A lot has been written about Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, both in the mainstream media and even here on TNB. It was an important feature of Matt Baldwin’s “When Stupid People Go To Smart Movies,” and was also mentioned in “Legacy, Lightcycles, and Lady Gaga,” a discussion between Cynthia Hawkins and Gloria Harrison. As it happens, I’ve also tapped Ms. Hawkins, who has become TNB’s resident film expert, for a post about Black Swan. Below you’ll find a conversation she and I recently had about how audiences perceive independent films compared to those built using the more traditional Hollywood model, as well as some questions for you, the TNB reader. Thanks in advance for sharing your time and thoughts with us.

Richard Cox: Black Swan is everything I love in a film. It plays with the nature of reality, with the subjective human experience, and it takes the viewer on a visceral ride that never lets you catch your breath. But based on description alone, it’s not the sort of film you would expect to pull in big audiences. A dark, psychological thriller set in the world of ballet?

Cynthia Hawkins:Add to that the art-house look of it, with its tight shots of what seem to be handheld digital cameras recording the surreal experiences of Nina, and the mere fact that it’s Aronofsky.Even so, Black Swan might be his most accessible film to date.Working with the plot of Swan Lake does at least two mainstream things for him:It produces a traditional story arc and creates suspense (not in what’s going to happen but how).

RC: It’s interesting how much attention is given to Aronofsky’s technique. For me it often feels like a reality-show camera crew is following her every move, which only adds to the authentic feel of the film. And I’m glad that larger audiences are finally being introduced to Aronofsky’s work. I feel like he brings something to movie-making that is increasingly missing: actual, old-fashioned storytelling.

CH:And following her very closely, almost claustrophobically close.There are several scenes in which it feels like we’re stalking Nina with our noses just inches from that tight swirl of her ballerina bun.Yes, actual, old-fashioned storytelling, and more often than not a story born of a character’s internal conflicts.That’s what draws me into Aronofsky films again and again, these intense character studies he’s so good at.And then when you add the “reality-show” effect to something like The Wrestler or Black Swan it ratchets up the levels of voyeurism and complicity.

RC: You’re absolutely right about his films exploring the essence of humanity and the internal conflicts that drive us…and sometimes drive us insane. It’s the same thing that drew me to Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, which has long been one of my favorite films. I enjoy it when stories unnerve me, and when they explore the tapestry of human emotion, extreme or subtle, good or bad. It surprises me how so many films get made that don’t attempt to do so, like many mainstream, bigger budget projects that often seem to contain obligatory over-the-top action and obvious humor.And yet plenty of my friends express almost the opposite opinion, that they enjoy mindlessly entertaining films because they’re looking for an escape from real life.

CH:I can see that, in a way.I suppose this is why I’m such a big fan of blockbusters like Inception or the Abrams Star Trek, films that use their movie magic to transport you someplace you couldn’t necessarily experience otherwise.But then there are the unimaginative mainstream films like Little Fockers and The A-Team, etc.I have this theory that those types of films are appreciated less for their sense of escape and more for the comfort of the “known.”You know the jokes.You know the plots.You know the characters.Everything’s familiar here.Safe.

There’s not a lot to be gained from “safe” though.I always leave movies that invest themselves in complex characters and experiences, dark or otherwise, feeling a little more attuned to the world, like everything’s suddenly more vivid and resonant and meaningful.Sometimes it’s better to tap into that tapestry of human emotion, as you describe it, for better or worse, than to check out from it.

RC: I’m certainly not a snob when it comes to blockbusters. I’ve defended Titanic more than once on TNB, and I’m happy to do it again. I can make a case for nearly any James Cameron or Steven Spielberg film, and regular readers here know you and I are members of an expansive Star Wars fan club. I’m also a huge fan of plenty of comedies like Role Models and Wedding Crashers and even the original Meet the Parents. As a writer it’s easy to say this, but ultimately for me it comes down to the script. I might prefer intense movies about the human experience, but I can enjoy a juvenile comedy if it’s cleverly written. I can get behind a special effects extravaganza if the story works on a basic level. From a sensory standpoint, films can transport you to another world in a way no other medium can, but effects alone don’t cut it. For instance, The Matrix hooked me early and thrilled me in unexpected ways. But the second one was a letdown, and I fell asleep in the third.

So let’s talk about film endings. Blockbuster films seem overwhelmingly to end with the protagonist achieving his desire, so often that for most of us the outcome is usually never in doubt. And yet you and I have both been wildly entertained by films that ended tragically. What do you think makes for a rewarding ending?

CH:Easy.A believable ending.Any ending that stays true to the arc of the story or the character’s progress or the circumstances, whether it’s positive or negative, is going to be a rewarding ending for me.

RC: I think you’ve nailed it. I would add that in films other than comedies I’d also like the ending to be in doubt. Like, I don’t want it to be a given that all will end well, because if it is, what’s the point of telling the story at all?

CH & RC: And now we’d like to ask TNB readers and contributors to offer your own opinions. How do you feel about Hollywood “blockbuster” films versus those produced by independent studios? What sorts of endings work for you? And how do you feel about films that veer toward the dark and artistic and yet appeal to a mainstream audience? We think Black Swan comes close, but what do you think? Can such a film honestly exist?

Thanks again for your time.

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RICHARD COX is the author of The Boys of Summer, Thomas World, The God Particle, and Rift. He can be reached on Facebook or at his personal web site, www.richardcox.net.

123 responses to “Black Swan: Mainstream Indie Film?”

  1. Not sure I like your use of the word “indie.” I don’t see Black Swan as being an indie film. Seems mainstream to me. Big director. Big actors. Hollywood-friendly Executive Producers with long paper trails of Hollywood mainstream films. Up for awards. Mass Hollywood-style distribution. Hollywood production crews, etc. I liked “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler.” But to me indie films as a term got lost in the Hollywood mix years ago. The real indie films are those made by filmmakers lost to the Hollywood elite. Indie filmmakers to me are today’s guerrilla moviemakers. People like those I work with who are tangential to the Hollywood machine (Yet would love to break in or just tap into their own distribution base without the need for Hollywood methods). I see Hollywood machine all over Black Swan. Just my opinion. And my opinion means dirt, especially when it comes to a clod war fight over the meaning of a word.

    Now to answer your questions:

    How do you feel about Hollywood “blockbuster” films versus those produced by independent studios?

    Let Hollywood make the blockbusters and let the little guys make everything else that doesn’t have to parallel the Hollywood’s silly formulaic methodology that often leaves us bored.

    What sorts of endings work for you?

    Happy, sad, mad, cool, explosive. Endings that fit the story. Black Swan is a film about a descent into madness that paralleled the story of the ballet’s story. It needed to end the way it did. Predictable, but good timing don’t you think with the Jesus piercing of the side sacrifice for her art kind of ending with the big hoopla madwoman performance?

