Random Factoid #521

31 12 2010

(OK, busted, this factoid was actually published in 2011.  So what.)

If you’ll look up a few posts, assuming you are looking at this factoid from the home page, you’ll see what I named the Best Picture of 2010: “Black Swan.”  However, even though it’s my favorite movie of the year, I still take caution when recommending it.  I guess you could say this post is partially inspired by EW‘s film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum, who wrote this insightful piece this week that hits home for every movie reviewer:

When faced with a request for my off-duty opinion (which is to say, a market recommendation), I shift pleasantly and agreeably to the role of consumer advocate. If you like ______ (Jeff Bridges? ’80s videogame nostalgia? Katherine Heigl?), you’ll like _______. And if you don’t like _________ (war movies? chick flicks? Katherine Heigl?), then you won’t like _______. And at the party, in the elevator, or in the dentist’s chair, I become more of a guide than a critic. Someone asks, “How’s Black Swan?” and I answer, “Delirious. Voluptuous. Mad and grand and I liked it but…how do you feel about crazy ballet movies? Because this one isnuts.” Someone else asks, “How is Made in Dagenham?” and I reply, “It’s a perky British retro labor story, starring perky Sally Hawkins, very cute and uplifting.” What I don’t say is “It made my teeth hurt.”

So, my conundrum with “Black Swan” is that I can’t really recommend it to any adults simply because of how horrifying and edgy the content is.  It’s a movie meant to be adored by the insatiable “gimme more, gimme everything” crowd populated mostly by people my age.  For adults … yeah, well, 20 years ago most of them would have liked it.  It’s excruciating to say something is my favorite movie of the year but still not be able to recommend it to certain people.

The Los Angeles Times also saw this age divide and wrote this:

… critics about 50 or younger have embraced the horror-ballet combination almost universally: Michael Phillips (“an exciting fairy tale for grown-ups”), Andrew O’ Hehir (“a memorable near-masterpiece”) and Manohla Dargis (“shocking, funny and touching”), to name a few. Not so at the other end of the age spectrum. Some older critics liked it, but plenty didn’t. David Denby, the L.A. Times’ Kenneth Turan (“You won’t be having a lot of fun at ‘Black Swan’ “), Rex Reed and Kirk Honeycutt (“trying to coax a horror-thriller out of the world of ballet doesn’t begin to work for Darren Aronofsky”) wrote skeptical or scathing reviews.

Yes, I’m sure there are many older filmgoers who appreciate the film’s not-inconsiderable charms. But think of it this way. If you’ve seen it and are in a younger demographic, there’s a good chance you’ll suggest it to a friend. But would you recommend it to someone in their 60s or 70s? My own mother — who is, well, I’ll only say not younger than 50 — is a studious fan of both ballet and art-house movies. She told me recently she’s very interested in “Black Swan.” I encouraged her to see it, then immediately began sputtering qualifications.

What’s behind a split like this? Younger filmgoers, many of them coming of age after the worst of the Cold War and in a time of moral  relativism, might say their generation is better designed to tolerate ambiguity. And “Black Swan” dwells in a place of deep ambiguity — in its combination of genres, in its schizophrenic tone (is it high art or low camp?), in the very fabric of the film, in which we’re never sure how much is real and how much is imagined.

It feels strange and borderline paradoxical to unabashedly recommend a movie with discretion.  “If you can handle it, you’ll love it,” I say, “but if you can’t, then it’s going to a rough experience.”  But such is the beauty of the human race, I guess.  Not everyone has the same tastes.


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