Dennis Lim's dismissive little dissertation about the campy nature of Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan ("Is it anti-camp? Post-camp? Failed camp?") expresses so completely what I despise about the ingrown toenail culture of too-cool-for-school film critics. It was posted on Slate on 12.29, but I only read it yesterday.
Aronofsky has made a ballet film with a ballet-performance and ballet-production attitude -- gasping, highly theatrical, consumed, emotionally grandiose, contorted, half-hysterical -- and with a clearly stated intention to echo the story of "Swan Lake." What is there to misunderstand? It's not calculus. Everything in the film is plain as day and yet arch and heightened and horror-film screwy, and all of a piece in a sort of mad-Polanski way. Either you levitate or you don't.
I can just imagine Lim watching it in a theatre with a sour-faced, scrunched-up expression and wondering whether to call it "a dubious milestone in the mainstreaming of camp" or to state that it lacks the "tenderness" of camp, or to write "eew, what kind of camp is it? Is it 'camp in quotation marks' or 'camp about camp'?" Or maybe to write all of this and go from there.
"Hardly naive and in no way coded," Black Swan "is willful, overt, strenuous," he writes. "It's a high-profile movie that strains for respectability, a barefaced Oscar grab. Despite some diva catfights and lesbian sex, there's not a queer bone in its body: Its derisive view of female ambition, its crude linking of art and madness, and the leering frenzy of its girl-on-girl fantasies are as familiar and banal -- as straight -- as can be." [The italics are Lim's.]
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Wait -- no "queer" bones? Unmistakably "straight"? Oh, I get it. I think. Wait...do I?