Monday, March 28, 2011

NATALIE PORTMAN HAD A STUNT DOUBLE. SURPRISED?


My favorite movie of last year BLACK SWAN comes out on DVD and Blu Ray tomorrow (Tuesday, March 29). And how timely, there is a BLACK SWAN scandal accompanying it. I doubt Fox Searchlight, the movie studio behind BLACK SWAN is thrilled with the controversy, but it may increase DVD sales, as people will be curious to see what the brouhaha is all about. Sarah Lane, a professional ballerina, has been loudly complaining all over the press this past week about how there is a cover-up to make sure she doesn’t get proper credit for working as Natalie Portman’s body double in the movie. “Of the full body shots, I would say 5 percent are Natalie,” says Lane, 27, an American Ballet Theater soloist who performed many of the film’s complicated dance sequences. “All the other shots are me.”


Now there are a couple of issues here. For starters, if she feels she didn’t get proper credit for her work on the movie whose fault is that but her own? She was not listed in the film credits as “Natalie Portman’s Body Double” but rather as a “Hand Model” and a “Stunt Double” and “Lady in the Lane” (a brief walk-on role). If she or her management didn’t push for the better credit then that’s their fault. And why come out and bitch about it all now? Sour grapes? Or perhaps an attempt to cash in on the film’s popularity?

Secondly, the studio and most of the players involved have admitted to digitally grafting Natalie Portman’s head onto Lane’s body throughout the movie. A montage showing exactly how that special effect and countless others were achieved in BLACK SWAN has been all over the Internet for months now. See for yourself at the YouTube link below. 
Apparently, the DVD extras reveal even more tricks of the trades like this. And surprise, surprise, who knew, but actors don’t do their own dance scenes or their own fight scenes or sometimes their own nude scenes. So why is anyone surprised that Portman, despite training extensively to give off the superb illusion of dancing ballet, isn’t really all that expert at it? Does anyone out there honestly believe that even with a year and a half of training to look and act the part, Natalie Portman was going to be able to dance as well as a professional ballet dancer who’s studied for 20 years?

I’ve got news for any naïf’s like the complaining Miss Lane out there: Hollywood is an illusion factory. Robert DeNiro wasn’t taking real punches through most of the filming of RAGING BULL.  Julia Roberts’ body in the poster for PRETTY WOMAN isn’t actually hers; it’s that of a fitness model. And Tom Cruise wasn’t really hanging off the cliff by just his bare hands at the beginning of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. Hollywood is expert at fakery, and those who don’t believe that might as well be sold that bridge in Brooklyn.

The very way that BLACK SWAN was shot lets you know that Portman isn’t doing it all as well. She is filmed almost entirely in close-up. There are very few full body shots. We almost never see her feet connected to the rest of her and that’s because most of the tough stuff simply couldn’t be done by anyone but a professional ballerina. The pirouetting, leaping off the toes and spinning with the precision of a top, those are all done by Lane. That’s hardly a secret, even while you’re watching the movie.
Portman is a superb actress but not a superb dancer. She didn’t win the Oscar for her expert spins she won for brilliantly conveying a ballerina spinning out of control. Her astounding trick was in showing us every aspect of her character Nina Sayers unraveling before our eyes. And the obvious body double work is also right there before our eyes as well. Sarah Lane thinks we’re too naive to notice. She’s the one who’s naive.

7 comments:

  1. Certainly the controversy will rage on for some time. And the clues have been there all along....

    On the one hand you have Aronofsky who says about Natalie (July 2010): "Most of these women who are here started dancing when they were 4, 5 or 6 years old. Their bodies are shaped differently because they started so young. She was able to pull it off. Except for the wide shots when she has to be en pointe for a real long time, it's Natalie on screen. I haven't used her double a lot." (http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2010-07-22-blackswaninside22_ST_N.htm)

    Then you have the remarks from Sarah Lane above, and also from dancer Kimberly Prosa who was Natalie’s second body double (Nov. 2010): "Natalie took class, she studied for several months, from the waist up is her. Sarah Lane a soloist at ABT, did the heavy tricks, she did the fouéttes, but they only had her for a limited time, a couple of weeks, so I did the rest of whatever dance shots they needed." (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/debra-levine/natalie-portmans-evil-twi_b_789564.html)

    Then there are the principal dancers of The Royal Ballet who saw right through the illusion (Jan. 2011): “Portman has been widely praised: she spent months in training, allowing her to do some reasonable faking with her upper body, arms and head. Her main dance material, though, is performed by body doubles.”

