AFI FEST: ‘Black Swan’ LA premiere wraps things up

Posted by · 10:06 am · November 12th, 2010

Last night was closing night of the 2010 AFI Fest, and they put a bow on things by offering up the Los Angeles premiere of AFI alum Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan.” I decided to head over to the Chinese Theatre to give it another look.  At this stage in the season, Telluride feel like ages ago and it’s nice to saddle up back to a film like this after you’ve seen and therefore know what you’re getting into.

Aronofsky offered his usual self-deprecating patter before hand, introducing stars Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder and Natalie Portman, as well as producer Scott Franklin.  He noted that the Chinese is his “favorite theater in the world” and that he can recall visiting Los Angeles as a kid and catching a film with his parents.  When he attended the AFI, he would always head over to the theater (which isn’t far from campus) to see new releases every weekend.

He was pumped for Sylvester Stallone to be in the house and went through the expected thank yous before unleashing the film on yet another unsuspecting crowd, and from my vantage, it seemed to go over well.  One person outside the theater afterward was heard saying, “I don’t even know what emotion to feel right now.”

That’s the impact “Black Swan” has after an initial glance.  When I saw it in the Colorado mountains over two months ago, I thought it was an absolutely brilliant opus bathed in poignant, gripping metaphor and, of course, featuring a tour de force leading performance from Portman.  I had some very minor quibbles with the narrative, but I had a feeling a second look would eventually smooth those out, because without question, this is one of the year’s very best films.

The below the line here is an embarrassment of riches.  Matthew Libatique’s cinematography leads the way, capturing an undeniable atmosphere of dread and anxiety.  Some might think the decision to shoot the film on Super 16 goes a long way toward impacting a gritty look to the canvas, and I’m inclined to agree, but some of the compositions are just so beautiful I’d have liked to see them free of that grainy verité feel that Aronofsky is clearly still high on following “The Wrestler.”

The sound design stuck out to me even more this time.  Particularly the sound editing, as there are a lot of variables flying around on this soundtrack, be them effects or subtly layered vocal elements that put the main character on an edge throughout.  And it’s all blended together nicely with a few original pieces from Clint Mansell and, of course, the soaring brilliance of Tchaikovsky to make for a sonic experience like no other.

I was having a conversation with Steve Pond following the screening, who still thinks the film will land a Best Picture nomination, and he made a valid point.  What will help a film like “Black Swan” into the field is the preferential ballot system, because if you like it, you likely love it.  There’s no real in-between here.  And a passion vote can get it there.  Combined with below-the-line respect, maybe the film can make it.  I’m beginning to believe, ever so slightly.

And it goes without saying, Andrew Weisblum’s editing is crucial to establishing the thriller atmosphere and keeping the audience on edge.

But Aronofsky’s brilliance really deserves to be in the hunt for Best Director, regardless.  This is powerful, audacious filmmaking, the kind that has come to signify his career to date.  These are the kinds of bold leaps worth awarding, and I find it encouraging that two of the most aesthetically and conceptually bold films of the year come from a studio, albeit a dependent, in Fox Searchlight.  “There’s really no other studio making films like this,” Aronofsky said beforehand, and given the conservative environment as of late, it’s great to see the company sticking to its mission statement with a film like this and “127 Hours.”

Of course, when you’re coming off hits like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Wrestler,” it’s a little easier to make those gambles.

The crowd seemed breathless when the film concluded.  Big applause for all involved, particularly Portman.  It’s a film that takes a lot out of you but is very rewarding, especially if you’re of an artist’s mind.  The film is about the creative process, the challenge of pushing yourself through discipline and yet having the bravery to lose yourself in that process.  I’m quite sure if Aronofsky had not lost himself and gone to some scary, unsure places as an artist, we wouldn’t have received films like “Requiem for a Dream” or “The Fountain.”

If members of the Academy can see some of the tougher, more risque elements of the film properly as metaphor, they might just see it as a film about themselves.

(Check out the film’s recently unveiled official site here.)

[Photo: Getty Images]

→ 35 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

35 responses so far

  • 1 11-12-2010 at 10:18 am

    Maxim said...

    That was a good read. Thanks!

    Also, could you please elaborate a little about Stallone? Was he there just a regular viewer? Or was he invited?

  • 2 11-12-2010 at 10:19 am

    Graysmith said...

    I have the horrible feeling of Black Swan going the exact route of The Wrestler in terms of Oscar recognition. It’s the main performance, maybe one or two more nominations at best and that’s it. Not that I think Aronofsky makes films with any thoughts or wishes of winning Oscars (as he shouldn’t), but it’s still such a shame to see his films being passed over because they don’t adhere to the typical mold.

  • 3 11-12-2010 at 10:21 am

    JJ1 said...

    I get a distinct (if subtle) feeling that this film will get nominated for BP, along with Portman and whomever else (acting, craft). It seems to be building a little steam, no?

  • 4 11-12-2010 at 10:22 am

    JJ1 said...

    Kris, is the podcast today or tomorrow? Usually, it’s up by now. No rush, haha, just wonderin’.

