Monday, March 28, 2011

Black Swan dancing double, controversy?

Friday I was a little bit shocked to see the headline, 'Black Swan' double claims Natalie Portman only did '5 percent' of full-body dancing shots in the movie. Sarah Lane claims that she was part of a cover-up to mislead the public and that a producer told her not to talk about her work with the press. Benjamin Millepied has been quoted by the LA Times as saying that 85 percent of the movie is Natalie. Millepied was a choreographer for the movie and is now engaged to Portman. The weaknesses I find in the headline being some groundbreaking, earth shattering truth are that Lane allowed Portman's head to be digitally placed on her body, she received three credits in the movie, and she did not sign a non-disclosure agreement to confirm that she would not discuss her work. Common Hollywood practice, such a legal document, to me, would be evidence of such a concerted effort on the part of the filmmakers and the studio to hush-up the issue. If such a document had been signed, I am sure Lane would be facing legal action by the studio at this point. Lane even says, "The shots that are just her (Portman's) face with arms, those shots are definitely Natalie,” she says. Lane was disappointed with the three credits that she did receive (Hand Model,” “Stunt Double,” and “Lady in the Lane” for a brief walk-on role). Three credits?! Seriously, this is hardly some Flashdance level conspiracy.
What a testament to what filmmaking and special effects can achieve. Lane's body must be an awfully close duplicate of Portman's because nothing seems out of place in the movie. All this talk can not deny that Portman did work for a year and a half for the performance. She did everything she could to experience what it was like to be a prima ballerina and to look the part. Nothing more could be asked of an actress. For the record this is what Portman openly said on the issue back in November, “It was not anything I ever could have done in a year, nothing I could’ve caught up with. But I think it was just better for all of us if I did as much as possible.” She never shied away from the fact that a double was used for dancing sequences.

I was initially a little disappointed that I may have been misled by Hollywood's PR machine. Upon completion of reading all the information, I do not feel tricked. I feel like this is someone's sour grapes. Lane was credited, no one is denying her work on the film. New York City Ballet prima ballerina Jenifer Ringer appeared on Oprah during Oscar season and shared her opinion that the movie was an accurate look at the world of ballet. Aside from the thriller/horror elements of course.
Director Darren Aronofsky released the following statement today, March 28th, to defend his actor. He had the editor count the shots and determine what percentage of them are Natalie Portman.
“Here is the reality. I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that’s 80% Natalie Portman. What about duration? The shots that feature the double are wide shots and rarely play for longer than one second. There are two complicated longer dance sequences that we used face replacement. Even so, if we were judging by time over 90% would be Natalie Portman. 
And to be clear Natalie did dance on pointe in pointe shoes. If you look at the final shot of the opening prologue, which lasts 85 seconds, and was danced completely by Natalie, she exits the scene on pointe. That is completely her without any digital magic. I am responding to this to put this to rest and to defend my actor. Natalie sweated long and hard to deliver a great physical and emotional performance. And I don’t want anyone to think that’s not her they are watching. It is.”
Here is the Entertainment Weekly article with the filmmakers' response to the claim.
The timing of this story falls within the week in which the movie arrives on DVD. After reading the initial article, I also read the blog post on Dancer Magazine's website (, the article featuring the quote from Portman's fiance and choreographer for the film and watched the effects footage. I would not recommend watching it if you have yet to see the movie. I was going to post a link to the video, but it has been removed from YouTube due to Fox copyright. I do not see that as a sign that the controversy or claim is true, more that studios work diligently to remove any of their TV shows or movies unauthorized use. I'm sure its still out there for those who want to dig for it. My feeling with special features is that I do not want too much of the movie making magic ruined. I like to keep the fourth wall up, at least a little bit. I do not need to know how they do everything. I like my disbelief suspended.

Does this affect your experience of the movie? Do you think Hollywood should offer full disclosure or is this par for the course? After Aronofsky's statement, there seems to be little left to question.

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