    And how do you feel about films that veer toward the dark and artistic and yet appeal to a mainstream audience?

    Isn’t Star Wars dark and artistic?

    We think Black Swan comes close, but what do you think? Can such a film honestly exist?

    Ballet is art. Film is art. Story is art. Black Swan is all of those. One can’t say that film isn’t art. And it was distributed to a mainstream audience and this article is talking about it. It’s all make-believe worlds anyways. That’s what art is. Whether people like such films is up to the audience. I love films. But my favorite movies from last year were The Social Network and The King’s Speech. Black Swan was great for eye candy and a case study of madness. But it was predictable. The ballet scenes were beautiful and reminded me of the ballet dancer I once dated. So it made the film a little more personal for me.

    OK I’m winded.

    • You’re right, Nick. I think in a lot of ways the “independent film” title is a misnomer. Maybe it’d be better to say that we mean movies made for the sole purpose of being your typical Hollywood blockbuster versus movies that get relegated to the itty-bitty side theaters at the Cineplex (if that, maybe they’re just on at the art-house theater), for maybe a two-week run before getting squeezed out by bigger money-makers. And then there are the truly independent films, technically-speaking independent films, like the one you’re working on. I took a look at the Hectic Films fundraising page yesterday, and, man, you all are to be commended for your hard work and getting this project going outside of the Hollywood machine!

      Those of us who count Star Wars among the dark and artistic are a special breed. I’m glad to have such good company!

      And I loved Kings Speech. Loved it. Firth is my guy, though. I’m biased.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Yes, Nick, defining terms like “independent” is part of what this post is about. “Mainstream indie” is sort of an oxymoron, no? I’m not sure there are hard and fast definitions anymore. Although I can get on board with your guerrilla filmmaker idea, Aronofsky was once considered one of those as well. Does his success mean he no longer is? I feel like talent is talent, regardless of budget. But this conversation is also going on below with Becky and Cynthia. Is Aronofsky now a sellout?

      Thanks for your detailed comments. Lots to think about.

      • I don’t think in terms of sellouts. Why blame people for success? Everything is a baby step. And there’s always room for personal projects no matter how commercial of a success one becomes.

  2. Becky Palapala says:

    You know. I never quite know how to answer these kinds of questions because, for one thing, I never know exactly what qualifies as “indie” and what doesn’t. Like, part of me almost thinks that being sure of that distinction indicates a level of film snobbery that I am unprepared to contend with.

    Still, I’ll make a go of talking about it in a general way:

    I like indie comedies. Without a doubt. They tend to be dark, sort of cringe-worthy, and the dialogue is generally very well-written. Snappy, witty, clever. Yes and more yes. Plus, they are only very rarely pure comedies. There’s generally a healthy balance of poignancy in there.

    Independent dramas tend to be a little tedious for me. I can’t stomach anything that takes itself too seriously, and 9 times out of 10, indie gravitas is just too much. Part of me feels that one major motion picture with a huge budget and even a predictable storyline that unexpectedly gets me to think or feel something is worth 20 super srsly clubs over the head by some scowling MFA indie director.

    I tend to be a big fan of Wes Anderson. But this brings to mind a compelling issue: What happens when the indie filmmakers become mainstream?

    One of my other favorite directors: Tim Burton (or Guillermo Del Toro, for a similar example).

    There was a time in which Tim Burton was the weirdest thing going. But the 90s, with the whole goth thing going on, was shangri-la for Burton’s weird, macabre, surreal, childish and yet really, really fucking creepy aesthetic.

    So suddenly Tim Burton is Tim Burton and his high-concept stuff is suddenly a favorite of mere mortals. Burton, though never really normal, is nevertheless kicked out of indie/inventive territory not for changing what he’s doing but because the normals suddenly like him. Indie is mainstream.

    When I ran out and saw Big Fish, did I see an indie film? I mean, it can hardly be said to adhere to any kind of immediately recognizable blockbuster standard, but to the best of my knowledge, it wasn’t produced by an independent studio.

    I don’t care what kind of studio made the movie, honestly. I just don’t want to be disappointed. If I want to see Bruce Willis or some giant, transformable robots blow some shit up, that’s what I want to see. If I want to watch that gorilla Seth Rogan make dick jokes, that’s what I want to see. If I want some super-intellectual indie comedy that makes me feel smarter than everyone else when I understand the jokes, that’s what I want to see. Etc.

    • Usually if a filmmaker appeals to me, that person is destined to go mainstream. I’m like the indie kiss of death. Except for Hal Hartley. Somehow he’s immune. I’m sure my indie kiss of death is responsible for Wes Anderson and Tim Burton being so well received by mere mortals. Maybe that’s because I’m half mere mortal.

      I mentioned to Nick above that what qualifies as independent film has been hard to classify for some time. If you consider its technical definition, then, yeah, a lot of the films thought to be in the independent genre really aren’t. Maybe we’re talking more about the aesthetics. In that case, I’m not sure what the right term is ….

      Totally agree with your last paragraph. That’s it for me exactly. You win!

      • Becky Palapala says:

        I win!!!

        *cue “We Are the Champions”*

        Had no idea who Hal Hartley was. I just looked through his films on IMDB, and I don’t think I’ve seen even one of them.

        Another indie-gone-mainstream/ indie-impersonation faction: The Coen Bros.

        • Hal Hartley may be an acquired taste. I love all of his work though.

          Ah yes, of course the Coens! And Tarantino. And maybe even Mike Leigh (is he officially big news yet?). My fault. I loved them early on. Indie kiss of death. And this isn’t to say at all that mainstream is *bad,* but you do have that sense when you appreciate some thus-far largely undiscovered filmmaker that their work is precious, all yours. Then they make it, and you have to share. With everybody. Hmph.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Oh man. Don’t get me going on Tarantino…

          I’ve struggled my entire adult life to articulate exactly why I can’t stand him, how his movies make my skin crawl (but not in a positive or titillating way), how I’m convinced he must be the most tedious dinner guest in the history of ever…

          Of the films he’s touched, I only really enjoyed Natural Born Killers, Hero, and Kill Bill 2.

          Mike Leigh…hmmm…doesn’t ring a bell. A quick look at IMDB doesn’t turn up anything I remember seeing.

          This is one thing I miss about the movie store. Wandering up and down the new releases wall(s), I inevitably would turn up at least indie film that looked interesting and rent it.

          This seems to happen less with Netflix for some reason.

        • I remembered you didn’t like Tarantino! I almost didn’t list him, but he’s another good example of someone who shot to popularity from the depths of … wherever he came from. And probably just because I liked him. My apologies to you for that!