  • 5 11-12-2010 at 10:23 am

    Michael said...

    OMG! Like I needed to be more excited about this damn movie!!!! If there was ever a time where I wish I could either fast-forward time to see it sooner, or teleport to a city where it is played earlier, now is that time. I really appreciate your re-examination Kris, it is not so much as hyping the film up for me but greasing my mind for a film that seems to be tailor-made for me (and many other genre/film-lovers.) I hope the below-the-lines get some recognition as the trailer indicates the look of the film is exquisite.

  • 6 11-12-2010 at 10:30 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Podcast coming any minute.

  • 7 11-12-2010 at 10:33 am

    JJ1 said...


  • 8 11-12-2010 at 10:50 am

    Keil Shults said...

    This continues to be my most anticipated film of the year, with True Grit being a distant but respectable second. I simply cannot wait for this!

  • 9 11-12-2010 at 11:13 am

    Michael said...

    In terms of the preferental balloting system, it does seem likely to me that even if the film is another love it or hate it experience, that there will more people likely to put BLACK SWAN as their number 1 pick for the year than THE FIGHTER, THE TOWN, THE WAY BACK etc.

    Sounds like a situation similar to MOULIN ROUGE. Now just to see if Aronofsky can pull off what Baz couldn’t – a Best Director nod.

  • 10 11-12-2010 at 11:20 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m not sure the film is quite such a Marmite proposition — I know a number of critics who like it with reservations.

  • 11 11-12-2010 at 11:28 am

    Dooby said...

    Alot of people are tweeting very positive responses and Sasha Stone absolutely loved it say Natalie has the performance of the year, male or female.

    From what I am hearing this absolutely deserves to be getting best pic, best director, etc. noms and I hope it does. I can’t wait to see it.

  • 12 11-12-2010 at 11:35 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Michael: The Town is the kind of film, like The Blind Side, that benefits from being at #2 and #3 on a lot of ballots.

  • 13 11-12-2010 at 12:12 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    Moulin Rouge blows.

  • 14 11-12-2010 at 12:14 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    @Tapley: The Blind Side also benefitted from big box office and people like my mother being in the Academy. Let’s hope there’s not a Dancing With the Stars movie next year.

  • 15 11-12-2010 at 12:16 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    Anyone think Aronofsky’s mustache could hurt his chances at a Directing nomination? I’m also thinking it could have been the straw that broke his marriage’s back. Hairy or not, I love the guy.

  • 16 11-12-2010 at 12:18 pm

    Room 237 said...

    Well, I’ll go on record as saying I think it’s overrated. It blows off the rails about 2/3 through, when instead of piling it on, it really needed to disconnect from its source inspiration. It becomes hollow spectacle.

  • 17 11-12-2010 at 12:35 pm

    Sawyer said...

    The Wrestler would have been in with 10 noms.

    I’m still calling for the coolest Best Director lineup ever: Aranofsky, Boyle, Coens, Fincher and Nolan.

  • 18 11-12-2010 at 12:35 pm

    Maxim said...

    “Anyone think Aronofsky’s mustache could hurt his chances at a Directing nomination?”

    No but I would absolutely love to hear more about this theory.

  • 19 11-12-2010 at 12:41 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Anyone think Aronofsky’s mustache could hurt his chances at a Directing nomination?”

    Ask Joel Coen.

  • 20 11-12-2010 at 12:43 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Hollow spectacle, Room? I don’t think there’s anything in the realm of “spectacle” going on here. It’s a deeply metaphorical meditation on being an artist. But I’d love to hear more on your perspective. I actually think there may be those who agree with you.

    And I’m curious, are you male or female?

  • 21 11-12-2010 at 12:53 pm

    Room 237 said...

    Male. And I have a background in performing arts. And I saw it with an actress — and she had the exact reaction I did.

    By midway through, you’re fully aware of what’s going on. If you get it, the further piling on becomes mechanical and ridiculous instead of furthering your involvement.

    The conclusion was unnecessary and over-the-top. It needed to disconnect from its source inspiration — which was fine for a set-up, but it ultimately needed to stand on its own legs.

    And I say “hollow spectacle” because I think it applies to a lot of DA’s filmmaking. He’s very much the type of director I like, but I always wind up feeling he goes overboard. It’s all technique — technique that blows past whatever themes he’s portraying and rendering them minuscule or trite. He takes things to such extreme conclusions that’s it’s no longer powerful, but, I dare say, shallow.

  • 22 11-12-2010 at 1:05 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    Coen’s mustache is natural and timeless, Aronofsky’s looks forced and early 1980s. I suppose it could be the physical manifestation of his rebellious nature. If his choice in preferred film stock seems anachronistic, why shouldn’t his facial hair do the same? It is possible that Aronofsky’s grooming choices are part of a low-key strategy to subvert Hollywood — a follicle-fueled call to arms? Could his insistence on shaving the lower half of his face, but leaving the upper lip adorned with whiskers be his way of showing the film industry that he is above them?

    All this and more will be explored in my upcoming book, “Beards and Berets: An Illustrated History of Filmmaker Affectations.”

