Monday, February 21, 2011

Half-ass Movie Review: Black Swan

When done well, movies can grapple with complex issues such as sexual harassment, body dysmorphia,  and eating disorders. They can blur the line between fantasy and reality, challenging our understanding of what is real. Movies can tell personal stories of jealousy and fear and parents who won't let their children grow up. They can give us a fresh perspective on the arts, as well as be works of art in their own right.

Unfortunately, Black Swan is none of these things.

Instead it's not much more than two hours of Darren Aronofsky's apparent misogyny that left the Presidents' Day matinee audience at The Grove - the upscale outdoor LA mall where I just saw it - stunned and immobile at the end. I'm going to be generous and assume that they, like me, were stunned by the fact that this movie is up for so many awards. That, and the fact that the movie equivalent of the New York City Ballet would have nothing but a mattress (a mattress?!) for their prima ballerina to plunge onto. Maybe that's why (half-ass spoiler alert) Nina dies at the end? Because there was a spring sticking up out of the mattress and she tragically impaled herself on it at the moment of her greatest triumph? (Helllooo worker's comp claim!)

Yeah, yeah, the movie is about losing yourself completely in a role. But why does that have to be carried out via ballet? Hasn't that movie, or likely a better one, been made about actors already? And even if that's what the movie is about, why is Natalie Portman getting so many accolades? Really, her acting in this movie is not much different than in The Professional 15 years ago. And when she went to Harvard, I once saw her walking across Harvard Square talking on her cell phone and crying, and she kind of looked the same then, too. (I did feel bad for her, for the record.) So clearly Portman has not lost herself in the role of Nina the way that Nina loses herself in the role of the Swan Queen. Why all the nominations, then? While likely connected to the "award attractive actresses who go ugly for a role and become unrecognizable" syndrome (see Charlize Theron in Monster and Nicole Kidman in The Hours) or the related "award attractive actresses for gaining weight to be more 'real'" (see - shudder - Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones's Diary), is all the hoopla really about Portman's recent ballet training and weight loss? Cuz in that case, let's just give Mark Wahlberg the Oscar, too.

I suspect all the buzz is likely related to some of what I talked about above, and is also related to how people think about ballet in our society. And let's face it, misogyny dressed up as high art is often rewarded. But honestly, I've already spent more brain cells on this movie than it deserves.

So I leave you with the SNL Black Swan skit. While not brilliant, it did mildly lift my mood.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

South Dakota Moves To Legalize Killing Abortion Providers

A Mother Jones article first posted February 15 and updated February 16 reports on the shocking but not surprising move to redefine South Dakota's "justifiable homicide" law to include actions taken to prevent harm to a fetus. It's no stretch to see that this is an attempt to legalize attacks on abortion providers, and to use fear and intimidation to force abortion providers to abandon their work.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Bill Jensen, has tried to suggest - as the bill has come under increasing national scrutiny - that the bill doesn't actually apply to abortion because it's legal. This argument is specious; many states have kept anti-abortion laws on the books (or passed new ones) in anticipation of Roe v Wade being overturned one day, in which case the power to outlaw abortion would return to the states.

Moreover, this is an example of how radical right wing beliefs have become mainstreamed over the past 20 years - from the totally fringe "defensive action statement" after Michael Griffin shot Dr. Gunn in 1994 to the point where a bill arguing justifiable homicide can even be introduced, even if it is likely at this point to be scrapped or modified.

And finally, I don't know the current status, but in the past, the Dakotas had no one who lived there willing to do abortions - someone would fly in once a week or every other week. Check out my friend Dr. Susan Wicklund's book This Common Secret to read the story of a doctor committed to providing abortions in these unserved, rural states and to understand the stakes of this bill. 

Coupled with the intimidation of Dr. Mila Means who is attempting to provide abortion in Wichita, Kansas where it has been unavailable since the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the single-minded focus on the Republican House on curtailing access to abortion, and a series of "stings" on Planned Parenthood by the anti-abortion group Live Action, the South Dakota bill is clearly part of an escalating attack on women's reproductive rights and those who make those rights a reality. 

Update 2/17: The bill is being shelved, which is good news for now. But this is by no means the last we will hear of this.


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