It’s tough being a girl. Especially if you’re in a Darren Aronofsky movie. Once I realized that Black Swan was in no way, shape, or form a “dance movie”, I was able to actually see the damn thing. I kept waiting for the dancing. There is actually very little dancing in the film, and what you see you see mainly from the waist-up, which is understandable – the feet would be the dead give-away – but I found it distracting. Too obviously hiding the inadequacies of the dancing. You can’t fake being a prima ballerina. It’s really a horror film, and it reminded me of Carrie, with its overwrought panic about the natural processes of a woman’s body, and what it means to certain overly sensitive neurotic young girls. Sex, menstruation, masturbation, sexual fantasies, seduction … that’s what the movie is really about. I’m not sure what Darren Aronofsky, of all people, has to say about such things (his track record of showing normal adult women in films is pretty abysmal – they’re all freaks and addicts and whores), but seen in the light of his other films, Black Swan is about obsession and single-minded (at times insane) dedication. (Please go read Jason Bellamy’s and Ed Howard’s in-depth “conversation” about the film.) It’s also about the creative process, and what taking on a role can do to a performer, how it can morph you, change you, alter you. I wanted more process in the film. Take into consideration the fact that I am a process-junkie. There’s a moment in a rehearsal, when the displeased director (Vincent Cassel) watches Portman and her partner dance. They finish and look at him. Cassel says, “Do it again.” They do it again. Then they look up at him expectantly. He says, “Do it again.” Portman, desperate, steps forward and says, “Any notes?” I wanted to say, out loud, “AMEN, girl.” Nothing worse than a director who can’t tell you what he wants and yet keeps insisting that you “do it again”. I would have loved to see more of him trying to tell her what he wanted (as a DIRECTOR, not as a sexual harasser), and to see her struggle with that, her technique failing her when it comes to performing this role. But his notes for her consist of, “You need to masturbate more.” So, Herr Direktor, if I masturbate more (although I’m not sure how that would be possible – no, just kidding. No, actually, really.), I could be more excellent in my artistic pursuits? Is that all it takes? So his repetition of “Do it again” was more his anger that she somehow wasn’t “in touch” with her sexual side, and his only “note” would be, “Darling, are you fondling yourself every night as I told you to?”
These intense and personal things do come up in rehearsals from time to time – getting in touch with rage or sex or grief is not always easy – the boundaries blur. You have to be willing to “go there”. After watching Portman’s struggles in the role of the Black Swan, I would say that this was a case of a director mis-casting the role, and then being unable to help the dancer find her “way in”. Dude, you knew she would struggle with the part when you cast her. It’s your job to help her. Figure it out. Problem-solve. The girl is clearly having a psychotic break and is actually molting in front of your eyes. What are you going to do about that?
There’s a great scene in All That Jazz, when Roy Scheider, in a rehearsal, comes up against a block. The number isn’t working. He tries different things. He berates one of the dancers. He broods and smokes. Something is not right. Finally, a breakthrough, when he throws out everything he had been working on earlier, and starts all over again. The number finds its life. It’s an exhilarating scene, and shows its rootedness in the actual process. This is how rehearsals go. This is what often happens. Tempers flare high, people fight and struggle, things get really personal, but the overriding passion is to get it right, and you will do what it takes. If you have to berate a dancer publicly, then maybe she will remember that the next time she dances badly, and try harder. And the berated-dancer in that scene also has a breakthrough. It’s WORK. Not neurosis. People don’t freak out at being treated roughly (psychologically or otherwise), because often that is part of the work. Prudes and prisses don’t last long in that environment, and I’m not talking about sexual behavior, I’m talking about people who have rigid boundaries about how they can and cannot be spoken to. That won’t fly in a rehearsal room. All That Jazz understands that process better than Black Swan does, which remains, at heart, a psychological thriller about a young woman who is afraid of sex and growing up, and on that level it does work freakily well.
