The Farfield is an occasional series where I write about something other than gaming.
I got around to watching Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2012) recently and found it stimulating. I’m not convinced it says much about the grander scheme of things but, as a character study, I loved it.
As I usually do after watching a slice of television or cinema that I find engaging, I went online to see whether people had taken to it like a swan to water. Turned out it was a Marmite film. There seemed to be as many people who judged it insufferable, pretentious nonsense as those who thought it was high art.
And I experience this sudden pang of anxiety, that maybe the work has fooled me, maybe it is vapid rubbish after all.
Black Swan is ionospherically over the top, and some of its effects are overdone, but it is richly, sensually enjoyable and there is such fascination in seeing Portman surrender to the madness and watch her face transmute into a horror-mask like a nightmare version of Maria Callas. It is exciting, quite mad and often really scary.
If one is to judge a film by how well it fulfills its intentions, then Black Swan is a success. It stands out from the crowd by dint of sheer audaciousness, and originality. On an intellectual basis, I thought it was ludicrous; on an emotional level, I found it a complete and utter turn-off.
There’s never going to be unanimous agreement about any film, but it was clear some were aghast that Black Swan had stolen so much attention.
Indeed, many of the ingredients of Black Swan are not unique. The artist chasing perfection to oblivion. Doppelgängers to represent suppressed personality. Body horror. There were some clichés I’d seen plenty already like the uptight protagonist coerced through a drink and drugs binge to open up. And there was that “seduction” scene in which the ballet director manfumbles Natalie Portman and she springs opens like a well-thumbed paperback to his grotesque advances: it’s difficult to figure out whether the film is merely relating a fictional happening or attempting to impart some dark wisdom about what women “really want”.
Aronofsky is the kind of director I should like more than I do but I found The Fountain (2006) too “constructed” and Pi (1998) not as engaging as I expected. Yet Black Swan came together for me and has some great moments. See, I am as fussy as the rest of you so I found myself going over the memories of Black Swan after seeing so much negativity about the film. I didn’t want to be the last person at the back cheering the Emperor’s New Clothes after it had become obvious to everyone else that there was nothing to see here. I don’t know why I have this reaction, an urge to soulsearch my enjoyment of something, unlike some others who react with outright aggression: how dare you suggest I’m stupid for enjoying this film/game/music! I’m more hardy when it comes to games after years of Electron Dance writing. If I liked a game, I liked it. If you didn’t, you didn’t. No one is at fault here.
There was another element at work with Black Swan, though. Over the last year, I’ve been producing a film containing elements that might be classified as preposterous or pretentious. Pretentious writing is something that I can shrug off, but pretentious film work – lacking the self-effacing sentiment which I usually use to shield myself – feels more sticky. Like the small-time humble developer who is forced to blow their own marketing trumpet for sales, it implies the artist behind the work has unshakeable self-confidence. The artist, if you did not already guess, does not.
But my YouTube works usually do poorly so I chose to go as far as I felt I needed to go. No holding back. If you keep polishing away every pock and scratch, you’ll end up with something bland, right? Right?
Like Black Swan, I expect my “short film about videogames” to be a Marmite experience. Much of it is open to interpretation. Some will probably hate it, do a sigh and a rollseyes. But not everyone. And that’s good enough for me.