Loose Canon: “I would be losing my mind”
In this column, we highlight films that have directly or indirectly inspired the most cherished and popular movies in contemporary cinema.
We will discuss the antecedents of a popular movie in reverse chronological order–working backwards through film history. This week, we will do Black Swan.
On one level, it seems absurd that Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan managed to become one of the most popular and critically acclaimed movies of 2010. How can a movie live up to the arty pedigree of its director and the high-art reputation of ballet while borrowing elements from popcorn horror flicks?
How does a film with a decidedly gratuitous lesbian sex scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis get nominated for Best Picture? Black Swan comes from a tradition of films that confound our ideas of “high-brow” and “low-brow” by including electrifying elements from both.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Director David Lynch makes weird films, and Mullholland Drive is no exception. While Mulholland Drive is more surreal and flat-out baffling than Black Swan, the two movies share a number of story elements.
The film stars Naomi Watts as a young, ambitious actress trying to make a name for herself as an actress in Hollywood. Her grip on reality comes into question, however, when she meets and falls in love with an amnesiac woman hiding out in her apartment.
Although its narrative is conspicuously unconventional, we can guarantee that you’ll be thrilled by its suspense, and impressed by its style.
Director Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film Suspiria tells the story of a young American ballerina who transfers to a ballet academy in the German countryside. Like Natalie Portman in Black Swan, this ballerina’s love for her art puts her at risk of danger and death.
Visually, this is one of the most beautiful and frightening movies ever made, using strong colors (particularly the color red) throughout the film to create suspense and tension. Terrifying and bloody, this is more of a grindhouse horror film than Black Swan, but it is no less artfully made.
Coincidentally, Natalie Portman has signed on as the star and executive producer of a David Gordon Green remake of the Italian classic.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Roman Polanski’s New Hollywood masterpiece is one of the most influential psychological thriller/horror movies of all time. Black Swan’s director, Darren Aronofsky, cited Rosemary’s Baby and other Polanski films as direct influences on the making of Black Swan.
Both movies portray paranoid female protagonists as marionettes in the theater of terrors that is Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The visual style of Black Swan owes something to Rosemary’s Baby, particularly in the long tracking shots that stalk Natalie Portman.
The Red Shoes (1948)
Martin Scorsese’s all-time favorite movie, The Red Shoes is an epic blend of music and melodrama, standing out with its masterful cinematography. Like Black Swan, The Red Shoes is about a dance company that decides to put on a production of an old fable – in this case, a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale called The Red Shoes.
The film tracks three characters: a young ambitious female dancer, an equally ambitious composer-in-training, and the temperamental, cruel director of the company.
Directed by legendary British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emric Pressburger, this film explores the turbulent, sometimes destructive nature of artistic ambition.
La Souriante Madame Beudet (1922)
Auteur extradoinaire Germaine Dulac’s La Souriante Madame Beudet is often credited as the first feminist film. It’s a short, silent film, which chronicles a woman’s torturous, claustrophobic relationship with her sadistic husband.
This film, which was made during the rise of the French Impressionism, helped pioneer the film language of subjectivity, employing iris shots, disjointed editing, and filters. It helped create the filmic shorthand that would make the psychological thriller genre.
If you’re thinking Dulac’s tricks might be outdated, think again. This twisted psychological drama will make your head spin.