Along with Carrie, there were elements of Black Swan that also reminded me of Cassavetes’ Opening Night, the story of an alcoholic middle-aged actress (Gena Rowlands) struggling to perform a role in a play she can’t stand. Why can’t she stand the play? Because her character in the play is a middle-aged woman, and the actress is terrified of growing old. She resists actually DOING the play, even while she is onstage. If you want to see a harrowing realistic evocation of the actual creative process coming up against strong resistance bordering on psychosis, see Opening Night.
Portman is terrific in the role, and she has one moment huddled in a bathroom stall, calling her mother to tell her she got the part, that is as good as anything she has ever done. There’s a look to ballerinas: you can recognize them even on the subway, when they’re wearing giant parkas and Ugg boots. Tutu or no, you can spot them on crowded sidewalks. It’s the carriage, the tilt of the head, the elongated neck, the calm focus on their faces. Portman, too old really for the role, totally NAILS that look. There is nothing else she could be, with that head, those shoulders, that neck, than a ballerina. People spend their entire lives at the barre to “get that look”. Portman trained for 10 months, and is able (at least in the scenes where she is not dancing) to capture that very specific ballerina look. Her voice is whispery and uncertain, a little girl’s voice, and all you need to do is listen to how Portman speaks in The Darjeeling LImited or Closer to see how specific she is being, as an actress, in Black Swan. Her mother, played by Barbara Hershey, had her own dreams of being a ballerina, and is now living vicariously through her daughter. It is a suffocating relationship. There is a LOT of unspoken anger. There is also the possibility of sabotage (her mother buying the biggest cake ever baked to celebrate her daughter getting the part – like: your daughter is bulimic, lady, she’s not gonna eat that). My mother saw the film and had an interesting take on the mother’s part in it. “By the end, I thought – maybe her mother was so protective because she knew there was something ‘off’ about her daughter. She knew that she was not all right.” Mila Kunis is wonderful (I really like her), Vincent Cassel is creepy and believable, Hershey is great, and Winona Ryder has a haunting violent cameo.
I love dance movies. I love The Red Shoes, All That Jazz, hell, I adore Center Stage. Center Stage, with all its silliness, is more serious about ballet than Black Swan is. Black Swan isn’t about ballet. It’s about psychosis and womanhood, the two being inextricably linked. I am still working out my feelings for Black Swan. It’s a riveting piece of work, deeply sick and committed to its sickness, and Portman is terrifying to behold at times. It’s irrelevant what I would have liked more of, because like I said: it’s not really a dance movie, but I keep thinking about that director saying to them repeatedly, “Do it again” and Portman saying, tremulously, “Any notes?” I would have liked more notes, too, dear. You’re not alone in that.
I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale
A 40-minute documentary about great actor John Cazale, I have seen it already about 10 times. He only made 5 films, but they are 5 iconic films: The Godfather, The Godfather II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter. Who was he? How did he work? How did he do it? There is actually a commentary track on this short, rather amazing for a documentary of this length, but it’s fascinating. Richard Shepard, the director, had this project in mind for a while. He knew he wanted to interview everyone, but he also knew that Meryl Streep would be the key. She dated John Cazale, and was there with him at the end. She has never spoken about Cazale publicly. Shepard reached out to her people, asking if she would consent to an interview. She turned them down. Repeatedly. This had a domino effect on everyone else Shepard wanted to interview. No one would speak to them without Meryl’s involvement. Pacino, DeNiro, Coppola – he ran into a dead end with anyone consenting to be in the film. The loyalty to their old friend, Meryl Streep. John Cazale’s brother was involved in the project from the get-go, and was so determined to get the film done, that he found out where Meryl Streep was going to be one night, at a gallery opening, and he went there to plead with her to be a part of the project. Meryl Streep finally said yes. Once she said Yes, everyone said Yes. (Everyone, that is, except for Michael Cimino, who did not participate). The interviews, with Gene Hackman, Sidney Lumet, Pacino, DeNiro, are phenomenal. You really get the sense that John Cazale was actually the reason that these films are so good. Israel Horowitz, playwright, old friend of Cazale, said that Cazale was brilliant at the “assist”. He was so good that he made everyone else step into their A-game. To hear Al Pacino give Cazale the props like that is something else. You see their moments together in Dog Day Afternoon, and you can see Pacino, dealing on a moment-to-moment basis, with the intensity of Cazale. Cazale gave him that performance. Pacino says at one point, “Cazale taught me the value of asking questions, and not having to answer them.” A very moving portrait of a man whose name has been forgotten, already, but whose characters will live forever. He will be known as “Fredo” forever. An amazing documentary, a real actor’s project. Interviews with Steve Buscemi, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Sam Rockwell are also included. The new generation of actors celebrating this great talent who had gone before. Wonderful interview with director Richard Shepard here.