    “Natalie Portman needs to work on her port de bras. I really have a problem with this film using an actress, not a dancer, to play Nina: the director seems to think that, in a few months, you can learn a profession that it takes years just to understand, let alone be good at.”

    “I wish I wasn't a dancer looking at this film, so I could see it from another perspective. Portman is an incredible actress, and I can see why she jumped at this role. But, good as she is, it's impossible for her to look like a professional dancer.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/jan/05/black-swan-natalie-portman-tamara-rojo)

    Jeff is right. This is Hollywood fantasy-making at its best. Natalie deserved that Oscar for making the illusion seem real. And regardless of what body part belonged to whom, it is a marvelous piece of filmmaking.

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  2. Well said, Fan With No Name! You really pulled some great research together here. Thanks for sharing all that. Hopefully Sarah Lane's griping will go away soon and we can get back to those of Charlie Sheen!

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  3. BTW...Darren Aronofsky chimed in on this and he said he and his editor counted the dancing shots used and how many of them were actually Natalie Portman, pure and unaltered, and he said it was about 80%. Together with your arguments, and mine, I think Lane is looking more and more ridiculous in her claims.

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  4. Hi Jeff-

    Great post! Black Swan was my fav movie of the year too! Can't wait to start reading more of your blog!

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  5. Thanks, Mary! Glad to have you aboard. And I'll look forward to hearing more from you here. (BTW did you get your BLACK SWAN DVD today? It just came out.)

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  6. At the risk of sounding cynical, I think that Fox Searchlight is thrilled with the controversy. To your point Jeff, it WILL increase DVD sales. Just for a second I'd like to believe Sarah Lane's assertions, "It was all my fault really because I didn't have a manager. I thought they would kind of take care of me because they were really encouraging and really sweet and always saying how amazing I was. They were kind of rooting me on when I would have to do shots that were really hard and almost impossible even for a professional ballet dancer”. That is the sad story of thousands of performers coming to Hollywood...''I thought they would take care of me''. Almost 20 years ago there was a similar controversy from Marine Jahan who was the body double for Jennifer Beals in FLASHDANCE.

    Really, no one blames the actress in question, but there is certainly some spin from the studio.

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  7. David, you may be correct. You raise excellent points, certainly about the timing of Miss Lane's complaints. And indeed it may have been the studio PR machine that didn't do its most earnest efforts to clarify who did what during the initial press rounds. And no matter who's said what, Miss Lane only has herself to blame for her own gullibility if promises were made, not put in the contract, and thus not kept by the powers that be.

    There is a similarity on some levels to the whole Marine Jahan controversy. She did almost all of the dancing for Jennifer Beals and the filmmakers definitely fudged those truths. Frankly, it was obvious to me that Beals was not doing the work. There were almost no identifiable close-ups of her while she was doing her routines. And they made Jahan wear a ridiculous fright wig that obscured her face. And the physique of Beals and Jahan was completely different. Jahan was much shorter, more muscular and quite lithe compared to their tall and more stately body language of Beals. (Cripes, I didn't even believe a North Shore girl like Beals could be a welder!) One wonders why director Adrian Lyne cast Beals in the first place as she was a virtual unknown, had a remote personality and certainly wasn't much of an actress; and God knows he could have found hundreds of actress/dancers who could have done the part. Did he even try casting in New York?

    In the case of BLACK SWAN, the leading role there required a serious actress. And that movie is really very little about dancing and more about a psychotic woman losing her grip on reality. A Sarah Lane type would not suffice. It had to be a true film actress of Portman's caliber.

    The good news for the BLACK SWAN filmmakers is that all this attention will likely shoot up DVD sales and rentals, and the press is definitely coming down on Portman's side as well.

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