For those of you who have never heard this before, it's an issue that's been in constant debate for the past few years: just how much was Darren Aronofsky inspired by Perfect Blue when making the very similar film, Black Swan? Let's start with the facts.
Since the original Filmadelphia article has disappeared online, you can view the original public questions and answers at the end of this article, but let's get the speculation out of the way first. Anyone who has seen both films can confirm that the backbone plot of Perfect Blue and Black Swan are considerably different, but the mood, scenes, main characters, and spirals they go through are incredibly similar. Meredith Borders gave a good comparison (with slight spoilers) on BadassDigest:
Perfect Blue is a chilling psycho-thriller about Mima, a young (pop) star who embraces the darkness within her in order to achieve her dream (becoming an actress), willing to alienate everyone who cares about her to do so. Mima has an overbearing but loving maternal figure (her manager, Rumi) who doesn’t approve of her new shady career choices. She is emotionally tormented by an unknown outsider who begins to destroy Mima’s already tenuous grasp on reality, and Mima is soon haunted by a doppelganger who represents both her mental anguish and the duality of her soul.
And, you know, Black Swan is a chilling psycho-thriller about Nina, a young (ballet) star who embraces the darkness within her in order to achieve her dream (becoming the lead player in Swan Lake). She alienates, she’s got an overbearing but loving mom who disapproves, emotional torment, tenuous grasp on reality, and a doppelganger who represents both her mental anguish and the duality of her soul. Check, check and check.
Several times in Black Swan, Nina rests her head against the window on the subway and is shocked to find her doppelganger staring back at her, as happens to Mima constantly throughout Perfect Blue. Reflections indeed play a big part in the visual vocabulary of both films, as do shadows, photographs and paintings of Nina and Mima, all manipulated and skewed to represent the characters’ tumultuous identities.
It's not plagiarism, but it's certainly influence. You can't watch something that moves you so much and not be influenced by it forever, even if you don't consciously know it. For me, I'll always have my creative writing influenced by stories like Doug, Rugrats, and Aladdin, because those are some of the stories that taught me good storytelling. There's nothing wrong with that, just like there's nothing wrong with remaking fairy tales every few years! South Park once made an episode that famously replied to its critics in a way that basically said "Yeah, we know, The Simpsons did it. So what? The Simpsons have done everything. We're doing things our own way."
Not to mention that some stories will have a natural path to the end, so just by having a similar lead character, it's no surprise that the two characters have similar journeys. That means the issue becomes whether Aronofsky made the main character without ever consciously or subconsciously using Mima as the framework. What do I think? Of course he did! This isn't some film he watched once and loved, he friggin' remade one of its scenes in one of his earlier films. It's undeniable that Black Swan was heavily influenced by Perfect Blue, but the only thing wrong with that is that Darren Aronofsky either can't see it or won't admit it, and because his eye for detail is superb I think it's obvious that he knows he was unconsciously influenced. They're two very different movies, but I don't believe Darren could have loved Perfect Blue enough to buy the rights to it, yet not even think about Mima when creating Nina from Black Swan.
Sadly, the more important debate at hand is why so many people still have yet to see Perfect Blue. If you thought Black Swan was a kickass movie, then you owe it to yourself to see an equally great psychological story unravel. Satoshi Kon will continue to be one of the most famous examples of a great mind that's unknown by the masses, only to have people become obsessed diehard fans after stumbling onto just a single piece of his work before his early death.
As promised, here's the public Q&A in which Aronofsky talks about Perfect Blue. Even though the original article is missing it can still be corroborated (PDF link) with many other sites posting snippets from the entire discussion:
I made it to The Philadelphia Film Festival “Making Film in Philly” Panel Discussion (Four Points by Sheraton), in time to enjoy coffee and TastyKakes. The panel was amazing! Bob Lowerly & Andy Williams- Dive Shooter (Visual effects and Post Production), Justin Weinberg, Entertainment Lawyer, Thomas Ashley, President of Philadelphia Soundstage, Wendy Cox Hollywood Production Manager, Sharon Pinkenson, Executive Director of Greater Philadelphia Film Office.
These individuals really love this industry and had A LOT to share! Come back to the blog later this week for a recap of the Q & A. Note: Another panel discussion is scheduled for tomorrow (Sun 10/17 12noon).
Below is the Q & A from opening night with Director, Darren Aronofsky
What Aronofsky’s Oscar nominated The Wrestler has in common with his latest film Black Swan is self destructive lead characters, and a lot of hand held, unfiltered camera shots; that’s where the similarities end, as The Wrestler was a true smaller Indie flick and Black Swan has the sweeping grandeur of an old-movie thriller.