          I really hate that Netflix skews its recommendations for you based on what you’ve already seen. It keeps you in a bubble. I *hate* that.

          Well, Mike Leigh’s a British director — I think he’s more popular over there. Secrets and Lies is a good introduction, though Naked is by far my favorite (very dark and disturbing, though).

        • Matt says:

          Leigh’s new one is supposed to be quite good, as well. Happy-Go-Lucky made me want to marry Sally Hawkins.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I feel you regarding Tarantino, Becky. I’ve always enjoyed his films vaguely, like I liked them less than I thought I should, but I have to say that Inglorious Basterds was different. For me. I loved everything about that film. It’s like Tarantino at his best and doing the least of his Tarantino-esque things.

          Easily my favorite of his projects. You didn’t list that one, so no?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I haven’t seen it yet.

          I’m not usually in a rush to go out and see his movies.

          People have said good things, of course, and made me curious, so I’m sure I’ll see it eventually.

        • Matt says:

          “It’s like Tarantino at his best and doing the least of his Tarantino-esque things.”

          I’d argue you get that sense more from Jackie Brown, which was Tarantino doing Elmore Leonard. Basterds was extremely Tarantino-esque.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I’m no Tarntino expert. Not by any means. But most of his films seems to have a certain cool factor aesthetic that doesn’t seem as obvious in Basterds. Mainly because he had to dress his soldiers in accurate attire and place them in believable settings. And he was working from what I believe is his best script. It seemed as though he was telling a real story and not so much effecting a mood.

          But as I said, I’m no expert on his work. Just the opinion of a lay moviegoer.

        • Zara Potts says:

          Ugh. Tarantino.

          David Lynch is a director on my ‘must see’ list.
          I agree with Becky, not just about Tarantino, but Burton too. He’s one of my faves.

          As for other directors who I can’t get enough of:

          Wim Wenders
          Lasse Halstrom
          and David Lynch.

          But I’m a sucker for a great story – and I agree with you, Richrob – ‘Titanic’ had me hooked from start to finish. I thought it was everything a good classic movie should be. Although, I could have done without Celine Dion.

  3. I’m glad to see Black Swan getting talked about and doing well at the box office, since I think it offers more for viewers to chew on than any other film this year. Its success is surprising in that it is not only dark (because dark sells when packaged as horror), but intelligently dark with fairly complex and even uncomfortable themes. I find it addressing issues of performance and perfection that many people on various kinds of stages are attempting to process and I like the way it illuminates through hyperbole.

    As for the blockbuster/indie question, I agree with Nick that the distinction is so blurred now, what with entities like Disney/Miramax, Universal/Focus Features etc. For me the biggest plague du jour of bigger budget films is 3D, but that’s a rant for another time.

    I’ve enjoyed many a massive, star vehicle studio release while also savoring indie gems. But we all know there’s plenty of overrated indie stuff out there. One that springs to mind that has at least the whiff of indie about it is The Kids Are Alright. With the exception of Annette Bening’s character and a handful of clever lines, I felt like the movie had surprisingly little to offer. Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore seemed to phone in the performances and his plotline, around which the film is built, gets dropped abruptly.

    Anyway, I love good movie talk, so thanks for this interview.

    • Would you believe I haven’t seen The Kids Are Alright yet? I really want to, despite hearing mixed reviews. I’ll try to explain this without spoiling it … but … I’ve heard a decision is made that’s antithetical to the whole idea of what the film promotes in its trailer. Does that make sense to you? I don’t want to give more details than that, because, though it’s already been spoiled for me, it might ruin it for someone else. What I’d heard sounds like a rather disappointing turn of events to me. Hmph. But I’ll see it anyway.

      • Kimberly says:

        Oops!!! I was writing while you were and didn’t have the good taste to edit the spoilers. But at least I warned folks!! 😀

      • Matt says:

        Very, very good performances from a so-so script that makes some daring choices in the first act and then veers sharply back into “safe” territory in the third act. Personally, I thought the treatment of the Ruffalo character was extremely cruel.

  4. Kimberly says:


    As a working independent filmmaker, I’m super-hesitant to jump in here (for fear of not getting a lick of work done today as a result of the potential conversational vortex), but I have to pop in with a bit of semantic clarification:

    For those who think the line is blurred, the definition of “Independent Film” (in Hollywood’s eyes) has to do strictly with the financing. Private Equity vs. Studio Money. So films like Black Swan ($13M budget) and The King’s Speech ($15M) fall under the same umbrella as The Kids Are All Right ($4M) and The Puffy Chair($15K) and Why We Wax ($2K), only because they were not studio-financed.

    So there’s that.

    But of course, when most say “Independent Film” that’s not what they’re talking about. They’re talking about festival films: ones that Becky (as always) coined so perfectly as “srsly scowling MFA directors.” And yeah, I’m with her. Most of those are self-indulgent pieces of crap (trans: “Mumblecore” – but that’s a different post entirely.)

    However, as to the definition of “Mainstream”: The Kids Are All Right got an Oscar nom this morning – lots of ’em actually. And here’s my feeling on it. This film, were it not for its mega-watt star power, would have (sadly) never survived the Gay & Lesbian film festival circuit. Nor, without the “normal” heterosexual affair between Moore & Ruffalo, would the story have been palatable to as wide an audience as it garnered.

    Personally, I didn’t find that part of the story believable and therefore, it pissed me off. I found it pandering to the box office. But I understand it. The greater message of the film was important to have “come out” (of course it’s intended) and therefore, Lisa made some “mainstream” choices for digestion’s sake.

    So I think Cynthia’s right when it comes to what makes an independently-financed film “Mainstream” – familiarity and accessibility. People like what they know.

    And what happens (I believe) to when Indie filmmakers go bad, isn’t when they make things more accessible, because we’ve seen it work time and time again (My Big Fat Greek Wedding anyone?), it’s when they lose their singular voice to the committee-driven machine of the studio accounting departments who are catering in order to please everyone so that they can get their $50M return + profit share, so at the end of the day, they end up pleasing no one (My Big Fat Greek Marriage(TV) anyone?)

    Okay – I have a trip to LA to plan.

    Love you! Mean it!

    • That’s why I didn’t mention it being all about financing. You say yourself: “But of course, when most say “Independent Film” that’s not what they’re talking about.”

      So it’s a big blur. And it changes depending on who I talk to in the industry and out of the industry.

      And fun to read your comment because your passion comes out!

      I don’t know why you’re judging Mumblecore though. A lot of Hollywood films are self indulgent pieces of crap too. Just sayin’. lol.

      Damn, your budget for Why We Wax was only two grand! Sweet!

      • Kimberly says:

        Heh. Passion = ridiculous run-on sentences and horrific grammar.

