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Brian Rose

Black Swan (2010)

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I just got out of an advance screening of Aaronofsky's latest, "Black Swan," DPd by Matthew Libatique.

 

The film itself is magnificent! It has elements of horror and suspense, with shades of Cronenberg and J-Horror, yet elevates those elements to the point that it exposes most horror films for what they are: sleazy, uninspired and hackneyed. It's bound to be misunderstood, and I doubt it'd appeal to the most mainstream of Oscar voters, yet it deserves every consideration. Natalie Portman seems a shoo-in for an Oscar nom, and at this point, I'd say she's a front runner to take home the prize.

 

Alas, in my opinion, the cinematography was not one of the films strongest points. It was shot on 16mm with Hawk anamorphic lenses, and blown up to 2.39 35mm following a 2K DI. According to IMDB, it was shot on Fuji 160, but I have my doubts. Grain at times was heavy, and the palette so flat and muted and it looked like 500. The grain was also distractingly inconsistant, going from a shot of heavy gain structure with very soft detail to one that was quite fine with very fine detail in even the long shots.

 

The camerawork was almost exclusively handheld, and at times very distracting. Shots were unintentionally incoherent, and the fast editing did not help. One rather crucial shot was so short that an audience member was prompted to ask aloud, "What was that?"

 

And for a film that emphasizes the expressiveness and psychological underpinnings of interpretive dance, the camerawork and editing undermined this somewhat by preventing the audience from taking in the dance. We are supposed to believe a key dance number is a masterpiece, based on the film audience's ecstatic reaction, yet we only see parts of it: an upper body, a cut away to a likely foot double, and so on. "The Red Shoes" is still the one to beat, and demonstrates its mastery in the way shots are permitted to linger so that we may experience the choreography.

 

Yet this is more a critique of the technique. The film itself is a marvel, and the story and performances easily outweigh the perceived flaws in the camerawork. Please see this if you can!

 

Brian Rose

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According to Fuji's site, it was shot on 160: http://www.fujifilm.com/products/motion_picture/filmed_on/north_america/#h2-2

 

Maybe they used higher-speed Kodak stock(s) for some parts.

 

That would explain the variable grain density. Some shots were indeed quite fine and a testament to what 16mm is capable of with proper lenses. And having shot fuji, some shots just did not bear their signature saturation, and had all the earmarks of 500t. The grain was so heavy, and some shots so dim that I even wonder if they pushed to 800.

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I'm curious where that lens information came from.

 

I'll have to check around, but I read somewhere that Aaronofsky used them for "The Wrestler" and was really pleased with the quality and used them again for "Black Swan."

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If memory serves, and I can't promise it will (only one cup of coffee so far today) the Wrestler was S16mm with a 2.4 extraction as Vincent says. I seem to recall reading that in AC when they spoke on the film (Jan '09)

 

TECHNICAL SPECS2.40:1Super 16mmArri 416Zeiss and Angenieux lensesKodak Vision3 500T 7219, Vision2 200T 7217Digital Intermediate

 

 

http://www.docstoc.com/docs/7910058/American-Cinematographer-January-2009

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Well guys I must've been wrong.

 

That's quite a surprise, actually, that they would opt to crop s16. Seems a rather needless sacrifice of resolution when you've got specialized anamorphic primes for R16 and S16.

 

Considering that, I never cease to be amazed what they keep managing to do with the 16mm format. Here's hoping it'll be with us for a while longer!

 

BR

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Fuji's 160 has always been a lot grainier than its sister stocks. I guess you can't have high contrast built in and no grain. I love Fuji stocks, but I've never really understood the reason for high con stocks. If I want high contrast, it's a turn of a knob in these DI days - so I'm not sure who these stocks are for. If I want grain, I go to a higher speed stock. You can always add, but not take away.

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If you want to get technical, Adam, the grain is still there in low contrast stocks, but just less apparent.

 

An old trick with B&W printing in newspapers was to print high-speed or pushed film onto low-contrast printing paper (B&W paper was available in 5 grades of contrast) to "hide" the grain of the print used to make the printing negative.

 

I don't think there's any way to hide grain in a high-contrast stock. You can just make it finer and use slower stocks. (Even '01 or F64D, I'd imagine, would be grainy in a blowup, though it looks quite nice on my HDTV).

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Beautiful, suspenseful and insane film. I've been so bold as to hail Aronofsky as today's Kubrick...and I think this film supports that statement.

 

It was almost all handheld, but I only found it distracting early on in the film, always takes me a few minutes to adjust. After that, I felt it fit the story and the pacing well. Frantic & intense.

 

Lighting was intentionally rough, mostly practical inspired sources, which left the operator free to roam with the camera. This month's AC magazing has a great interview with Libatique and a piece with Aronofsky that reveals some interesting details about what inspired them. They mention Polanski's "Repulsion" as an influence, but I believe elements of Rosemary's Baby are also present.

