Demons of the Dance: I had heard that Darren Aronofsky’s psychological “thriller,”Black Swan, was an all-or-nothing proposition: either you loved it or hated it. It was a little of both for me. Some of Natalie Portman’s performance I loved; some not so much. As the (mentally) unbalanced ballerina Nina, she captures the rudiments of the visual vocabulary remarkably well for a non-dancer; the skinny silhouette is dead-on, and the beautiful face doesn’t hurt. And she is quite gripping in certain key scenes. (Still, the furrowed brow – and the sighing that seemed a supplemental soundtrack to the Tchaikovsky score – are distracting.)
She plays a girl/woman haunted by a duality of personality that echoes the White Swan/Black Swan roles in Swan Lake she is picked to perform by a demanding artistic director (Vincent Cassel), despite misgivings about her ability to portray the darker character. This launches an (inner) exploratory journey with descents into madness and gore that the hate-it crowd would cite as over the top. (Like Fatal Attraction, but the stalker here is the hidden side of Nina’s own self). Winona Ryder has a more or less cameo appearance as a fading ballerina, a reminder of what a shame that she’s had a dearth of parts since her shoplifting follies of several years ago, and I barely recognized Barbara Hershey, who plays Portman’s mother and frustrated former dancer (with a couple of screws loose herself).
I actually think Aronofsky was having some fun with all this, and if I’m not mistaken, I don’t remember another major theatrical film release dealing with the world of ballet since 1977’s The Turning Point. Maybe an unintentional by-product of this movie will be a renewed interest in the art, which has steadily declined over the past few years.
All Hail Colin Firth:The King’s Speech, directed by Tom Hooper, is in itself not terribly memorable, but one will long recall the king with the stammer, George VI, as a result of Firth’s performance. He should be a lock for the Oscar this year, and kudos also to Geoffrey Rush as the miracle (word) worker, and a sweet (and subdued) Helena Bonham Carter as the future, beloved Queen Mum.
Overlooking the Streep: Saw the Kennedy Center Honors for 2010 on CBS, honorees being Oprah Winfrey, choreographer Bill T. Jones, Broadway tunesmith Jerry Herman, country legend Merle Haggard, and Paul McCartney. (Probably not a big ratings hit with the younger demographic.) Highlights were a dance homage to Jones, a newly svelte Jennifer Hudson in a number from the Oprah-produced Broadway version of The Color Purple, McCartney clearly moved as James Taylor and Mavis Staples sang “Let it Be.” But the point of this post is: why hasn’t Meryl Streep been awarded this honor yet? Even Steve Martin was a recipient in 2007, but still no Meryl? The greatest living American actress of our (or any) time? Come on. I’ll give them one more year…
[Postscript: And one more year it was. Streep will (finally) be a Kennedy Center honoree in 2011.]
I can’t help but be struck by two symbolic images over the past week that are reminders of what a long road remains in the struggle for elementary freedoms. The stark photo at left, of a Cuban flag draped over a solitary chair at the EU’s presentation of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, held in Strasbourg, France and awarded to the dissident Guillermo Fariñas, follows last week’s absence at the Nobels (and again, the empty chair, below) of Liu Xiaobo, winner of this year’s Peace Prize. The Cuban government did not allow Fariñas to travel to Europe to accept in person, and Liu Xiaobo sits in a Chinese jail serving an 11-year sentence. Both men are guilty of no more than a simple belief in basic human rights.
I’ve long maintained that had the same global shunning and sanctions (economic and otherwise) that brought down apartheid rule in South Africa been shown towards Cuba (with its own brand of day-to-day apartheidism) the end of that island’s dinosaur-relic regime may have been hastened as well. (China is, of course, a more complicated story). As it is, one feels diminished as a citizen of civilized society that these two sad images can even exist in a circa 2010 world.
Two of the trendier restaurants in Miami (for now), Sra. Martinez and Sugar Cane Raw Bar & Grill, have made their names with tapas-oriented fare, a concept I first encountered at a bar in Madrid muchos eons ago and fell in love with instantly. It’s a simple premise: many small plates to savor in lieu of the traditional appetizer/main course/dessert routine, making the gastronomic experience infinitely more adventurous. Initially (and essentially) glorified snacks, tapas have evolved into a culinary niche of increasing sophistication (McDonald’s meets Per Se!) And with that sophistication come eateries that are now as expensive as any in the haute-cuisine category. Four baby portions at an average $8–$10 each equals a pretty pricey entree at any upscale restaurant, so I imagine these establishments have healthy profit margins. Sra. Martinez, with the renowned Michelle Bernstein (doyenne of the Miami foodie scene) at the helm, is the more creative of the two; Sugar Cane mixes it up with a raw bar (sushi, sashimi, etc.)—and unexpectedly terrific torrejas for dessert. (Now there’s an idea: tapas dessert bars…)
And just like that, it’s 30 years since the murder ofJohn Lennon. One of the “where-were-you-when-you-heard” moments that remain etched in memory. One recalls the dreary, imposing Dakota building in New York City where the unbelievable took place, the vigils, the candles, “Imagine” playing over and over. McCartney’s seriously inappropriate “It’s a drag” remark on hearing the news.
Lennon, with his Dali-esque sensibilities, would have recognized the absurdity of it all. The songwriter who provided so much of the soundtrack for so many lives would probably have had a wry comment or two on how it all played out – with his assassin ultimately finding Jesus (again) in jail, repenting.
In the groundbreakingly confessional “Plastic Ono Band” (1970) – an album that presaged the coming onslaught of the singer/songwriters of the “Me” decade—Lennon wrote the weirdly prescient lyrics (in “God”): “And so dear friends, you just have to carry on. The dream is over.” Of course, it wasn’t and isn’t. It lives every time you hear… “Let me take you down, ‘cause I’m going to…” well, we all know where. And – play it loud — the brilliantly hallucinogenic “I Am The Walrus,” that never tires. And on and on. Guess it’s as good a time as any to crank up the White Album again. (Digitally, now. Sigh.)