        Regardless, I thought it important to clarify that when Hollywood calls a film “Independent,” (especially when it comes to awards) financing is the sole criteria.

        Subject matter is an entirely different beast. 🙂

        • I don’t notice run-ons cause I am the king of them. Damn that Hollywood! Curses!!

        • Richard Cox says:

          I love what Kimberly has to say about the singular voice. Writing by committee and focus group seems like a soulless way to make art. I understand it can be effective in TV to have teams of writers, because you’re churning out so many episodes that one guy can’t do it all. But to have studio execs in there changing creative elements to suit a business model, I mean, gross.

          As I mentioned in the post, a lot of folks hate James Cameron, but he has a proven financial track record that allows him to make big budget films with a singular vision. Maybe you can’t compare Titanic to an art house film, but when you compare it to a typical committee driven blockbuster film, it’s far and away better because he has ultimate control. And it works. But Hollywood seems to think only like five people out there have the talent to do that, and all the rest have to cater to The Man. We’d have a lot more awesome films out there if profits were measured in the longer term. There’d be more willingness to occasionally fail to serve the greater goal of producing amazing films, which will almost always inevitably make money.

          Then again that could be said about any industry, I suppose. Taking the longer view.

        • Tom Hansen says:

          I just want Cameron/Ron Howard etc to do something original. Howard seems incapable of it, and Avatar was a blatant ripoff of Dances With Wolves–disillusioned soldier switches sides and joins the simple living natives to fight against evil empire. I guess I’m just disappointed when these guys that have all these resources don’t try to do something that hasn’t been done before. I guess that’s why I like Gaspar Noe and von Trier

        • Kimberly says:

          So funny Tom! Cynthia and I were JUST discussing Howard’s new “artsy” venture, RESTLESS, over on Facebook.

          Here’s the logline:

          “The story of a terminally ill teenage girl who falls for a boy who likes to attend funerals and their encounters with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII”

          And the trailer:


          What do you think? Utter dreck or daring new adventure?

        • Richard Cox says:

          I’ve seen one film by Gaspar Noe. Irreversible. It was a well-made film, amazingly executed, but I didn’t buy it at all. With everything in reverse, the brutal murder at the beginning made no sense. Everything seemed pointless. Which I realize was the point, but why even make a film like that? It’s not that I was shocked or couldn’t take it. I just feel like stories should have something to say and transport us somehow, if even in the smallest way, rather than just cataloging a bunch of awfulness.

          I should try something else of his. He’s obviously talented. But in that film it seemed like he was trying way too hard. Like too pointless for his own good.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          I thought one of the ideas behind the reverse scene order was to disconnect you from the motives of the scene in Irreversible – rather than, as in a Hollywood film, cheer when the bad guys get it (as they have been making themselves more and more deserving of throughout the film), you’re denied that catharsis. You just have two guys beating the skull of another, and yet, they’re the heroes.

          I like that that’s the point of Irreversible, that it’s available to offer contrast to something like, say, Ransom, where Gary Sinise keeps upping the ante until he goes down in the final act.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I get that, Simon. About disconnecting one from the motives. For me, personally, watching a man’s skull being smashed 22 times with a fire extinguisher with no understanding of the motive was not in the least bit entertaining. Nor did it illuminate anything about humanity, or connect the dots of our existence in ways I hadn’t thought of before, or any of the things I hope for out of art. Of course someone else might get something out of it that I didn’t.

          Requiem is in some ways almost as brutal as Irreversible. A horrifying sex scene and the heroin arm, they were both extremely graphic and intense. But those characters ended up in those situations because of their choices. And even if the woman in Irreversible was a victim of a random crime, at least the punishment of the rapist would have elicited an emotional response from me had the movie occurred in forward order.

          An important point is that I wasn’t sickened by the murder. Rather I felt nothing at all. Personally I don’t feel like the film qualifies as a story.

          Also, I’m not sure why someone would make a film as a contrast to something else. Why not make a good film that stands on its own, rather than an angry response to conventional storytelling? Just for the sake of it?

        • Simon Smithson says:

          I’m not sure the film was intentionally made as a contrast, but it’s interesting that it provides one. And, if nothing else, the fact we’re still talking about it now is proof that it’s provoked more discussion than the run-of-the-mill revenge stories of a similar vein – say, for example, Taken, with Liam Neeson.

          That being said, I totally didn’t care about the murder either. Having the many pieces presented, even if in fractured order, did not add up to a whole pie.

          Although maybe that’s a sign of the extreme de-sensitisation of cinema these days.

          Did you ever see Old Boy?

        • Richard Cox says:

          I haven’t seen Old Boy but I’ve heard it was very good. Should I give it a go?

          And you’re right. We are still talking about Irreversible. But we also still sometimes talk about the Crusades…as a way to remember what not to do. Right?

    • Yes that’s an important clarification, Kimberly, on the term “indie”. I suppose the truly unclear definition is that of “arthouse” film, which studios have divisions set aside for, for better or for worse.

      And then I suppose the real spoiler in The Kids Are All Right is that an “arthouse” film about same-sex relationships is capable as being just as mediocre as The A Team.

      • Kimberly says:

        I like the term “arthouse”. It’s infinitely more descriptive to the subject matter vs financing debate. Thank you for reminding me of that word.

        Tragically, that word is also the kiss of death for financiers who expect to see any kind of return whatsoever. Arthouse movies rarely, if ever, break the profit line – and investors nowadays want their money back.

        Side note: You know what’s really tragic (and Kevin Smith echoed this thought just a few days ago at his pre-Red State Sundance premiere)? It’s tragic that independent filmmakers today need to know all this business crap and are potentially crippled by it before even getting to make the film in question. Art goes right out the window – it’s all about the bottom line.

        Ah… and here comes the conversational vortex I was so desperately hoping to avoid today…

        • Gloria says:

          I’ve been listening to Kevin Smith podcasts for months now. I’ve recently gotten hooked on the one he does with his wife Jen. It’s called Plus One. I was just listening to one today (episode five or six) where Smith goes off on a 40 spiel about just that – financing. I love everything he has to say about it. If you haven’t heard it, Kimberly, you’d probably love it. You can download it on smodcast.com.

        • Kimberly says:

          Cool! I’ll look it up!


      • Why you guys gotta be so mean to Mr. T? j/k

    • Yay Kimberly! I knew you’d pop in and set us straight.

      Okay, this passage:

      “And what happens (I believe) to when Indie filmmakers go bad, isn’t when they make things more accessible, because we’ve seen it work time and time again (My Big Fat Greek Wedding anyone?), it’s when they lose their singular voice to the committee-driven machine of the studio accounting departments who are catering in order to please everyone so that they can get their $50M return + profit share, so at the end of the day, they end up pleasing no one (My Big Fat Greek Marriage(TV) anyone?)”