Melissa Leo is crazy. You would never know this was the same woman from Frozen River. A sort of low-rent Lorraine Bracco in Good Fellas, her character in The Fighter is a gun-moll, without the gun and without the gangster boyfriend. A tough woman with nine children, her hair is a helmet of frosted tips, and she smokes like she’s a dragon in her lair. Watch her suck on that cigarette, eyes ferocious and yet focused. The outfits she wears are so perfect. Her performance has been criticized as over-the-top, but I disagree: I KNOW this woman. I said to my sister Jean, “She would hang out at Joyce’s Pub.” and that was all I needed to say for Jean to get it. Southern Rhode Island reference, but a testament to the film’s specificity. The film is a crowd-pleaser (I saw it in a packed house, and people were cheering and clapping spontaneously during the final fight), and I have never understood those who use the term “crowd-pleasing” as an epithet. These people can’t have ever been actors. To me, “crowd-pleasing” is basically the be-all end-all, whether you’re watching Tarkovsky’s Stalker or Stallone’s Rocky. “Crowd-pleasing” doesn’t mean simplistic or playing to the lowest-common-denominator. It also doesn’t mean “happy endings”. It means audience involvement. Hamlet is a crowd-pleaser. I’ll get off this hobby-horse in a second, but that kind of snobbery seems really cloistered and silly to me. Look, I’m show trash, and I come from a family where show trash is one of the main industries. You want those people out in the seats to be “with you”, every step of the way. Silence is being “with” you, too. Shedding tears over a fictional character is being “with” you. I don’t like simplistic movies, and I don’t like cliches. I like imagination and involvement. Which means that I love movies like Blue Crush, G.I. Jane, Bring It On, School of Rock, films that are fearless in ways that a lot of more “serious” fare is not. It’s a fine line, I suppose, and much of it perhaps has to do with personal taste. I don’t have the contempt for the industry that a lot of people seem to have, and I don’t have contempt for the down-low “pursuit” of getting strangers to clap for you, weep for you (like Hecuba), cheer for you. I think a lot of people think show business is kind of embarrassing, even those who make a living writing about it, so they pooh-pooh stuff that seems blatantly entertaining. I think that’s a shame, but then again, I know what it’s like to be in a bomb, and to feel the silent waves of anger and withholding coming up at you from the dark audience. So go ahead, PLEASE that crowd. That’s what we WANT. The Fighter is crowd-pleasing in the best sense. It doesn’t go for generalities, it stays specific, in that world – a world I know very well. The accents are terrific, and I thought Amy Adams was great, as the woman who comes in from the outside, takes one look around and says, “Hon, this is ridiculous. You have got to separate from your family.” Also, she went to URI (my alma mater), and listen to how she says “URI”. “You-arreye.” That is a Boston accent. Believe me, I grew up hearing Boston people say “URI”, and Adams nails it. Here is what I mean by “crowd-pleasing”, and I’ll just speak for myself now: Over the closing credits, we see a clip of the real guys, talking and joshing in a diner in Lowell – and I suddenly, spontaneously, found myself in tears. I value that. It’s not easy to generate a spontaneous heartfelt response from an audience. It’s harder than you think. It’s hard to do it right, to do it with specificity rather than generalities and short-hand cliches. The Fighter does it right.
