31 March 2011

In which the Melancholy Swan speaks out about the Black Swan controversy

Okay, to preface the following, the Melancholy Swan must reveal that she teaches art history and film at a small mid-western university when not in ballet class or doing barre exercises in the kitchen.

Black Swan is not a film about ballet.  It is the story of a young woman's psychological disintegration fueled by her quest for perfection as a ballerina.  Natalie Portman  portrayed a character, Nina and trained for a year to be able to even approximate the abilities of her character.  Portman could not do everything that Nina could and therefore a double was used who could perform the physical and technical aspects of ballet to be seamlessly blended with Portman's performance to create the character.  Like any stunt person or nude body double, Portman's double did not make the character.  She only filled in the gaps.

As with Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady*, there has been a fireball of smug schadenfreude about Portman's performance and the studio's claims that she performed the bulk of her character's dancing, when someone training for just one year could not possibly perform like an artist she portrayed.  Portman never claimed to have done it all (regardless of her fiancée's foolish defense) and acknowledged the use of a double for complicated dance scenes.  But apparently that is not enough for the dancer who was hired as the double.

Sarah Lane, who received multiple on-screen credits for her work has decided to destroy any chance she might have had for further film work by whining about not getting enough attention and that the studio's claims are an "insult to her discipline."  When hasn't Hollywood insulted artists, dancers, scientists, academics, by having actors pretend that they can do in a few weeks what takes years of sacrifice to master?  Lane did her job and Nina became a realized character.  Lane is now trying to destroy the character she so masterfully helped create by thinking that she was something other than a double.  She wasn't.  She deserves no more credit that what she received, studio bullshit be damned.  And she will never work in this town again.

I went to see Black Swan as a horror film set within the beauty and grace of ballet, and that is exactly what it was.  Nina's descent into madness through self-injury, anorexia, anxiety and hallucinations was created by Miss Portman.  The dance added verisimilitude but was not the focus of the film, nor was it the reason for Portman's numerous awards for her work.  Period.

*Julie Andrews portrayed Eliza Doolittle on stage, but was not chosen by the studio for the lead in the film.  Hepburn's singing was done by a "double" which was viewed by Andrews' fans with the same snark as the online ballet community (that I have seen thus far).  Andrews' got her revenge, since she won an Oscar for Mary Poppins.


  1. This is an interesting opinion that I admire! You are definitely right - and come to think of it, I've never heard someone thank their double in their Oscar speech. Being a double is generally (like countless other jobs) a thankless task...I understand Sarah Lane's offense at the matter but the scenario really isn't all that unusual or unfair.

  2. Thanks! I think her behavior was a result of Lane having never worked on a film and perhaps as a prima ballerina, is not at all accustomed to anonymity. I'm just sorry that Portman has become the object of so much venom.

  3. Very well stated! Thank you.