I’m a big fan of “The King’s Speech” for the Oscar. I am decidedly not a big fan of “Black Swan.”
Maybe it’s a reflection of age. Maybe it’s a sign of intellectual sluggishness. Maybe it’s obdurateness. Maybe it’s orneriness. Maybe it’s an enthusiasm for stories, especially those that are set in a historical context, or at least a recognizable present-day one that seems authentic and perhaps familiar. Maybe it’s a belief that neurosis — heartbreaking, bewildering, and fascinating as it may be — is nevertheless not a story.
Moll and I have been seeing Oscar contenders. We liked “True Grit” — love the big Lebowski, loved his father, Lloyd. Loved “The King’s Speech” — big fans of Firth, Rush, and Carter. I behaved badly at “Black Swan” — love Natalie Portman, but not that Natalie Portman.
Had you been there, and had you been without a large, salted, and buttered popcorn, as I was, you would have heard sighs. They were mine. You would have heard coughs, yawns, throat clearing. You would have observed seat-shifting, leg-stretching, arm-stretching, even neck-stretching. All me. My companion expressed some considerable disappointment with the behavior. But, I ask you, what’s a body to do?
First of all, the movie was a narcissist’s convention. Perhaps the ballet is like that, but I hope not. It’s certainly tough on the dancers’ bodies, and I don’t mean the feathers emerging from the skin. And all of the narcissists, who were nearly all of the characters — except the masseuse, I think — were neurotic to beat the band.
Second, you could never tell what was real and what was delusion.
Third, it was as if the script were written by the producers of Jerry Springer’s show, or Oprah.We’ll have a mad mother who wants to devour her daughter. The mothers are always to blame, or the fathers. In “Black Swan” there was no sign of a father, probably a snack for mother a few years earlier. Ms. Portman was a white swan with a mother problem. She needed her latent black swan to declare itself free at last. Then, if she could figure out what was real and what was not, she might escape mother’s clutches and dance up a storm.
And, if the audience is no better than Ms. Portman at figuring out what is real and what is illusion, the writers, fresh from a stint on Springer, insert some self-mutilation. It’s a devastating problem, of course, and consistent with a battered ego, diminished self regard, and fear of failure. I don’t think mothers are always responsible, nor fathers, but they may be.
And, if theater-goers need further evidence of Ms. Portman’s derangement, or even if they just need additional untethered, trendy neuroses, let’s add repressed sexuality, girl-on-girl sex, the druggy club scene, a predatory (or maybe not) impressario, a perfectly relaxed and friendly (or maybe not) fellow dancer, and a mad, crumpled, dethroned, and battered predecessor prima ballerina. It’s a very busy cookoo’s nest.
But, probably I’ve missed the point.
On the other hand, “The King’s Speech” tells the intriguing and largely true story of the collaboration between the speech therapist Lionel Logue, an Australian, and Albert “Bertie” Frederick Arthur George, later George VI, king of England during World War II.
Eschewing the use of self-mutilation, the club scene, delusion, etc. as narrative techniques to keep the story humming, but focusing on Bertie’s stammer, “The King’s Speech” includes a well-developed subplot that describes the infatuated trajectory of Bertie’s brother, later the Duke of Windsor. He relinquished the British throne on which he sat as Edward VIII for less than a year, in 1936, as Hitler’s soldiers tuned up for their sprint across Europe to the English Channel.
Bertie stepped up when his brother stepped aside. (Incidentally, although we say that Edward relinquished the crown under the spell of Wallis Simpson’s celebrated favors, in fact, during his brief reign, he never wore the actual headgear of office.)
The story of the Duke of Windsor’s abdication in favor of his American spellbinder is as romantic a tale as the renunciation of a crown for the love of a woman could possibly be.
“The King’s Speech” erodes the romantic glaze on Edward’s abdication and tells a better, more rewarding, fully fledged tale, not a story perhaps that would draw a crowd on Springer or Oprah, but a story whose compelling elements were built in, not grafted on.