Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Friday, December 03, 2010

Black Swan makes it's debut dance into the Artist on the Edge genre

Opening up to a variety of positive reviews this weekend at the movies is Black Swan,starring Natalie Portman as Nina,an up and coming ballerina given the lead role in a highly anticipated production of Swan Lake.

Nina is struggling to keep her sanity on many fronts as her personal and professional inner demons begin merging into one major beast of burden. Caught between a demanding stage mother,an ambitious rival and the physical demands of her craft,Nina is on a dangerous downward spiral that threatens to destroy her body and soul:

Black Swan did very well on the film festival circuit and will no doubt become a major contender come Oscar time. Yet,the subject of artists suffering in more ways than one for their art is a familiar theme for many a film and should perhaps inspire movie buffs into checking out some of the earlier efforts in this genre.

A prime example is the 1947 Ronald Colman feature A Double Life. Colman plays renowned stage actor Anthony John,a performer who finds it harder than most in his field to separate his life from his work. While preparing for the lead in Othello with his ex-wife Brita,Anthony filters his angst about the breakup of their marriage thru the character and takes out some of his murderous intent upon his hapless mistress.

Colman won a Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actor,due to his realistically intense performance which many a fellow thespian could identify with. Part of the power of the piece came from the precise care to the details of theatrical life that gives the casual viewer an interesting behind the scenes glimpse into a world where imagination can be both a blessing and a curse in disguise:

The Coen brothers are certainly not strangers to creative difficulties and in their 1991 flick Barton Fink,they invoked the struggles of a legendary writer while putting their own offbeat spin on things. John Turturro plays the lead,who is loosely based on playwright Clifford Odets,a plucked from Broadway writer brought to Hollywood and assigned a boxing picture to work on.

Fink finds this material less than inspiring and a bad bout of writer's block settles in upon him. Other sinister events occur during his stay in Tinseltown involving the mysterious death of a new female acquaintance and a salesman staying next door to Fink at his hotel that makes his artistic problems seem tame in comparison.

Barton Fink received a mixed response from audiences and critics alike,with the only element agreed on being that one viewing is not enough:

Even the Z grade realm of Roger Corman films took this theme on. A Bucket of Blood takes place in the beatnik era and takes several sly digs at the perceived pretension of those artists.

When a impromptu attempt at hiding the accidental death of a local pet by bumbling busboy Walter(Dick Miller)is mistaken for actual sculpture,the dimwitted young man is pressured to create more works of art to please his new found admirers. Walter turns to human subjects along with murder in order to keep up with the demands of his elevated social status.

Bucket of Blood was remade for TV in 1995,as part of Showtime's "Roger Corman Presents" series(with a VHS release under the title of "The Death Artist")with Dick Miller playing a bit part in homage to the original. While superficiality still haunts the art scene of today,the beatnik vibe of the first film carries the concept off far better:

For a truly out there take on dangers of angering an artist,Phantom of the Paradise fits the bill to the key of E. Winslow Leech's transformation from hopeful singer/songwriter to dark avenger of his vision cruelly co-opted by charismatic music mogul Swan certainly qualifies for this category in abundance.

While director Brian De Palma delivers this rock n' roll remix of Phantom of the Opera in broad strokes similar to Corman's in Bucket of Blood, the cult following for this movie is much stronger for numerous reasons. Key amongst them is the music specially created for the soundtrack by Paul Williams who also plays Swan.

That blend of sly wit and emotional resonance gives the whole movie some solid ground for the characters to strut their satirical(and sometimes scary) stuff on:

With the potential success of Black Swan waiting in the wings,chances are that more projects with the same theme have a better shot at getting made than they did before. Not that folks in Hollywood are reluctant to approach scripts that deal with their favorite set of insecurities but some do cringe at the "tormented artist" persona,especially in suspense films.

However,as long as there are those out there who still feel that they're being overlooked or ignored by their peers,edgy artist stories will survive as sure as mundane cocktail party chatter does but hopefully more emotionally nourishing than the former:

No comments: