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Black Swan by Clint Mansell

Black Swan

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Buy Black Swan (Soundtrack) by Clint Mansell  from Amazon.com
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Black Swan (Soundtrack) by Clint Mansell

Black Swan
Composed by Clint Mansell
Sony Masterworks (2010)

Rating: 7/10

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“The unabashed beauty of Tchaikovsky's SWAN LAKE is, when recalled in our memory, bent by Mansell's craftmanship to produce a momentary shiver instead of enduring bliss. ”

Dance of the Psycho-Plum Fairy
Review by Christopher Coleman

Director Darren Aronofsky has become one of those directors whose every project has fans waiting with bated breath. The auteur has certainly earned such expectations with memorable works like THE WRESTLER, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, AND PI (and I'll throw THE FOUNTAIN in there too, as I thought it quite a work). Aronofsky's latest project has come attached with no less expectation. Joined to the director's creative-hip is, once again, composer CLINT MANSELL. Collaborators since his first, full-length film, PI, the duo dive into another emotional, mind-bender with BLACK SWAN.

On one had, