With all this "guaranteed" Oscar talk for the haunting "Black Swan," it's easy to forget that Darren Aronofsky's exceptional 2008 Golden Lion holder "The Wrestler" not only lost the two nominations it had garnered (which includes the deeply moving game-changing performance by Mickey Rourke), but was completely snubbed for a Best Picture nomination, with the Academy amassing a pretty weak final five ("Frost/Nixon"? Really?). It's something to keep in mind as the date for the award ceremony's next iteration draws closer and closer, even if the Academy has been known to give "apology" awards, generally reserved for any time they have fucked up decisions in the past (which, taking a look back, is quite often). Really, though, anything could happen; those fogies are a queer bunch.
We're sure Aronofsky would love an Oscar connected to his latest project, but he seems to be in high, productive spirits regardless. Attached to numerous projects, including the now much-anticipated "The Wolverine" (who would've thought?) and "Machine Man," the man has a lot on his plate and we have plenty to look forward to. The Film Society of Lincoln Center recently just wrapped a retrospective of his oeuvre, with the man himself present at "The Wrestler" to chat about various subjects with the audience, which ranged from his views on "The Passion of the Christ" to why his movies are so grotesque. He does not, however, talk about his seemingly obsessive examination of the body -- playfully laughing the subject away. Ah well. Here are 11 things we learned from the director's various musings:
1. Mickey Rourke's Oscar may have come at the cost of Aronofsky's affinity for the intense; he enjoys any reaction.
There's always that one person in the audience, and some are more vocal than others, but the conversation after January 5th's screening of "The Wrestler" was fairly lucky. A woman managed to ask, rather bluntly, why "Black Swan" was so grotesque. The filmmaker responded kindly and in a sort of self-deprecating way. "It's a very hard line to know when it's too much, and I'm generally on the wrong side of it. (laughs) I think the fork scene in Mickey's forehead cost him the Oscar. (laughs)" He elaborated further, "I've always had an attraction to the extreme. There's so many distractions out there, you have to be memorable if you want people to think about it 40 seconds afterwards. It's all incredibly serious, though it's great that people are reacting to it with horror, or laughter, or crying or whatever… I don't think the reaction matters, so long as they are reacting."
2. Aronofsky sees "Black Swan" as a werewolf movie.
While responding to the physicality of a ballet movie being important, he also mentions his angle to his newest offering. "It's about transformation, it's ultimately a werewolf movie. Swan Lake is about a girl trapped as a swan, at night she's half swan half human, so I saw it as a werewolf movie."
3. Many sound effects in the picture were a manipulation of a swan's cry.
We all knew that Darren often employed sound in a much more effective way than most modern American directors do, an example being Rourke's character walking from the grocery store back to the deli counter to the rousing, cheering crowd of a wrestling match. Call this something we didn't catch the first (or third) time around, but it turns out certain ordinary sound effects have an interesting creation point, giving them an eerie aura. "Most of the sounds in this film are manipulated swan sound. Everything from a flushing a toilet, subway… a swan noise… Sound is what takes it to the next level, I always make it part of that collaboration in filmmaking."
4. An early version of "The Wrestler" dates back to 1996.
It appears his comeback picture needed some time to marinate -- more than a decade. "I was looking through my old e-mail, and I found an old e-mail from '96, basically the whole outline for "The Wrestler."
5. The pervert in the subway of "Black Swan" is a recurring character.
"That is the same pervert. He's also the ass-to-ass guy in "Requiem For a Dream." I felt bad for the guy, making him work for a day and calling crediting him 'the Pervert' so I called him Uncle Hank." Don't take the 1 train alone, New Yorkers.
6. Hand-held Dardenne-O-Vision for "The Wrestler" was bore mostly due to the casting of Mickey Rourke.
"I was trained in documentary, cinema-verité, so it was always in me. When I got to "The Wrestler," I was like… there's no way Mickey Rourke's gonna hit a mark, let alone remember his lines. So we had to come up with something else and we tried that, and I loved the way the shots handed off to one another."
7. Filmmaking is mostly a craft, acting is art.
While this writer disagrees and thinks the director should not be so modest, he claims "Filmmaking is barely an art, it's mostly a craft. I think in acting there's an art. 95% of my job is bureaucracy. Originally I had no idea what to do with actors… I took acting classes, I set up a test, all I wanna do is cry in front of a class and then I quit. I took Eisner until I cried, left the next day. Now I love directing actors, it became the most pleasurable part of the job as opposed to setting up shots for stunts, things like that."
8. He is writing a new project by himself, but it is in its infancy.
"The worst part of writing is going off alone to write it. 98% of it sucks, I like it but I love the collaboration. I do want to write again, I'm just very lucky to be at a place where I'm working with great writers. I have a brief outline of something but it's very early." Exciting, but there are numerous other long-gestating projects that seem to be much further along, such as his take on Noah's Ark, "The Tiger," or "Jackie." (All detailed in our Open Letter to the director, trying to dissuade him from "The Wolverine.")
9. He has reservations on "The Passion of the Christ."
No surprise here, but Mel Gibson's controversial picture that details the ass-kicking of our lord and savior is questionable in Aronofsky's eyes. "I definitely had problems with it. Now it's obvious, but I was like… man this guy hates Jews. (laughs) I think the 'Passion' is a legitimate story to tell, but with the casting there were many Jewish stereotype roles, so I had a problem with that. There's no doubt he's an exceptional filmmaker, they're all very powerful, but I did have problems with it as a Jew."
10. Editor Andrew Weisblum, along with the director himself, make fun of actors in post-production.
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt take note. "I have a really brutal editor… and you wouldn't want to be the actors as we sit there and make fun of all the performances. I'd lose all trust of actors if they knew what I said. We have to distance ourselves from the emotions and get the best for the film."
11. The only reason to do the next 'Wolverine' movie is to get into the New York Film Festival.
On why he is doing the sequel to one of Marvel's biggest disasters committed to celluloid, he sarcastically responded with a big wink, "I'm doing it because it's probably the only way to get into the New York Film Festival." Of course, the same movie he was presenting had closed the festival back in 2008. What a kidder. After this playful jest, he admitted something which we all knew but probably needed to hear again, as much as we don't like to. "We'd all love to do "Chariots of Fire" for $200 million, but all Hollywood is making are comic-book and video game movies right now. For me, it's a different type of challenge, for these other pictures, the challenge in getting the money for them has been greater than actually making them in a lot of ways. I've been the only person in the room that wanted to make them. I have to keep trying new things, and I do think there are interesting stories and characters in those world."
"Black Swan" is still playing in a theater near you and you should see it if you haven't already.