Saturday, 22 January 2011

BBC Radio 4 Film Season Diary Day 6

There's a fair bit that can be said about Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky's latest film, released yesterday. The director is in his element, applying his mercurial sense of style across a film concerned with an artist, in this case a ballerina. The protagonist is claustrophobic with her immature, repressed-pubescent attention to purity of technique,a chaste world of porcelain perfection, like the petrified miniature in the music box by her bed. Both within and without is the seductive, dangerous adult world of self-realisation. Aronofsky articulates her increasingly fraught struggle to manage the demands of her unruly doppelgänger with a lot of handheld camerawork, taking in the dark corners and fragmented reflections of the rehearsal studios. The whole thing has a symphonic structure that dovetails in its resolution with the climax of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, upon which it's all based. I was thoroughly entertained, although it's a peculiarly slight movie - I came out whistling irresistible melodies but not giving much thought to the psychodrama-whodunnit around which it's wrapped.

As Friday is film-release day, it's also the day on which reviews are published. This means in the press, on television and radio and via the increasingly popular medium of podcasts (and vodcasts). For some time now the market monopoly has been the preserve of Radio 5 Live's film review show with Simon Mayo and film critic Mark Kermode, a discussion published as a podcast within an hour of the show's end at 4pm. I also listen to a podcast recorded on behalf of the Picturehouse chain of cinemas (mostly in the suburbs of London) which follows much the same format of two chaps discussing current releases.

There is disparity in pulling power - as it were - between the shows. Radio 5 has a global audience and can expect to interview stars and directors from the biggest releases. The Picturehouse podcast team look largely to industry mediators and other blogerati if they have any guests at all. However, both shows are equally popular from the standpoint of entertainment on their own terms, with a love of cinema and good personal chemistry between presenters proving the main draw. This is the nature of critical magazine shows - the idea that the film under scrutiny should provoke opinionated but good-humoured discussion. Didactic criticism ('this is why you are/aren't allowed to watch it') or over-technical analysis may be coldly informative but raises no interest in cinema-going, which, like all nights out, is essentially an evening's ruse for good company and some fun. These successful podcasts reflect this.

Having mentioned the Picturehouse chain of cinemas, I should also add the Curzon chain, which operates in central London (a good rule of thumb is that where Curzon = Zone 1, Picturehouses = zones 2-3). I saw Black Swan at the Curzon Chelsea, a single screen venue on the King's Road. Curzon have been expanding their operations steadily; a franchised cinema in Wimbledon and an online on-demand service have now been followed by today's news that they are to open a new cinema on Millbank. The advantages of independent chains can be a little hard to define, but I find the unique welcome of a cinema theatre that's not having its character prescribed remotely is a considerable asset to the manner in which I consume films shown there.

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