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March 27, 2011

Did Natalie Portman Misrepresent Herself To Win Her Oscar?

Natalie Portman won the best acting Oscar for her performance in Black Swan. But which part of her performance was being rewarded?

Her basic actor-ish performance of conveying emotion?

Or the presumed fact that she learned to be a headliner-level ballerina in less than year's worth of training?

Obviously the first part is always considered. Was the second part a strong factor? And if so, what to do if Portman really didn't learn much more about being a ballerina than you'd expect an actor to?

This video was leaked by a visual effects company that worked on Black Swan. Such a thing is sort of standard -- they're showing off their work for future clients.

But they began by showing off something that the studio apparently doesn't wish to be widely known.

Not really too interesting, I admit.

But let me tell you what that video showed two days ago when I watched it: It showed in all the serious dance sequences featuring "Portman" doing pirouettes and dancing "on point" (on tip-toes) that in fact a different person was doing those moves, and Natalie Portman's head was digitally inserted upon the actual dancer's body. (Similar CGI effects were used to put the elderly Christoper Lee's head on a much-faster moving stuntman's body in the awful Star Wars prequels. But that effect was sort of crude -- CGI has come a long way even in just the past five or six years.)

And if you watch that video now, you'll see the head-replacement effects are stripped entirely out of the highlight real.

The evidence is being suppressed. Just 48 hours ago you could see, clear as day, that a ballerina called Sarah Lane actually danced whenever Portman was seen in full-body shots doing pirouettes and other difficult ballet moves, with Portman's head swapped in digitally for Lane's -- and now that is all cut out of the reel.

If you try to click on any of the links for the old video, you now get...

“This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by FOX.”

Why? Because that was the key evidence supporting an allegation made by the ballerina who actually did all this dancing. Usually this would be no big deal -- films always list, for example, "Harrison Ford's Stunt Double." The credits do not attempt to mislead you as to who actually did what (usually). No effort is made in the Indiana Jones credits to convince you that Harrison Ford did all of his own stuntwork. (And he's actually proud of doing a lot of his own stunts, and says so, but never, ever claims to have done them all.)

But in the case of Black Swan, there is no credit whatsoever for "Natalie Portman's Dance Double." Instead, Sarah Lane is listed as "Lady in the Lane" -- apparently she's only being credited for a brief appearance as a background actor.

Somewhere along the way either Portman, the filmmakers responsible for Black Swan, or the studio, or some combination working together, decided to make the claim that Portman did all of her own dancing for the film and have worked, dishonestly, to suppress any evidence that would challenge that.

In Natalie Portman's Oscar acceptance speech, for example, she thanked virtually everyone involved with the movie, and the usual litany of agents, managers, and entertainment lawyers, but somehow forgot to thank the dancer that doubled for her in all the key sequences.

Sarah Lane is now calling foul.

I guess some might be annoyed at her for blowing the whistle -- credits are often a matter of negotiation, and if she agreed to be only credited with "Lady in the Lane," that's on her, right? Maybe she needs to drink a nice tall glass of Shut Up juice.

But even if you think she's a crybaby, it can't help but be noticed that this is a very dishonest trick by the studio and/or Portman.

As I noted, Harrison Ford doesn't claim to have performed the "climbing under the truck" stunt in Raiders of the Lost Ark. No one knocks him for not doing that -- of course he didn't do that. He's just an actor.

And similarly, no one would have knocked Natalie Portman for having used a double in key shots. Of course she didn't do that -- she's just an actor. Of course that's a double.

But rather than play it the honest way that would cause them no problems, someone got rather greedy for undeserved credit and began making claims about Portman studying ballet for just one year, but doing so so intensely and with such skill as to actually have become an accomplished headliner world-class ballerina in such a short period of time.

And she got an Oscar for that.

But she didn't do what she's alleged to have done.

I think people assumed that Portman did her dancing because people 1) aren't yet caught up with what is currently possible with CGI technology and so are still just assuming that it's real if it looks real and 2) because Black Swan isn't a movie like The Transformers, with CGI dripping from every shot; instead it feels more like a small, intimate independent movie where they don't use CGI (or at least don't use much). So people didn't have their guards up regarding sophisticated CGI tricks. They assumed what they saw was basically real (except for the stuff that plainly wasn't, like the transformation into a duck).

But this situation hasn't been caused simply by people's assumptions.

No, there was an affirmative, positive campaign to deceive beginning with the film's hype campaign -- Oh my God, Natalie Portman has made herself a professional ballerina! -- and the failure to give her double a proper credit and now the suppression of the VFX house's demo reel showing how they turned Sarah Lane into Natalie Portman.

It should be noted that Audrey Hepburn did not receive a nomination for My Fair Lady, while just about everyone else involved did, because it was known her signing had been dubbed by Marni Nixon. In that film, though, apparently it was kind of obvious that Hepburn was being dubbed, so few in the community were actually deceived. (The general public, probably, more so.)

So what happens here?

Irony: Black Swan is about people appearing to be different people, identities shifting phatasmagorically.

It's also about a performer whose overweening urge to be perfect at two aspects of a difficult performance (in which a good performance at one aspect would be laudable enough) results in her downfall, sort of career suicide.

I think it's going to turn out that the story of The Black Swan is more intriguing and more filled with wrenching heartache and emotional revelations than the actual film.

One More Thing: While I found this story semi-interesting two days ago, I really didn't think it was so interesting that I should post on it. It seemed like a dispute over credit. Who cares?

And further, it seemed, at that point, like this could all be attributed to mere disagreement and difference of opinion rather than black-and-white Lie vs. Truth.

But now that that video effects reel has been suppressed by Fox, and a different one substituted for it -- well, now there is smoking gun proof that someone is lying, and deliberately.

digg this
posted by Ace at 11:19 AM

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