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Black Swan Psychology Art vs. Science; Sex vs. Sexy: Which Sells Movies?

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood December 21, 2010 at 4:42AM

- Black Swan offers fuel for an Art vs. Science debate. Consider these professional-opinion-posturings on Black Swan ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) and her mental state. Nadine Kaslow (Dept. of Psychiatry, Emory University) says: "It was intense and disturbing and fascinating and mysterious…What was a hallucination and what was real? When people are psychotic, it's difficult, even as a therapist, to know what's real and what's not."
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Thompson on Hollywood


- Black Swan offers fuel for an Art vs. Science debate. Consider these professional-opinion-posturings on Black Swan ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) and her mental state. Nadine Kaslow (Dept. of Psychiatry, Emory University) says: "It was intense and disturbing and fascinating and mysterious…What was a hallucination and what was real? When people are psychotic, it's difficult, even as a therapist, to know what's real and what's not."

Dr. Steve Lamberti (Assoc. Prof. of Psychiatry, University of Rochester) found: "It was poetic in a way, showing this transformation gone wrong…[and] does present a reasonable portrait of psychosis." However it is unlikely that Nina's alleged psychosis and eating disorder would go hand-in-hand: "People in psychosis are not in touch with reality. With eating disorders and OCD, they are too in touch with reality." Docs agree that it would be "unlikely" for Nina to perform while in a psychotic state, but acknowledge that human resilience could account for the character's actions.

- The Independent wonders if Sex Still Sells Movies (arguably one element of Black Swan's success thanks to Portman and Mila Kunis). Tim Walker looks at examples--such as Love & Other Drugs--for which Fox sent Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal "on a high-profile publicity round to talk about being naked, being naked together, and being naked together on film." The film's less-than-rousing box office and critical reaction suggest that sexy may have less appeal, not to mention the now-moot bonus-clause (i.e. Halle Berry's extra half-million for Swordfish's breast shot). The sex hook got play in the media, but may have been a turn-off at the box office.

Walker considers the likes of Blue Valentine, Chloe and Jennifer's Body, asking: "In a world saturated with free sexual imagery, then, what hope is there for sex as a selling point?" Film/TV producer Jacquie Jordan thinks Love & Other Drugs got it wrong by mis-marketing sex instead of comedy or story. "There's a difference between a movie being 'sexy' and pushing 'sex'...I don't think moviegoers go to movies for 'sex'. They can watch that at home. But 'sexy' sells in movies: Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie? That's 'sexy'. In terms of Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, their appearing nude on magazine covers probably does more to sell the magazine than it does the film."

This article is related to: Awards, Box Office, Headliners, Hollywood, Studios, Daily Read, Media, Marketing, Oscars, Golden Globes, Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Twentieth Century Fox


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.