In the 1970s, journalists for the National Geographic magazine stumbled into a small, seemingly deserted theater in Death Valley. Inside was a woman of old age dressed in costume, performing ballet for an empty room. Surrounding the stage and empty seats was her artwork, a mural done over the course of a few seasons that resembles an audience of nobles and royalty. These journalists found the woman, Marta Becket, to be extraordinary. They interviewed her, trying to understand how an aged New York ballerina found her way to the desert, and what she hopes to accomplish. They discovered that she was reclusive, a woman used to being alone and yet only wanted love and understanding from human beings. When this simple desire conflicted with her quest to become a devoted artist, she turned to the desert and one of its ghost towns for solace. Amargosa attempts to chronicle her life, both in the limelight and in Death Valley.
Marta Becket started dancing at 14, which she states was a late start. Her mother nourished and supported her efforts to sing, dance, and paint, while her father remained a skeptic until his death. She made it to Broadway, dancing for years and developing beautiful relationships with dancing partners and associates. She married in her 30s and thought she had finally settled into life, until something seemed to tug at her conscience. She saw a fortune teller, but couldn't figure out what the prophecy meant. After riding through the desert with her husband, they got a flat tire and began looking for help. Nearby was a small white theater, deserted and literally falling apart. Upon discovering the theater, Becket presented her find to her husband and inquired about its ownership. The town was mostly uninhabited and in desperate need of repairs, so Becket was offered the theater for practically nothing in exchange for fixing it up. The decision to move to the desert and start a new life was done with a haste and assuredness that wasn't matched by her husband. They two split after years of an already difficult marriage, and Becket settled into the idea of truly being alone. She renamed the theater Amargosa, which is Spanish for “bitter” and was the former name of Death Valley Junction, where the theater stands.Continue Reading
Once again, Darren Aronofsky has stunned us with another story about a person trying to make it to the top. I will admit that Requiem for a Dream is still my favorite, but his touch is evident in this film and in The Wrestler. One might not consider Requiem for a Dream to be a movie about achieving greatness, but it certainly is. The mother, the son, his girlfriend, and their mutual friend, are all trying to get back in touch with the person they were in their prime. They aren’t necessarily about age or youth, but the time when the characters were most fulfilled. The Wrester tackles the same thing, where a washed up wrestling star tries to prepare for a chance to get back in the ring. Black Swan is the story of a soft-spoken, prudish ballerina who attempts to get to the top without using sexual favors; choosing to focus on perfection and grace. The present prima ballerina of her company, Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder), is being pushed out of the limelight and a fresh face is being scouted for their winter performance of Swan Lake. Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is hoping to be that fresh face. Her mother (Barbara Hershey) is an overbearing, retired ballerina who has been pushing her daughter to be the best and sheltering her naivety in an unsettling way. She gets the part and is overjoyed at the news of playing the Swan Queen. However, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), the director, worries that she won't be able to lose her inhibitions in time to pull off both sides of the role.
Swan Lake and the fantasy tale of The Black Swan both have a lot of history in the world of ballet. Aronofsky's film merges the two in order to create an emphasis on one character being both the hero and the villain, or more or less, her own enemy. When Nina begins to rehearse for the part, a spunky new dancer named Lily (Mila Kunis) comes to the company. While her form leaves much to be desired, her sensuality sparks interest in Thomas. The main reason her dancing is so alluring to him is because Nina's is so reserved. He believes that she dances the White Swan perfectly, but when it comes to the dance of the evil Black Swan, she fails to seduce. Nina becomes obsessed with Lily and sees her as a direct threat, not only in terms of the leading role, but also in terms of their director's affection.Continue Reading
The Red Shoes
The first time I heard a reference to Powell & Pressburger's The Red Shoes was Wes Anderson discussing it as cinematographic inspiration for the Royal Tenenbaums--one of my favorite films. I knew then that I HAD to see The Red Shoes and wasn't surprised when the film begins with a book being opened, just as Wes Anderson begins his own film. The similarities don't end there, and as I watched I began to see why he was so inspired by The Red Shoes: the film is beautifully shot in technicolor, superbly acted, sumptuously danced, and touchingly tragic.
Though roughly based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name, the story revolves around the struggle between a ballerina, a composer, and the man attempting to make his own dreams come true by bringing fame to them all. Anton Walbrook is dark and impressive as the antagonist, ballet impresario Boris Lermontov, whose standards are so high that he abhors the idea of his proteges disturbing their creative lives by finding love. When the two protagonists, Ballerina Vicky Page, played by Moira Shearer, and Composer Julien Craster, played by Marius Goring, fall desperately in love with each other the Company that Lermontov has assembled begins to fall apart as he loses his own grip on reality. All with the most tragic of results.Continue Reading
The Red Shoes
The tale of a prima ballerina's struggle to stay on top was recently given a fresh face in terms of Darren Aronofsky's newest feature, Black Swan. Several critics made direct references to The Red Shoes because it features a very similar story: a young and beautiful ballerina gets a chance to work for a company of great prestige, ultimately being driven to insanity under the pressure. While this film is similar on a few levels, I venture to say that it does surpass Black Swan on a visual level and has held up nicely in modern tastes. I'd even like to note that the film's surrealism was paid homage to in Black Swan, especially one scene in particular, but I'll explain that in the review of the movie.
This film is perhaps one of the most erotic and sinister pieces of art that I have seen, which is a bold statement when one compares that to present-day cinema. The claim is made simply because of the way love, greed, and desire is executed throughout the story. The saturated and vivid colors remind you of a living creature, and the imagery and techniques will not soon be forgotten by any audience. Comparatively, it is also unique because it not only focuses on the tribulations of the ballerina, but of the composer who is also trying to make his mark.Continue Reading