauding because we've forgotten we're watching a movie, and so we've shared a collective dream; we're applauding the machine because we hear the applause in the sound mix and we are trained to respond. We applaud because finally 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, then follows you out the door, precedes you like a giddy, tumbling herald.

As I walked out of the BAM and headed up towards Park Slope again I felt free, the reality behind the screen, the audience of the world in rapt awe looking up at me, and me swimming through a thin walkway past the godawfulness of the still-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 after trying to literally live through her daughter. Hershey as the mom with no life but to micro-manage her tortured daughter's each breath, Norma Bates harming the fly, the filly... 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 only to run after mistaking orgasm/conquests' hollow aftermath panic for a real emotion; Sinead O'Connor ripping her papal way to persecuted freedom from popularity on SNL; Tyra Banks looking through light blue cellular eyes back out the TV at the pictures of her model contestants behind you on the wall; Annie Hayworth's bird-beak-busted skull eye sockets hidden by picket fences in THE BIRDS; Marlene Dietrich covered in ink black feathers slashing the Shanghai Express screen open with her swan talons, letting the rotten corpse fruit come sagging out.

Virgin Suicides, The
In SWAN, Natalie Portman plays the ideal mix of perspiration and inspiration. Hers is a cloistered life of rigid discipline and striving for perfection, necessarily without freedom or any experience of decadence. She knows no outlet for passion and vice or even an orgasm--living with a crazy mom and no bedroom or bathroom door locks--so when finally released from bondage into supernova orgasm because she's required to, finally, for the very pinnacle of her art, be the black swan instead of just the white, the freedom of ecstatic release is a Pandora's box-cutting moment that makes the whole cinema tremble with aftershocks. The good, the bad, and the naked rotting corpse underneath the lobby are exposed to the angel's pecked-out sun orb eyes at last, and all pain and fear and work revealed at last to be only ever the flimsiest of veils for this one inescapable moment, the melting wing flutters into applause.... the cheering like a distant hawk.

And if death not ends it, why bother starting? As Oscar Jaffe said: the sorrows of life are the joys of art. Knowing this and accepting it gives us a way of preserving those sorrowful joys in celluloid amber, of letting our artsy life fade and wither like an en verso Dorian Gray: Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Natalie Portman and now Mila Kunis - a single line of frozen youth unwillingly dragged into the middle ages, thence to become self-mutilating 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 girl friend-friend, 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 swagger... 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 Rainers 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. If you're feeling like you need to invade Iraq, or give up on your dreams in a fit of whiny depression, why not first try Seroquel, or see your Lexus dealer or give yourself some 'you' time-- as they euphemistically like to say.... Psychedelics can save your soul just as masturbation can save you from regretful decisions, art can save your life but only death shows the true color of the light behind the curtain and only it 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. Oh! It hangs like a CGI vibrator, all for you Damien! That signpost up ahead - it's your life's credits--quick check to see who played you. I'll go up! I'll go up! 

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 to find peace in sobriety you must first get drunk. You must become besotted to ever be bereft. You must first know MONSTER ugliness to be Oscar beautiful. You must first know fame before becoming eclipsed by your own empty spotlight. Like Moira Shearer in the Lermontov RED SHOES, like Lazarus risen from the dead, like Mike Hammer risen from the dead, the tortured barefoot husk of Chloris Leachman at his feet. Mikey! Brrrrrm! Pow! Swan-eee how I love ya / how I love ya.

 I love you Patti, Chloris, Natalie. Natalie... Nat? Nat. Nat, pour me another.... take the sandbags off and take thy waxy wing to sky and go up / go up /up

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.


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