      This is it, isn’t it. Losing that singular voice is the danger. I think this perfectly addresses comments further up the chain: A filmmaker who makes it big is not a sell-out. A filmmaker who knowingly sacrifices this singular voice to make it big or to sustain their new status is a sell-out.

      Now go pack!

  5. Gloria says:

    Look, I don’t mind a disappointing or unexpected ending. And formulaic endings (especially in romances) piss me off and make me want to demand my money back. My favorite romances? Leaving Las Vegas and Harold and Maude. Even 500 Days of Summer. None of these movies end in a cliche way. Sure there’s an element of redemption at the end of them, but it’s not necessarily warm and fuzzy. I don’t need warm and fuzzy.

    What I don’t like about Aaronofsky (see also: Lynch) is the way he gets in my brain, roils the water, and leaves. I feel gross after watching his films. I do not appreciate this. Do I appreciate that it takes a skilled film-maker to be able to do this? Sure. Whatever. But I don’t appreciate being forcibly taken and then left with my knickers around my ankles and a confused look on my face.

    • Hi Gloria! *waving madly* I’m not sure what you’re trying to say about Aronofsky and Lynch. So you don’t like their films? Heh, kidding! That description, good gawd! Makes me want to give you a hug. I share that feeling regarding Lynch, actually, and I can’t even define why I have an aversion to him. I’ve tried really hard not to. We’ve had this discussion before, I think.

      500 Days of Summer is sitting at #3 in my Netflix queue right now. Looking forward to seeing it …

      • Seriously, is a novelist a sell-out for writing commercial fiction to make some money? Isn’t film the same way? Isn’t that what you’re really saying? Aren’t we really forgetting something here? I can name (shall not name) a bunch of authors, disgruntled ones, because they didn’t make shiz off their books, because, well, they didn’t have big enough book deals. So, why not shoot for big book deals. Write to the audience that demands the stories that sell! And the same in film when the network and opportunity arises. No sell outs, just great strategies for success. Just look at Avatar. I hear people complain all the time about it. But I would have given my children away to work on that film. I’d throw an indie film into a temporary or even a permanent wastebasket for such an opportunity. Wouldn’t you if some publisher said, “Hey there, I want you to write some Harry Potter potty training art books for $1 million. Will you do it?” Too bad I gave my kids away at a swap meet for some new shoes already.

        • Oops, I should have posted this further up. My posting strategem is a failure today.

        • Well, here’s the thing. I can sit on my high horse of idealism and say so-and-so disappoints me because he or she created something that was a waste of their talents just to make money. I can say from that same perspective that what he or she created was absolute drivel. I can call he or she a sell out for it. But this is me as a consumer. I want talent. I want substance. I don’t want to be disappointed.

          As a creative person, I’m sympathetic. I have absolutely written things I didn’t really care to write just to earn money. I get it. And you just made me feel really, really badly about my use of the word sell-out, and I am crying. You made me cry, Nick Belardes. Crying like that blue chick in Avatar. Like a foghorn with a kink in it.

          But this in no way excuses the people responsible for The Green Hornet.

        • I did not make you cry!!! If you cry then I’m going to cry and where will that get us???

          I refuse to see the Green Hornet. I’m too good for it. lol

        • You better be lying to me. Wounded Avatar natives make me cry alien blood.

        • Okay, I’m just crying on the inside. Lil bit. Okay, I’m not crying at all.

        • Matt says:

          As far as sell-out goes….I pretty much use the term for a creative filmmaker who then goes and makes a wholly commercial picture, most often in the case of a directer making a script they had no hand in. Kevin Smith making Cop Out. Gavin Hood going from making something as great as Tsotsi to a piece of dreck like X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

          It’s not always a bad thing. Steven Soderburgh’s Ocean’s pictures are “sell-out” movies, but they’re all entertaining to various degrees, AND paid for his more experimental work like Bubble, The Good German, and The Girlfriend Experience.

        • I love the Oceans films. All of them, even though everyone slams the second one. If these films had been done by someone else, I don’t think I would have the same opinion of them. Soderburgh’s sense of dialogue and character is a big part of what holds them together for me. Really good example of doing something commercial *and* creative at the same time.

          Wait. Kevin Smith did Cop Out?!? Ugh.

        • Gloria says:

          I’ve been listening to Smith’s Smodcast with regularity and near-obsessive fervor for about eight months now. He’s on the record about Cop Out. He owns that it’s a shitty movie. I think he gets a pass though.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Yeah, I think writers should be able to use the same tactic as actors, where we write a few books to make a killing and we also do our serious stuff to maintain our credibility.

          But for whatever reason it doesn’t seem to work that way. With books, it seems if you sell, you sell. If you don’t, you don’t. Or you don’t, and then one day you do. And once you begin to sell you can write almost anything and get away with it.

          I suppose with a book, if it fails, that’s all on you. Whereas an actor is only a component of a larger product, and if one fails financially, it’s not a killer.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          I have a fond fantasy of meeting David Lynch and mis-pronouncing his name as ‘David Lunch’.

          I really don’t like that guy.

        • Zara Potts says:

          If you were a Nu Zullunder, brew, you could totally get away with calling him David Lunch.
          And then you could invite him to a fistivil.

    • Matt says:

      You keep saying this, but you always shy away from discussing why. What about them provokes this response?

      • Gloria says:

        I think saying “they make me feel bad” is just as valid a reason to dislike directors as “because they make me feel good” is a valid reason to like a director. Aaronofsky and Lynch make A LOT of people feel bad – for all different reasons.

      • Gloria says:

        I finally figured it out. I figured it out when I was posting my new piece last night.

        The endings of Aaronfsky films and Lynch films and those types of films are so utterly lacking in hope. I need hope. I don’t want to exist in a world where it doesn’t exist. Not even fictitiously for a few hours. I’m a great audience member because I can utterly lose myself in a story. And I refuse to lose myself in hopelessness. I’ve been there. I know what that looks like. To revisit that feels nothing like catharsis.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Yes, Gloria, “hope.”

          If an ending opens out, provides uplift, shows a spirit surviving, it’s my kind of ending, too. Unremitting despair strips me of energy, declares the world dead and unyieldable to growth.

          *Getting to* a hopeful ending is a complex issue, though. In other words, how the film propels us towards that hopeful ending involves several layers, each one interdependent, highly sensitive and not-easily-done.

          For example, we need somehow to be touched by a film, whether the subject is fantasy or kitchen-sink reality. We need to see or feel ourselves in some aspect of a character’s situation and responses. We need the character and responses to feel genuine, no matter how odd, intense, silly or desperate.

