A movie for every day of the year – a good one
Rudolf Nureyev born, 1938
Today in 1938, Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev was born, on a train near Irkutsk, Siberia, Soviet Union. The son of a Red Army political commissar, he grew up in a small village in Bashkortostan and first learnt to dance Bashkir folk dances. His teachers encouraged him to go to Leningrad. He auditioned for the Bolshoi but became a member of the Kirov Ballet, which allowed him to travel widely in the West. Realising that his freedom to travel was about to be curtailed, Nureyev defected to the West while on tour in Paris, in 1961. By February 1962 he was principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, in London, where he danced with Margot Fonteyn, a partnership that would enhance both of their reputations. Their last performance together took place in 1988, when Fonteyn was 69 and Nureyev 50. A titan of 20th century dance, he also danced Swine Lake with a giant pig in his TV appearance on The Muppets.
Black Swan (2010, dir: Darren Aronofsky)
There used to be a girls comic in the UK called Bunty which would feature regular strips such as The Four Marys (four girls of different social classes, all friends together at a boarding school), Mum Knows Best (a girl’s fight against her over-protective parents) and Amazing Grace, Gymnast of the Future (no explanation necessary). Regularly appearing alongside would be ballet melodramas – The Phantom Ballerina or The Dancing Life of Moira Kent or Lisa, the Lonely Ballerina, just three of many. With a quick edit for sexual content, drug use and bad language, Black Swan would have fitted right in. The story of the sidelined ballerina who really really wants to dance but first has to overcome all manner of obstacles, not least her own lack of confidence, Black Swan is pure girls fantasy material and all the ballet clichés are here – the sadism of the life balletic, the bulimia, the controlling parent, the rivalry, bitchiness, the bitter older star, the rapacious choreographer, the lesbianism, perfectionism, and on it goes, one overheated item after another. Natalie Portman is the titular swan, the dancer finally given a shot as principal dancer in Swan Lake, and the movie tracks her progress towards finding her dark side, battling against the low opinion of others (and herself), the jealousy of others, the neuroses of the ballet world. The performances are worth hugging close to your chest – Winona Ryder as the older star just realising it’s all over; Vincent Cassel as the wild choreographer who wants it all; Barbara Hershey as the mad mother winding it all the way up to Joan Crawford; an effortlessly brilliant Mila Kunis as the sexy, confident and utterly untrustworthy friend. It’s a great big rampaging melodrama, the sort of thing Hollywood used to churn out in the 1950s, tear-stained, hilarious (if you’re that way inclined), an allegory for the transition from the fluffy bunnies of youth to the dark nastiness of womanhood. At the end, as Portman gets her chance to become the dark destroying Black Swan and dances for her life in a sequence choreographed to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, director Darren Aronofsky cranks up the editing, wheels the camera about and throws in one gothic revelation after another. This finish is highly reminiscent of another great ballet film finale, The Red Shoes, possibly as re-imagined by Douglas Sirk. Aronofsky, two years after another grand guignol peak behind the tatty curtain of public performance/private pain in The Wrestler, has done it again.
- A thumping great melodrama
- Perfect casting, brilliant acting
- It plays perfectly to and against Portman’s goody-goody image
- Matthew Libatique’s bravura cinematography
© Steve Morrissey 2014