BLACK SWAN (2010)
When it comes to gay shit, straight guys just do it better.
Hear me out: while you, dear reader, might not be of the lavender persuasion, you *may* at some point or other come across some gay indie on a pay-TV channel, and said gay indie may or may not have featured:
a) a best-friends group of lovelorn gay guys renting a time-share on Fire Island/playing on a softball team/experiencing the “rush” of nightclub fast living;
b) a man hiring, then experiencing some cheesy psychosexual dynamic with a hustler;
c) asses, asses, asses, pecs, abs, asses, pecs, then more abs;
d) Wilson Cruz.
Most gay-themed indies will have at least two of these on the checklist, save for anything by the Todds (Haynes and Solondz)— but they’re anomalies. The vast majority of movies with gay themes are, let’s be real, unwatchable. They’re alternately self-congratulatory, overly campy, crude and badly acted/directed. The old saw that we always hear is that gays are way stylish, and always have good taste. Sorry, but it just ain’t true. An evening spent watching the flicks on Logo or the Here! network will send all but the most passive viewers screaming for the hills.
This is not to say that I don’t love gay themes— believe me, I love a good gay movie when it comes along once every ten years or so. So then why exactly are the best movies about gay life or interests of the last 20 years directed almost exclusively by straight men or women?
*NOTE: The 70s don’t count. We had Fassbinder and Schlesinger then.
Maurice. Brokeback Mountain. Humpday. The list goes on and on. And now, from Darren Aronofsky, we have BLACK SWAN, a movie that’s gayer than Bobby Trendy getting a Cosmo enema on a pride float.
While BLACK SWAN may not be a “gay” movie to most audiences, gays will feel like it’s a Christmas gift just for them. Here’s why:
The movie features:
a) Barbara Hershey as a boundary-free head case of a mother who makes her tormented daughter Natalie Portman do degrading things like eat pink frosting;
b) Pretty girls losing their minds/getting paranoid/getting jealous/doing ballet/eating each other out/stabbing each other backstage;
c) Winona Ryder getting drunk and saying things like, “Did you suck his COCK?”;
d) a neurasthenic, broken heroine who puts herself through HELL;
e) more backstage psychodrama than you can shake a stick at, and
f) sly references to every gay showbiz camp classic from All About Eve to Showgirls.
This, friends, is a recipe for THE GAYEST MOVIE EVER MADE. It has more bitchface than a Real Housewives of Wherever reunion show. It hits every little thing that camp-loving gays cherish— and yet! In the hands of Aronofsky, the movie only feels self-aware, not actually campy— it’s a Giallo treat. It’s probably the most playfully horrifying movie about mental illness ever.
Also: it’s extremely tense. In the hands of a lesser director, BLACK SWAN might easily have fallen prey to its laughable showbiz cliches— but Aronofsky manages to keep your balls in a knot for the whole 100 minutes with only a handful of (intentional) laughs.
I don’t wanna get tarred-and-feathered by GLAAD here, but I don’t know if any gay director but Todd Haynes might have done a good job with this material. I use him as an example because he’s the only director I can think of (other than Tarantino and Rodriguez) who’s so blatantly cribbed from a particular genre in order to make a movie that’s both an entertainment and a commentary— Far From Heaven. Haynes manages to indulge in all the earmarks of Douglas Sirk’s weepies without falling prey to melodrama— and the same can be said for Aronofsky, though his primary aim appears to be over-the-top melodrama. He winks at the gay camp classics he’s aping without indulging in what makes them (let’s face it) lousy movies— and therefore never has anything but total, wrenching control of his story. Like Haynes, he makes sure his form stays his function— and in Portman, demands nothing less than zealous, hysterical perfection— ironic considering the overall theme of BLACK SWAN. No out-of-nowhere diva antics here— every crazy moment is rooted in real emotion and desire. It’s what makes the movie so thrilling, wild and exhausting— and it’s shot with such a cold, clinical eye for its heroine’s suffering (despite the sudden glimpses of overwhelming sensuality) that it could only have been directed by a straight man. While Haynes can’t be called a sadist with his camera, he does know when to stop: shirtless shots of Dennis Quaid are deemed irrelevant to the story. And while BLACK SWAN does feature a detour into lezzie action, it’s not for titillation (unless you dug it, perv)— it’s necessary to the evolution, or de-evolution of the movie’s central characters.
Look, there are great gay directors out there— Tom Kalin, for one, though he only directs a movie, like, every hundred years— I guess I just wish that most of them had a better imagination. It took Aronofsky ages to finance BLACK SWAN— apparently it kept falling apart, over and over— an unsurprising fact given that it’s about a 90 lb. crazy girl doing ballet.
So, my fellow gays: demand headier entertainments when browsing for something that’ll tickle your pink gene. Chances are that the movies that rock you will be light on the sex and abs, and heavy on the subtext— and will have a hetero pal in the director’s chair.