 

It's Portman's best performance thus far in her career, and it was nice to see her be able to do a crying scene well. Before, her crying was always way overdone with the same expression on her face, in every film. But this time I found her completely convincing as she went through quite the transformation as the story progressed.

 

I'd like to see it again, as there are bits I did miss, there's a lot of information and nuances that come at you.

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In the AC article it says Arri 416 with Ultra 16 prime lenses, Vivid 160T and 500T and a lil 7D used for Subway shoots :) Even though I've shot S16 on the Subway a few times, and it looks great :)

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I just got out of it and agree with Jonathan, except maybe for the Kubrick comparison though he might be the only one close. Beautiful, deliberate in-your-face camera work.

 

The few 7D shots did stand out some. The digital fingerprint came through the added grain/grade but wasn't a distraction really.

 

I honestly didn't notice the handheld work at first because I was still very distracted from what I had just seen in The Tree of Life trailer. Now that film will be talked about for years after its release.

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I just got out of it and agree with Jonathan, except maybe for the Kubrick comparison though he might be the only one close.

 

That's what I'm sayin'. Can't match Kubrick, but in terms of creativity, auterism, and making Hollywood work for him (and not the other way around), he's definitely of the same breed.

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Can't wait to see this, The Fountain is one of my favorites.

PS- Vincent, maybe you can tell us about the Tree of Life trailer over on the other thread?

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Lighting was intentionally rough, mostly practical inspired sources, which left the operator free to roam with the camera. This month's AC magazing has a great interview with Libatique and a piece with Aronofsky that reveals some interesting details about what inspired them. They mention Polanski's "Repulsion" as an influence, but I believe elements of Rosemary's Baby are also present.

 

No mention of "The Red Shoes"??!!!

 

Really jealous of everyone who has seen it already. This is currently the top of my list of most anticipated films and the new posters for the film just left me with my mouth open, they are soooooo amazing. I really want to find a way to get my paws on the entire set! By hook or by crook and possibly both!!!

 

Only thing slightly putting me off is all the talk of handheld. I'm soooo tired of handheld and find it very offputting. Hopefully it won't be too in yr face.

 

love

 

Freya

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I have to say that I loved the cinematography of this film. Just the work with mirrors alone, was very impressive. And the subtlety oppressive, claustrophobic feeling in the apartment was perfectly executed.

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No mention of "The Red Shoes"??!!!

 

When you see it, you'll see the Polanski influence, there isn't much resemblance to "The Red Shoes" other than the general theme of how far would you go for art. The mood of "Black Swan" is claustrophobic and sinister, and you're stuck mostly seeing everything from the perspective of one person, unlike "The Red Shoes."

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When you see it, you'll see the Polanski influence, there isn't much resemblance to "The Red Shoes" other than the general theme of how far would you go for art. The mood of "Black Swan" is claustrophobic and sinister, and you're stuck mostly seeing everything from the perspective of one person, unlike "The Red Shoes."

 

IMO, they would've been wise to study that film more. I believe the ending was rather botched. We're told through the film that she gives the performance of her life (despite falling) yet aren't really show this, since the close framing, shaky camera and choppy editing deprives us of experiencing the show for ourselves. I'm sure there are reasons they've come up with, a lot of psychobabble, not to mention since Portman isn't a professional dancer (merely a dancer turned actress), my guess is the decisions made also helped to compensate for her shortcomings. Portman does a nice job, but more and more I think they would have done better to cast a professional, even if she was an unknown. The audience really should've been allowed to experience the dance, and I felt a little shortchanged having to just go by the word of the director (the ballet director, not the film's director) who assures her she was great. This should've been shown.

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Brian, I agree that the dancing is the weakest part of the film. We believe she did a great job b/c we are told to believe it and b/c her eyes glow orange/red.

 

If you want to see great dance performances, check out "Center Stage." Yes, it's pretty cheesy, but the dancing is excellent, as two the leads were professional ballet dancers.

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Yeah, and I've see Wenders' PINA trailer, here you got some dancers !!! (can't wait to see the whole movie)

I had a chat w/ the stereograph on PINA, sounds promising (cameras rigged on a luma dancing w/ the dancers on the theater's stage, beautiful choregraphy work...)

Can't wait to see it !

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I too felt that the dance scenes were very... tight in their portrayal. At first, I felt cheated out of not seeing the performance from a comfortable distance. But I think the choice of camerawork, sticking almost entirely with the actress at a rather uncomfortable distance into the wings back onto centre-stage, was very powerful and suited the story much better. To me the final scene isn't about how the audience perceives her perfect performance, it's about the climax of Natalie's internal struggle with herself, becoming the part. I think this internal struggle was the more important theme, thus the close camerawork really fit well in my opinion.

 

Just my .02!

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