To those who keep repeating like little parrots, “Melissa Leo was over the top, she was over the top”, I can give you a list of pubs in South Boston as well as Rhode Island where you can meet that character ad nauseum. You think that’s over the top? You need to get out more.
Red Riding Trilogy: 1974, 1980, 1983
One of the best things I have seen all year. A three-part story about the struggle to find and capture the Yorkshire Ripper, a struggle that reveals police corruption at the highest levels. A truly local story (the second one was difficult for me to understand, the accents were so strong), the trilogy is directed by three different directors (Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, and Anand Tucker). Each has its own look and feel, and the period is evoked without being gimmicky. You are immersed in the bleakness of that time: the brick housing projects, rotary phones, claustrophobic wallpaper, and dug-up fields, all combine to give you a picture of an entire world. The acting is universally phenomenal: Andrew Garfield has had a helluva year, and here, as the journalist tracking down leads, he is nervy, restless, obsessed. It is a great performance. Mark Addy, most well-known for his performance as “the fat guy” in The Full Monty, plays a solicitor in the final part, a down-on-his-luck guy who finds himself in the position of having to be courageous and heroic. He is quite an unlikely noir hero, and I found his performance tremendously moving. He does not WANT to be in the thick of the crime. He does not WANT his miserable life upset by these murders and getting “involved”. But he can’t help it. He must follow the path to the end. Other great character actors fill out all of the parts, with Sean Bean as the shady real estate developer who is the key to the entire thing. Part 1 and Part 3 are superior to Part 2, which got a bit bogged down in a soap opera story of the main police officer’s romance with one of his subordinates, something I wasn’t interested in at all. These are noir stories, make no mistake about it, a real whodunit, with the answer being almost worse than the uncertainty of not knowing. Moody, intense, fascinating, and totally engrossing, I watched the entire thing in one night. I couldn’t stop.
Thank you for the info about the John Cazale doc. Did not know about and now am very glad to.
You are absolutely right – five amazing performances – and such a loss to be gone at an early age. I know he was more or less in supporting roles, but I always thought that had he lived, his recognition would eclipse Pacino and DeNiro. Could be wrong. But it was always a thought.
Have a bunch of questions – but will just wait to see the doc.
I guess it is one of those things, like losing James Dean after a couple of movies, we are left wondering “what if…”
Longtime reader, first time commenter:
I just couldn’t, couldn’t resist: those two guys joshing at he diner at the end of the fighter are Micky Ward and his brother Dicky Ecklund. The real ones (maybe you knew that?). I just had to clarify that because I’m a Micky Ward fan from way back, and when I saw the movie, having Dicky and Micky, now older, and still in Lowell (they are, too; Micky runs a paving company there now or something, and Dicky never left), but happy, KILLED me. (it also was funny to see how Dicky’s crazy jittery nervous energy was still obvious. Take that, everyone who said C. Bale overplayed him!)
Great blog. Best for 2011.
Yes, I knew that – I said “the real guys” – that’s what I meant. I should have been clearer!
Love your additional information, and very good to hear that a fan of the “real guys” would also really click with the movie.
That ending moment was one of the reasons it was so moving to me. I’m with you – it KILLED ME! I loved seeing the real guys after spending so much time with them in the movie! And yes, you can see that Christian Bale nailed his cadences and energy. He really was like that!
Best to you in 2011 too!
By the way: are you THE J.doherty?? Do I know you? Or are you another J.Doherty?
David – It’s really fascinating to hear all of these major actors say that Cazale made them better. Pacino said, so often, Cazale would do something that would “get him there”, without Pacino even realizing what Cazale was up to. And Meryl Streep’s interviews are wonderful, too. I loved hearing Buscemi/Hoffman/Rockwell’s memories of their favorite moments, too – Rockwell is particularly good on talking about Fredo, how most actors want to play Sonny or Michael. The alphas. Lots of actors shy away from the “betas”. But Fredo emerges as this unforgettable guy – “I’M YOUR OLDER BROTHAH, MIKEY, AND I WAS PASSED OVER.”