          Very often I find that the genuineness of a character’s response quite surprises me. As with any excellent work of art, the depth of my identification blindsides me. I’ll begin to tear up—–and wonder why. Or I’ll laugh and think “YES!”—–and wonder why.

          I’m on the character’s side because I’m on *my* side. I want to see how to overcome life’s inevitable messes, and the overcoming so often arises from a change in thinking, not a change of circumstance. From the character we can gain a new view, an alternate way of feeling about ourselves and our problems. We can identify strongly with someone who has met a challenge after nearly being levelled by its hammering presence.

          It all begins with excellent, genuine, impassioned, sensitive writing—–foundationed by excellent aims.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I get what you guys are saying. I need hope as well. Probably all of us do. I just feel like, if you’re guaranteed a hopeful ending, then there’s not as much reason to ever watch anything. Because you know it’s coming.

          Judy points out that how you arrive at the hopeful ending matters most. Of course. But I feel like some films ought to end differently, just so you can more properly appreciate the ones that are hopeful.

          Personally, I didn’t find Black Swan lacking in hope. Spoiler alert here, but the fact that Nina found perfection even though she paid a high price for it gives me hope in a strange way. She had a dream and she achieved it. Not everyone can say that. Most of us can’t.

  6. Can I just add that I’m mad at Natalie Portman for getting pregnant. It’s not like I’m not available.

  7. Matt says:

    Kimberly already jumped in with the financial definition, which is pretty much what I was going to speak up with. And I would definitely add that I certainly consider Black Swan an independant; I heard an interview with Aronofsky where he discussed the difficulty he had pulling together financing for it, even after the Oscar success of The Wrestler.

    I for one am glad to see that this has been such a good season for “indie” films (however you want to define them), though after my last screed I doubt that’s really a surprise to anyone. Black Swan, The King’s Speech, Winter’s Bone (which along with Animal Kingdom is the best crime film I’ve seen in the last year)…makes me happy to see how many of them are up for various Oscar nods this time around.

    The entire mainstream/indie definition is going to be undergoing a pretty radical flux over the next few years, especially as distribution methods continue to change. It’s really the independant filmmakers that are embracing the potentials of the internet (on-demand streaming, day-of-release downloads, etc), while the big studios continue to rely on getting audiences into the multiplex to see their films. Edward Burns has been an outspoken proponent of these new distribution models, going so far as to eschew the studios entirely in terms of financing or distribution, writing the scripts himself, raising the money where he can, and then distributing them through any number of digital media. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the next couple of decades sees a proliferation of smaller companies dedicated to this sort of enterprise while the bigger studios languish.

  8. Tom Hansen says:

    Nick: “And Marion Coutillard. Did I spell her name right? She’s pregnant too. Dammit.” Yeah, but Marion hasn’t been in a movie with Ashton Kootcher. That was the absolute end for me with Portman. Nick, you really should check out Winter’s Bone per Matt. That and A Prophet and Antichrist and Never Let Me Go are the best movies I’ve seen the last couple years. Someone mentioned guerilla film-making. Werner Herzog is the king of that. He’s even been teaching some guerilla film making seminars, showing film makers how to get around pesky issues like bonds and visas and local government permissions. As for whether Aronofsky is a sellout, I’m not sure. I know I would rather be an asshole than a sellout. Werzog has deliberately seemed to avoid getting involved with the big studios, to his credit. Even his most commercial film in a while Bad Lieutenant Port of Call NO was so bizarre and surprising in a good way that you knew he didn’t have to compromise for shit.

  9. Kimberly says:

    Re: The “new” distribution model. I think it’s utter bullshit.

    Kevin Smith is self-distributing Red State independently, because he’s one of the only filmmakers who CAN. Same with Ed Burns. Same as with anyone who has a name and connections and more pocket change than the average bear.

    Which is not to say that it’s not cool to make a fast and cheap film that is very likely engaging on some level, and then stream it on some sort of VOD platform for minimal-to-full recompense, but I simply can’t believe that the majority of filmgoers will forgo going to the cinema to see a movie.

    Sure. It’s a nice way to get a wider, post-festival audience (e.g. going the Tiny Furniture [$25K] route) but if you ask someone in Des Moines if they’ve heard of Lena Dunham, I’ll bet you her budget that they haven’t. And even when that film does get released by IFC Films beyond the LA/NYC market, they STILL won’t.

    Which, honestly, is a shame.

    It’s a very simple fact. Unless you have the $$$ for publicity and advertising (P&A) that a honest-to-goodness distributor can provide, a small, self-distributed film WILL. NOT. GET. SEEN.

    And I can say all of this because I am completely realistic about my current film – what it is and who its audience is. It’s a very traditional 3-act “mainstream” story, which has a very specific niche audience. Which is not to say that I don’t think it will translate beyond its probable market, I believe that it will, but I’m already strategizing in pre-production, how to maximize the film’s future.

    Because I’m not gonna lie, this indie film bullshit is for the birds. I want to be a sell-out. I want to join the DGA and the WGA and have health insurance and guaranteed union minimums. And whoever says they don’t, is either too young, already has their health care/retirement taken care of, or is LYING.

    Holy tangent! Okay, that’s it. I’m out.


    • Kimberly says:

      Correction: The budget for Tiny Furniture is reported at $45K.

    • Richard Cox says:

      This is the same conversation that goes on here at TNB about books and which I also believe is mostly bullshit. The idea that publishers don’t know their asses from a hole in the ground and that suddenly, because of e-books and POD, writers can now take complete control of their careers.

      Yes, the avenues now exist. You can publish books yourself in ways that seem to skirt the idea of vanity publishing. But even with the publishing world in upheaval, you still have to find an audience for your work, and, like it or not, publishers and traditional distribution are still the best conduit to those audiences.

      Even if books go the way of the CD, if all books were published electronically, you still need a promotional budget to reach audiences. To get yourself on the home page of iTunes or iBooks or whatever. To achieve market reach. Unless you are a genius viral marketer, your self-published book is not going to be read. It’s just not.

      I’m sure there are a few handfuls of great books out there that people are publishing on their own, just like you stumble across very well-made films that were done on a shoestring budget. But in my opinion, writers of marginal talent are now using the “publishing upheaval” argument as the reason why they don’t have a book deal, whereas before they would simply have had to buckle down and work on their craft. It’s a convenient excuse for the age-old problem of writing a good book and somehow getting found in the sea of other aspiring authors.

      Finding success in these endeavors is not easy. Sometimes the struggle really depresses me. But I don’t believe the answer is to wish upon a new distribution model star. The answer is to work harder and build connections and keep hoping for a little luck.

      I mean, wish upon an actual star if you’re going to wish at all. 🙂

      • I usually end up wishing upon Mr. T.

