Friday, 1 April 2011

Has the Black Swan Stolen an Oscar?

Will Natalie Portman one day come to regret ever taking the lead role in Black Swan?

This Guardian blog sums up the case neatly enough. Perhaps the new allegations, that Sarah Lane of the American Ballet Theatre provided 85 per cent of the dancing on screen, isn't that much of a surprise really. I always thought it was a bit of a stretch to describe Portman as an accomplished dancer - she didn't look like one or move like one, however good her performance. I always suspected that some double work was inevitable. But 85 per cent? If that is the case, shouldn't the dancing have come across a little better?

I wrote when I saw the film: "The problem with ballet films is that ballet isn't there to be filmed. It is only really impressive when performed by real ballet dancers and Portman - who is wonderfully athletic compared to mere mortals - came across as a lumpen, pale imitation of the real thing. As a result, instead of being transported by the dance you end up almost giggling at it."

I stand by that. There was a heaviness to the dancing that made me think that perhaps it was mostly her. Or rather, it didn't alert me to the possibility that it might not have been. But I'm no ballet expert and the new claims are potentially explosive. Face it, if she did so little of the physical work in the film her performance is reduced: to a few high tempo rows with mommy and a lesbian sex fantasy... The stuff of mere daytime soap.

The dancing, at least the effort she put into it, regardless of the fact that it still looked less than you would see in a proper ballet, lifted the performance up two, three, ten levels.

If there has been a campaign to falsely present Portman's work as greater than it was - and the allegations have been denied - a campaign which included covering up the fact they used CGI techniques to 'mac' Portman's head on Lane's dancing body, then surely - suuuuurely - even in America, even in Hollywood, questions have to be asked about her Oscar.

There's a lot of respect for the little statuette in America and all round the world. Sure, the Academy often vote in the mildest bit of entertainmosludge imaginable as top film and celebrate and actor's performance in a bad movie because they ignored the one that was really good, but still: Oscars are credible. They rely on their credibility.

And if Portman didn't do all the dancing we were led to believe she did, then how does that Oscar look? The answer I think is seriously undermined. So will anyone be brave enough to ask for it back?


  1. hi tommaso, i disagree, she won the oscar for scenes such as the one when she breaks down in tears in the loo cubicle while on the phone to her mother, telling her she has the part... that made me well up. i don't advocate 'acting from the neck up' and her body double certainly deserves recognition, but it really is all about the eyes.

    my only regret: that hayden christensen wasn't playing herr direktor...

  2. That was a good moment, Anon. There were, I concede, a lot of good moments. But surely it was the combination of the acting with the dancing that tipped it massively in her favour...