I’m telling you, it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it!
It’s on Netflix – definitely check it out. But the special features are great, too – with the extended interviews with Pacino and Horwitz, as well as the commentary track.
I think about the “Wyoming” line in Dog Day, and in Deer Hunter when he and Michael are going head to head with Michael holding up a bullet saying “This is this – this ain’t something else – this is this!” And Stan responding “Does that sound like some f-it b-sh or what?”
David – The doc goes extensively into both of those moments!! You have to see it! “This is this – this is this …”
“Wyoming’s not a country …”
Carole Kane has some beautiful insights into why she thinks that moment is so good, so unforgettable.
Well, I think of myself as THE J. Doherty, but… others may disagree. Yes, we met years ago. I’m an old college friend of Jean’s….
(You did say the real guys… I’m a an idiot. That’s the level of reading comprehension you get from UNG grads, I guess…)
It breaks my heart into a million piece how respectful Meryl’s friends are of her and John’s love, even though she married another man and has raised a family.
That is a testament.
Lisa – I know. it’s really killer. Pacino has a moment where he remembers her sitting by Cazale’s deathbed (she was with him when he passed) – and he says, “You know, with all of her great work and her career, that’s what I think of when I think of Meryl.”
J-doherty – hahaha Of course I remember you! I think I have you in some photo albums somewhere. You are totally THE J. Doherty. Ha!!
No, you’re not an idiot. CLEARLY. YOU ARE J.DOHERTY.
I loved to hear your thoughts about “the real guys”. Did you actually see that video on HBO about crackheads featuring Dicky? I’m curious to see it now.
Check this out:
Like 10 or 12 years ago, I caught that Lowell documentary. High on Crack Street. Totally coincidentally. Just flipping through channels. As a documentary about crack I thought it was weirdly specific at the time – just following, like, 5 crackheads around. No Big Picture voice-overs about the crack scourge, and this is like 10 years after crack was News. No file footage of Colombian coke processing plants and FARC, or anything like that. That micro-format was kinda new then, at least to me, although it’s big now, I guess. And it was in Lowell, a town I knew a little bit about. And when I saw Dicky Ecklund in it I knew who he was because I was a regional boxing buff. They didn’t bill it as a Dicky Ecklund bio pic or anything. Weird, I thought. And I never caught it airing again.
Then I kind of forgot about it.
But a few months later I was at Foxwoods Casino watching a fighter I knew from New Bedford. Micky Ward was there. I ended up standing right next to him in the beer line or something. And I gave him the “hey, howya doing, champ.” But he was now retired, the three really famous fights with Arturo Gatti were over. And Micky was a regional boxing God. I mean, everyone was either keeping a wide berth from him like he was the Pope, or else running up to have pictures snapped. So he was a little aloof when I said hi. But then, before I got ready to walk off, I said “I hope your brother’s doing well. Everyone down in New Bedford is rooting for him. Tell him I said so.”
And he just kinda opened up. Said thanks. Made eye-contact, talked about Lowell, asked about New Bedford fighters. Shook my hand warmly. He never mentioned the HBO movie, and neither did I. But we both knew what I was talking about. We talked for one or two minutes, and I floated back to my seat, high as kite.
It was, by far, the best celebrity-meeting I ever had.
I ended buying an autographed poster of Micky Ward a few months later on-line. It’s him knocking the daylights out of some poor schlubb’s midsection. Perfect.
Wow. Wow. That’s an amazing story. You spoke what was going on underneath – a brave move – , and he got it. he appreciated it.
That is so cool.
Picking up on a small tidbit…Sean Bean. This guy has been FANTASTIC for the last two decades. I just saw Ronin again and he is AMAZING. Has there ever been anyone with a career quite like Sean Bean???? I personally request that you give Sean Bean the Sheila Treatment.
