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Darren Aronofsky speaks out on ‘Black Swan’ body double controversy

Natalie Portman may be keeping quiet, but her “Black Swan” director Darren Aronofsky isn’t.  After Sarah Lane, Portman’s body double, claimed in an interview Friday the Oscar winner had only performed 5% of her full body dance sequences on screen Aronofsky has issued a statement to EW making it clear the American Ballet Theatre soloist knows not of what she speaks.

“Here is the reality. I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that’s 75% Natalie Portman. What about duration? The shots that feature the double are wide shots and rarely play for longer than one second. There are two complicated longer dance sequences that we used face replacement. Even so, if we were judging by time over 90% would be Natalie Portman,” Aronofsky says.
“And to be clear,” Aronofsky notes, “Natalie did dance on pointe in pointe shoes. If you look at the final shot of the opening prologue, which lasts 85 seconds, and was danced completely by Natalie, she exits the scene on pointe. That is completely her without any digital magic. I am responding to this to put this to rest and to defend my actor. Natalie sweated long and hard to deliver a great physical and emotional performance. And I don’t want anyone to think that’s not her they are watching. It is.”

Lane claims all the other scenes in the film were Portman’s head digitally grafted to her body. The LA Times reports there were some behind-the-scenes clips on YouTube which shows this process, but they were taken down this past weekend at the request of Fox Searchlight.  Lane also says she was told to keep quiet until after the Oscars, obviously to help Portman’s campaign for best actress.  

Still, why the ballet dancer finds the need to drudge all this up now is somewhat strange. Is she looking for more publicity in advance of the film’s DVD and Blu-ray release tomorrow? It’s not as though anyone was saying she didn’t work on the film.  The studio even released a statement noting, “We were fortunate to have Sarah there to cover the more complicated dance sequences and we have nothing but praise for the hard work she did. However, Natalie herself did most of the dancing featured in the final film.”

Additionally, the idea so much of Portman’s dancing was digitally enhanced is somewhat ludicrous considering the film’s very real $13 million budget. No doubt the “Black Swan” team got a deal here and there, but that’s just too much work considering the picture’s overall cost.  You can review the film’s special effects real submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar consideration embedded in this post and the only head replacement shown with dancing is when Nina (Portman) thinks she sees herself in the troupe entering the stage.

This pundit first saw “Black Swan” at the Telluride Film Festival at the beginning of last September.  I spoke to both Portman’s manager, Aleen Keshishian, and the film’s producer, Scott Franklin, at a very casual, small dinner celebrating the picture and it was clear that the actress had done nothing but kill herself for over a year before the production to get back into dancing shape and to learn the performances for the film.  There was hardly a question that Portman hadn’t done a majority of the dancing (in fact, we joked about Mila Kunis’ camera aided dancing at the time).

Then again, one of the things “Swan” got very right is the backstabbing and drama that goes on in the ballet world.  Perhaps for Lane this is just par the course.

Do you think Portman danced most of her scenes in “Black Swan”? Share your thoughts below.

By Gregory Ellwood – Watch the movie’s special effects reel and judge for yourself



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