  • 23 11-12-2010 at 1:14 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Well I guess I have just a completely different perspective on his work, Room. I think audacity can be a virtue and it certainly is in Aronofsky’s case, in my view.

  • 24 11-12-2010 at 1:16 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    Many felt Requiem went over the top, but I felt the subject matter called for it and it was handled masterfully. Needless to say, I have neither done speed or tried to fit into a tight red dress since witnessing that film’s horrifying denouement.

  • 25 11-12-2010 at 1:18 pm

    billybil said...

    You REALLY make me want to see this film without spoiling it for me and that’s no mean feat! Thanks Kristopher!

  • 26 11-12-2010 at 1:26 pm

    Room 237 said...

    Audacity is a good thing. But I mean look at the conclusion of Requiem. It’s an absolutely brilliant piece of montage. It’s classic. But, ultimately, what does it all really add up to? “Drugs ruin the American Dream?” Do you see what I’m saying? It’s great technique — but it overpowers the message to the point that the technique is the message. Because you don’t need to cross-cut between a lobotomy, an amputation and anal sex to make that point.

    And with BS (no pun intended), it doesn’t need to follow through with its conclusion to make its point either, in my opinion. At a certain point, the point was already made, and the movie just blew past it and kept piling it on.

  • 27 11-12-2010 at 1:30 pm

    Maxim said...

    “But, ultimately, what does it all really add up to? “Drugs ruin the American Dream?” Do you see what I’m saying?”

    No but that’s because I see a lot more in that film.

  • 28 11-13-2010 at 11:38 am

    Simon Warrasch said...

    My feeling say that Natalie Portman will win! All the people who have seen Black Swan said that she is phenomenal in it and she gives a Tour de Force Performance! What Anette Bening does in The Kids Are All Right is O.K but what Natalie Portman does in this Masterpice is outstanding! She will Win! I hope so and i cross my fingers!

  • 29 11-13-2010 at 12:03 pm

    Paul Outlaw said...

    This is going to be my Best Actress week: The Kids Are All Right on Monday, Black Swan on Friday and Another Year on Saturday. Can’t wait. (Winter’s Bone already seen and very much admired; Rabbit Hole in two weeks.) I have a feeling Black Swan is going to be my favorite film of 2010–hope I’m not disappointed.

  • 30 11-13-2010 at 12:12 pm

    ninja said...

    I hope Portman wins and I`m very annoyed by people saying that Benning will because she is due, ancient,whatever. Portman is no newcomer. She has Oscar nomination on her resume too and bunch of great performances that weren`t nominated but should have been ever since The Professional. So her win would be well-deserved, no flash in a pan, where-did-she-go type of one-hit wonder.

  • 31 11-13-2010 at 6:47 pm

    Scott W. said...

    ******BLACK SWAN SPOILER ALERT*********

    Kris, I really don’t see how Black Swan can be considered a “deeply metaphorical meditation” because the central themes and/or metaphors end up being spelled out at such face value. I mean as a viewer seeing Lilly stabbed, only to find out later (even though it wasn’t entirely unexpected) that she in fact harmed herself is too conventional to call the piece, as a whole, a deep metaphor.

    And while I can’t attribute a specific fault to my feeling here, I do agree with Room 237 that the film ends up largely a hollow piece, or at least one where the desired substance and emotion is nearly vacant with regard to its lofty attempt. However I don’t agree that it is tied in with Aronofsky’s film making.

    That said, I do agree with you that this is brave and audacious film making, and while it won’t be in my top 10 this year, I wouldn’t have any strong qualms with it receiving some major nominations.

  • 32 11-14-2010 at 2:55 am

    Simon Warrasch said...

    I totally agree with ninja said… You have absolutely right! So let’s cross our fingers and pray that she is going to win!

  • 33 11-14-2010 at 9:55 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Scott: So you don’t like the adverb placement. Fair. Then it’s a “metaphorical meditation,” and IMO, a “deeply” profound one.

  • 34 11-14-2010 at 2:14 pm

    Lovely1 said...

    I’ll just echo Scott W and Room’s sentiments. Black Swan isn’t in my top 10 of this year either, but it’s good and I wouldn’t be upset if it received some awards recognition. However, I liked a lot more films and more performances this year. DA brow beats you into submission with Black Swan, so I get people leaving and saying “I don’t even know what emotion to feel” because I walked out feeling exhausted and not necessarily in a good way. I was taken out of the story emotionally about halfway through, and while I was thoroughly entertained I walked out thinking “Hmm, that was crazy” but Nina’s plight didn’t really resonate with me emotionally on any level.

  • 35 11-14-2010 at 8:33 pm

    Leone said...

    I love Aronofsky but sometimes his movies can be so tension filled that they are tough to watch. I don’t know what I mean by that exactly. But I know Natalie Portman is absolutely in for her role in the film but I’m just not as sure about the movie, which I feel weird seeing because I definitely appreciated it and it’s totally original. I just don’t know exactly what was “off” about it for me but something was. But, ugh, I hate saying it because I think he’s so talented.