Bren – God, I KNOW. He is AMAZING!! He’s great in this, really slick and ominous and evil. With a rich veneer and a perfect 70s haircut. Tight pants, flashy car, and a cool sneer. Perfect!
And he was my favorite thing in Lord of the Rings. A truly human character.
he was the same guy in ronin as he was in lord of the rings…he is hired to play characters who seem to be strong but have something fundamentally weak about them…the kind of part a guy like him might REJECT…like, no, i’m the alpha dog! which he clearly could be…kind of makes me wish he’d get that shot…
Bren – I know. You’re so right about that. He was truly touching in Lord of the Rings – and he has a true moment of heroism, even more touching because of his flaws. I thought he acted all them Hobbits off the screen.
There’s something so BIG about him, he seems imposing – which could either be sexy or intimidating, depending on the context. He’s a real sleazebag in Red Riding, the kind of asshole who gets away with everything because of his charm. So so good.
Didn’t he do some big English mini-series where he was a big hero? It wasn’t Master & Commander but it was like that. Hold, please, let me look it up.
Oh, that’s right – the whole Sharpe series. I have friends who loved that whole thing, but I haven’t seen them.
Looks like he’s in pre-production for Woman of No Importance, which I find thrilling.
will have to check out Sharpe…sean frickin’ bean is maybe the most famous ‘that guy’ ever. i mean, how can you be anonymous as sean bean??? but he is!
Right, he’s this massive sex symbol who flies under the radar. How is that possible?? I think if he somehow “crossed over” and started doing big action movies, something very precious would be lost in the transfer, know what I mean? I mean, Lord of the Rings was clearly huge and he managed to turn in this nuanced performance with a truly tragic element. Amazing! It’s great to see him in Red Riding because he’s from Yorkshire, he knew this world well – he inhabits it beautifully.
I’ve said before that ballet is mostly about obsession and your notes on Black Swan NAILED THAT.
As a ballet dancer, Cara, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the movie. It is a completely closed world – as any obsessive would understand!
One of the things I liked about Black Swan was its casual acceptance of her bulimia. It didn’t even dwell on it, it’s the most normal thing in the world. Of course that’s what you do. THAT’S not her main problem. It’s not even a side issue. It’s just the reality of her world.
And so when the giant cake is brought out – I was already so in Portman’s world that I was grossed out by the sight of the cake. I thought, “Are you kidding me? She’s not gonna eat that. She’s a ballerina, for God’s sake.”
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I just started watching Red Riding Hood (only part 1 so far) this weekend. It’s relentlessly gritty. I’m finding it very good at creating that atmosphere of being so hopelessly trapped that I feel pissed off (like Serpico).
Ted – it really is an atmospheric piece, isn’t it? Especially the first and third ones (in my opinion). I thought Garfield was just fantastic – totally different from the character he played in The Social Network. And I like that the clothes/sets/props are totally appropriate to the period – but it doesn’t feel arch, or ironic, or fetishized over. It almost feels like it was actually FILMED in 1974.
And I agree. The sense of claustrophobia is infuriating, espeically in that first one.
The Cazale film was amazing. I must get it so I can watch the features. The impression I got was the same as yours, Sheila. It’s as if the other actors couldn’t believe how talented he was; like when Page or Clapton talk about Hendrix. I really got the sense of just how vital he was to those five classics. What a loss.
The four principals in The Fighter are all terrific–and exceedingly well-matched, Wahlberg’s wary reserve playing off Bale’s naked emoting (that last scene on the couch is a happy heartbreaker), Leo and Adams each spurring the other on with their stiff-backed self-assurance. But it’s the sisters that blew me away. I was shocked by the end credits revelation that they hail from different families, so positive was I that Russell had found a clan of Lowellites (?) to be in the movie. Their common body language, as in the breathtaking shot of them on the porch steps, hips cocked in perfectly symmetrical sync, was remarkable; and whether they were told to emulate Leo or her actor’s intelligence led her to mimic them, I never doubted for a second that they’d been following her lead for twenty to thirty years.