      • Kimberly says:

        Yep. 😀

        *Also, in my haste to hit “add comment” once again, I neglected to proof. If I may continue my thought for a moment:

        Which is not to say that I don’t think it will translate beyond its probable market, I believe that it will, but I’m already strategizing in pre-production, how to maximize the film’s future by courting very specific and established distributors who will have an interest in this film once it’s completed.

        And then to wrap with your thought, yes, it seems to be exactly the same thing as knowing which publishers will read your sample chapter and which won’t.

        Thanks, Rich, for reminding me that this is a literary blog and not a frustrated filmmaker’s dumping ground. (Although it is very freeing to finally write these thoughts down, rather than on my own blog, where for political reasons, I simply cannot.) Whee!! 😀

        • Richard Cox says:

          I love to read your thoughts on this, Kimberly. Dump away! This is, after all, a post about films and filmmaking. But I do think your ideas are analogous to the publishing industry, so I thought I’d weigh in there as well.

          But please. Bitch away! Hahaha.

      • Tom Hansen says:

        Yeah man. There’s a lot of luck that goes into getting a wide audience, and you can improve your odds somewhat, but really I urge people to control the one thing they can, the quality of their work and making it the best it can be. Even that might not be enough but we have to believe it gets us somewhere…

  10. Tom Hansen says:

    Kimberly; They are LYING or they have a combination of old European stubbornness and a self-destructive streak. Probably some self-sabotage thrown in for good measure. Hehe.

    • Kimberly says:

      Also totally possible. 😉

      I had all of the above for a long time too, if the truth be told, but every day I get closer to 40, it all becomes less and less important.

      Must be a side effect of the damned Geritol.

  11. I’m a bit of a film tard. It’s tough to stay in the loop on the other side of the world… Well, actually, that’s not true. But I definitely find myself outside of the loop and need an excuse.

    It’s was Matt’s post about Black Swan that actually introduced me to the movie. An hour later I was watching it and marveling. I really enjoyed Natalie Portman’s performance, and the way it was shot was beautiful. Definitely a bit different from the mainstream. I really loved The Wrestler although it was only a few days ago I discovered they had the same director. I’m an idiot.

    I agree with Cynthia, though: I also enjoy blockbusters, as long as they take talent and imagination. You can use these epic budgets to really create something amazing, but it’s so easy to fail. It seems like most TNBers hated Inception, but I liked it a lot. I thought it was silly but entertaining and imaginative.

    • Richard Cox says:

      They often fail because studios don’t trust that kind of money and risk to one person. There’s only a handful of them. Everyone else has to answer to someone.

      I read something about Back to the Future recently where director Robert Zemeckis was made to change things like names of a character because a studio exec wanted his wife’s name in the film. And this exec also insisted on the scene where Michael J. Fox dresses up like a spaceman, which was initially much longer. And he wanted to change the name of the film to Spaceman from Pluto. Steven Spielberg wrote to the exec and thanked him for making such a funny joke and the exec refused to admit he’d been serious.

      You’d think a smart exec, if he wanted his films to make more money, would do his own job and let the director and screenwriters do theirs. Then again, in the regular corporate world you get managers and directors with no creativity at all who want to design web sites and build ad campaigns. At my old job, the international VP of E-Business made us design our transactional web site based on a grocery shopping site she liked. No one could talk her out of it. It makes me wonder if people who work their way up to high level corporate positions have some inherent flaw that makes it impossible for them to see reality.

  12. jmblaine says:

    At the dentist office
    yesterday I was
    waiting for the
    to kick in
    & thinking about
    watching Urban Cowboy
    every weekend for about
    the past six months
    & how
    for me
    Urban Cowboy was
    a far better sequel
    to Grease
    than Grease II.

    Man, sorry, I’m
    just not real up on

  13. I love the inclusion of the Ellen Burstyn pic, Richard. That is one of the best, most terrifying performances of the last fifty years. Utterly fearless.

    To answer your question to the wider public: I sort of think “indie” films as we think we understand them don’t really exist. A lot of the indie houses are just like big publishing imprints that have the same money and structure behind them as mainstream stuff, they just spend less and market differently, pretending to be outside the industry. And since, say, the Jarmusch-fueled indie run of the mid-eighties, we’ve developed a sort of indie shorthand that is in many ways just as hackneyed and expected as your usual big budget film. Even a weird strand like Mumblecore already is so derivative that Greta Gerwig might as well have been in Salt, yelling “SALT!” every five seconds while standing next to Liev Schriber. But, yeah, I absolutely think dark and artistic can thrive amongst general audiences. The problem is that you usually get one or the other, dark and pointless like The Road, or artistic to the level of self-indulgence like My Blueberry Nights. Wedding the two is a lot harder than it seems.

    • You know, Kimberly mentioned that above, the idea that art-house or independent or whatever you want to call them films have their own shorthand, and suddenly I’m fascinated by this idea. It’s so true, and I hadn’t quite seen it that way before — as the creation of a uniform, universal indie shorthand.

      And I have one request of filmmakers the world over. [SALT SPOILER, kind of] Please stop making Liev the “surprise” double-crossing bad guy in every film he’s in. It has reached a point where I see his name in the credits, and I know the whole plot.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Sean, you always manage to capture in one comment exactly what I (or in this case, we) are trying to say in an entire post. This is one of the reasons I think you are among TNB’s most talented writers.

      And thanks about the picture. Isn’t it great? Makes me want to go watch Requiem again just for her performance.

  14. Jessica Blau says:

    I love listening to you two chat about films!

    Requiem for a Dream was such a great movie, I absolutely loved it. But the movie he made next, I can’t remember the name, was so awful I walked out of the theater and hung out in the lobby throwing a ball for a dog that also hung out in the lobby. I DO want to see Black Swan and after listening to you two, I’ll definitely go out and see it!

  15. Tawni Freeland says:

    Now that I have a child, I am miserably out-of-touch with the world of movies, and don’t have much to offer on this subject. But reading this entertaining conversation (and Matt’s recent movie piece) really made me want to see Black Swan, despite the fact that my former-ballerina friend walked out of it laughing. Thank you for a spoiler-free movie recommendation, too. That’s surprisingly hard to do.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Your ballerina friend needs to take a chill pill. And yes, Cynthia and I were determined not to spoil the film or any of them in our discussion. Thanks for noticing!

      • Tawni, just take your child with you. Your child will love Black Swan.

        Richard, have you heard that people have found it “unintentionally funny” in parts? I keep hearing this, and I’m thinking, “No, no! That was intentional!” I mean, the end of the masturbation scene (won’t give it away) was funny and creepy … I think Aronofsky completely intended those possible readings of it.

        Oh, and Tawni, just kidding!