There’s an ominousness surrounding the film from the start. Even as you are experiencing the innocence pouring out of Nina (Natalie Portman) dressed in pristine whites shrugs and scarfs and baby pink coat, you feel there’s something else in store, you’re afraid of seeing something extremely disturbing. The film explores a lot of themes: Perfection is an impossible state of being; We can be our own worse enemy: The opposite scales of black and white in terms of Nina being very controlled and Lilly (Mila Kunis) being uninhibited and full of impulse. Mostly (sans the prince) it’s the story of the Swan Queen come to life in film.
Looks like Aronofsky will be back at the Oscars this coming March and Natalie Portman should be right beside him.
Q & A excerpts:
The impression you get of Darren Aronofsky is that he has to control his impulse to be a smart-ass. His biting wit reminds you of Sean Penn, if Penn draped himself in fringe scarfs. Kinda of hard to picture Aronofsky with Rachel Weisz who embodies such an Ivy League quality. Of course, if she was looking to marry a super talented director, than she chose very well.
Q: Was the film Perfect Blue an inspiration for this film?
A: Not really, there are similarities between the films, but it wasn’t influenced by it. It really came out of Swan Lake the Ballet, we wanted to dramatize the ballet, that’s why it’s kind of up here and down there, because ballet is big and small in lots of ways.
Q: What was your favorite scene in the film?
A: I like the night of terror, when everything goes really crazy and her leg snaps back. It just makes me giggle at the end of it cause it’s just so f%*! up.
Q: Hi I’m Andrea and I was in The Wrestler.
A: Oh, Hey Andrea.
Q: I just want to say I thought it was awesome!
A: What, The Wrestler ? Or you in The Wrestler? (laughter)
Q: How long did Natalie Portman train for this role?
A: (addresses question to PA Ballet company in the audience) How did she do dancers, was she ok? (General sounds of approval) This is what I say about it, if you’re a lay person, you’ll believe it. If your a dancer you’ll give her credit for working f’ ing hard. I can see the problems, but she did a really good job. She had a year of training. It wasn’t supposed to be a year, but it was really hard to raise the money, so every time we pushed it back 3 months, she’d go back to existing on carrot sticks.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the music in terms of the score by Clint Mansell?
A: One of the major reasons I did the film was for Clint, my composer, because I knew it was going to be a big challenge to take one of the great masterpieces ever written by Tchaikovsky and to turn it into movie music. Clint deconstructed the piece, because if you play the music over normal scenes it’s just too overwrought. So he basically took those melodies, themes and ideas stripped them down and added his own stuff. Then we went to London and recorded with an 80 piece orchestra, which was amazing. So the score kinda weaves in and out of Clint’s manipulation of Tchaikovsky to real Tchaikovsky, rearranged so that darker tones come out. It was a pretty cool project.
Q: Regarding the hand held camera work.
A: Well I did that in The Wrestler, brought the camera into the ring. And I knew that’s what I had to do with the camera for this movie. I wanted to dance with the dancers. I wanted to show the effort, the emotion. Very few people get to see that up close. I was lucky, I got to stand backstage at the Bolshoi and at The Met and see how hard it is. I wanted to translate that to the audience. These dancers, they work their whole lives to make things look effortless. So when you see it you think, that’s no big deal. But when you actually see it up close and see what their muscles are doing; the intense pain and pleasure mixed all in one, it’s an amazing thing.
Q: Why the fascination with toe nails and finger nails?
A: I don’t know. (laughter) I do know that one of the dancers gave me her toe nail at the end of the shoot. It was really nasty. (jokingly) I think she thought it was charming, but she’ll never get another job from me. (turning back to Andrea) And maybe you won’t either Andrea.
Q: Regarding sex scene between Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman. How does the sensuality relate to her madness?
A: (slyly) Repeat the question. Um.. let’s see.. well, it’s very much a coming of age story. A girl stuck in a woman’s body. I think we see that a lot with boys becoming men, but rare to see it from a girl’s point of view; and of course a big part of that is sexuality. And uh. . . so that’ what we explored and so… I’m blushing a little bit.
Q: What is your previous experience with ballet?
A: My sister was a ballet dancer when I was a kid. She danced all through high school and I would walk by and see the point shoes and never understood it. So when I first started making features I thought doing something in the ballet world would be interesting to explore…. Most of the time when you go to an industry and say – “Hey, I want to make a movie about you”, they open up the doors and you can go anywhere. The ballet world was like “No thank you”. They really don’t care about movies, or much else outside of ballet. It’s a very intense and insular world. . . No one was interested in helping us out except The Pennslyvania Ballet and luckily they were on break, if they were in the middle of their season, forget about.
Q: Why the title Black Swan?
A: Next question.
Hopefully that helps people in the future that are in search of the facts and speculation surrounding the debate on how much Darren Aronofsky was influenced by Perfect Blue when making Black Swan.
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