“I thought he acted all them Hobbits off the screen.”
In some sort of time-delay this just struck me as incredibly funny.
Bruce – Oh God, those sisters. They were so real, and such a group (the way they all just sit around on the couch – they are never seen separately), and so FEARSOME that I just accepted who they were without question. Amazing casting job.
I like your phrase -“stiff-backed assurance”. I liked how Charlene was written – she was not just “the girlfriend” – she had some complexity, and she had guts. She was with her MAN, not his family – so many people are unable to manage what she did. I loved the scene between her and Bale on the porch, when they come to an understanding. She’s not a nag, or a bitch. She’s a woman in love with one man. She stands up for him. But then when the time comes for her to realize that he needs his family, too – she gets that. I just really liked how she was written (and performed). It could have been a thankless part.
But yes: those sisters were one entity. Amazing.
Todd – I loved the anecdote from Hackman about one moment in The Conversation between him and Cazale – they did the scene and then Coppola made him do it again. Coppola wanted more annoyance from Hackman. And Cazale kind of stepped into the moment, and started annoying Hackman – but it was done in an imperceptible way – it felt real to Hackman – so that the response he was able to give was totally spontaneous. Cazale, with his three-dimensional understanding of the scene and his part in it, stepped up to the plate and got Hackman there. And Hackman is no slouch!!
But that’s what’s so great about the best character actors. They are support, the foundation – nONE of the great performances by the leads would be possible without them.
And the Meryl interview is really really special.
And yes, the special features are really good. They show the entire raw footage of the interviews with both Pacino and Horwitz – so you can hear Shepard’s questions too. It’s a real conversation.
I’m so high on this movie – I can’t stop watching it!
Dog Day Afternoon changed my life. It made me make certain choices. Take certain paths. I always assumed it was Pacino. He was the one who made the huge original impression on me as a 12 year old – but now I can see how much Cazale was a huge, an essential, part of that. Lumet wanted to cast an 18 year old slick kid. Cazale was not right for it. Pacino twisted Lumet’s arm to at least audition the guy. Thank God he did.
thank you for your thoughts on the movie, Black Swan. i’ve decided not to watch it now. lol
Sheila, I don’t usually comment on old posts but I recently saw the Black Swan and remembered you had posted about it, although I only skimmed it at the time. I just rented it from Netflix and watched it twice. It made a powerful, though mixed impression on me. Your post was full of characteristically illuminating observations; I particularly liked your comment on the “look” of ballerinas.
But I wanted to comment on something else about the film, the use of closeups. In a recent post you remarked on the excessive use of closeups in some films and it’s a particular dislike of mine. I’m rather partial to directorial styles that use long to medium shots to keep all the characters in view during dialogue scenes. I’m ready to put that down to personal taste and in truth, if ever a subject justified a claustrophobically tight shooting style it’s the Black Swan, and in general I’d say it was masterfully directed. But it’s possible to carry even a good idea too far. What I specifically objected to was all those shots where the top of the actor’s head was cut off. I’ve occasionally seen this in other films (usually ones shot in cinemascope) and it always struck me as a sign of incompetence; it’s simply an ugly way to compose a shot. Have you ever seen a portrait, whether a photograph or a painting where the top of a person’s head is cut off? I find it visually jarring, like music played out of tune. In TBS it happened so often in the first half that it took me completely out of the film the first time I watched it, although the second half was sufficiently gripping (though also confusing) that I wanted to see it again. And the second viewing really blew me away, yet the head cropping still bugged me. It’s something that partially spoiled for me a movie that’s a near masterpiece (and maybe someday I’ll withdraw the “near”).
By now I’ve read numerous reviews both positive and negative and no one else has commented on this (so far as I know). Since compared to many critics I tend to be less focused on the purely visual aspects of film this puzzles me. I wondered what you thought.