        • Tawni Freeland says:

          Hahahahahahahaha. Then we could add “scary ballerina ladies” to the nightmares about monsters that wake my son up crying at night. That’s good parenting, right?

          Unintentionally funny masturbation scenes? Okay. I’m in. I’m so in.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Of course he did, Cynthia. I laughed out loud at the end of that scene. Just because it’s an intense psychological thriller doesn’t mean he can’t embed bits of humor in it.

          People are haters. I mean, obviously everyone isn’t going to like it, but I think because it’s so good, it’s developing a bit of a backlash. Which is dumb. Let’s have a backlash about Little Fockers for heaven’s sake.

        • Tawni Freeland says:

          Oh my god. Every time I see a commercial for Little Fockers, I cringe and hide my face in shame on behalf of humanity. Not enough sarcastic Really?s in the world, man.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I realize Ben Stiller wants to make money like anyone. But come on, man. You’re a great actor and director. Stop it.

        • It’s enough to make me sentimental for Reality Bites.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Even the original Meet the Parents. It was funny the first time.

    • Tammy Allen says:

      It gets better Tawni. I went to see Black Swan alone while Izzy was at school. It’s a great movie to see alone.

      • Tawni Freeland says:

        Oh Tammy-Tams. I am so excited about next year, when Miles will start public kindergarten, and I will have the time to see an occasional daytime movie. Woo-hoo! I love going to early movies.

  16. Gloria says:

    Wait for it…

    Wait for it…

  17. Simon Smithson says:

    Continually attacked for using pop structures, Australian band TISM had this to say:

    “Give me a pop-song, mate. Give me a fucking pop-song. Not only is it more fun, it’s pretty fuckin’ hard to write as well. You can bung in as many out-of-tune oboes as you want, but putting chords together so they sound pleasant isn’t as simple as it might appear. It mightn’t be the Sistine Chapel, but what is? Ollie fucking Olsen with his stupid feedback and cough mixture? The Jesus and Mary Chain, with their stupid feedback, and their stupid stage show with 800 powerful stupid lights and enough stupid dry ice to enhance their stupid stupidity up its own bullshit crappy teenage pretentious one-dimensional dick-witted puissant artistic enigma?

    So … what have you listened to for a good time that isn’t, after all, a ‘traditional’ song? Still playing the Mike Oldfield records, huh? Still whipping Yessongs on for a good time? Wanna count on one hand how many people have fun at a Sonic Youth gig? I’m not supporting The Choirboys, old man, I’m just saying that the day some jumped-up over-paid self-important post-modernist cocksucker puts his foot upon his Fairlight computer in the middle of his 47 minute opus “The Silent Forgiveness Of The Pig-God” and belts out the chords to “Johnny B. Goode” is the day I’ll join you at the footlights of post-modernism.

    Besides which, pop songs sell more.”

    It sums up a lot about the artistic debate to me.

  18. Tammy Allen says:

    I loved Black Swan.
    I loved Twister.
    I hated Titanic.
    I hated ( I can’t even think of the name of that last Cameron film?) it.
    Not a Star Wars fan.
    Still want to see Deception.
    Just saw Men Who Stare at Goats – loved it.

    I like movies to move me. Whether it’s to laugh, cry, get frightened, feel an eerie numbness, etc.

    Black Swan A++

    • Richard Cox says:

      I loved Men Who Stare at Goats. I should watch that again sometime.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Me too, Tammy! I absolutely hated Titanic. Like, I got angry while watching it. I refused to see it in the theater, knowing it would make me feel that way, because a lot of movies that pander to women have that effect on me (example: anything Sex in/and the City… GRRRR). But in 2004, a boy I was dating in L.A. couldn’t believe I’d never seen it. He loved it, and owned it, so we watched it.

      I really liked this guy, and wanted to like the movie, so I was polite on the outside, but my inner dialogue was like, “Really? Oh my god. Give me a fucking break. Oh, they’re moving in slow motion… how dramatic. I’m swooning. No, really. PUKE.” I just thought it was over-the-top cheesy and obvious and insulting.

      Now I really, really want to see Black Swan.

  19. Joe Daly says:

    OK, I guess I’ll see Black Swan. It just looks so seriousy! And on a serious (but not all seriousy) note, that movie looks so heavy that I’ve avoided throwing it on the table for Movie Night suggestions. Coxy, your reference to Requiem for a Dream sealed it for me, though. I often fight movies that I feel are going to shake me up, even though I invariably feel better for the experience.

    That being said, bravo for your unapologetic adoration of populist movies! Too many people label movies like Titanic and Meet the Parents in the guilty pleasure category. But Chuck Klosterman hit the nail on the head when he took apart the concept of a “guilty pleasure,” because it suggests that if we weren’t enjoying that particular activity, we’d be doing something really important, like nailing down cold fusion. I for one, agree that there’s no shame in enjoying breezy, fun, sometimes predictable movies, simply for the escapist value of the experience. Then again, I told everyone I liked Oasis and people started calling me the P-word.

    CH, another typically excellent, thought-provoking stroll down Hollywood Boulevard. Thanks, guys!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Joe. I’m glad you’re a fan of Requiem. I often get weird looks from people when I tell them it’s one of my favorite films. Like I’m a masochist or something. And I will say Black Swan is not nearly as difficult an experience as Requiem. More thrilling. A more conventional movie going experience. But that doesn’t mean it’s not one hell of an experience.

      I like what you wrote about guilty pleasures above. Though I’d never read what Klosterman had to say about them, it makes sense. For me the difference really lies in the execution. As an example, unlike Tawni wrote above, I didn’t find Titanic pandering to women. I think that’s what people often expect of it, which may even lead to seeing something that isn’t necessarily there. Or perhaps is just a matter of opinion. I saw the story very differently, as that of a down-on-his-luck guy who goes after the unattainable girl. Yes, the outcome is predictable, both in their relationship and obviously the fate of the ship, but the execution was very well done. I mean I realize it’s not an art house film. Titianic as made by Aronofsky would have been a very different animal. But would he have had the budget to make the ship seem as real as it did? Would he have done the exhaustive research to render the details so accurately? I don’t know.

      One of my most artistic friends and harshest film critics refused to see it and hated the film for its very existence. Until one day she caved and watched it and admitted she’d been way too harsh about it. Because the very idea of a movie like that is what angered her, not the film itself.

      It’s the same thing regarding Def Leppard or whatever not-very-artistic art you enjoy. Sometimes you’re reviled for your very existence, philosophically, and certain people out there are never going to give you a fair chance.

      After all, I hate The Notebook and I’ve never read or seen it. Hello, Pot. Meet the Kettle.

    • Joe, I promise you that you’ll laugh twice in Black Swan. Am I remembering correctly, Richard? Two laughs? Good laughs, too. And then back to seriousy.

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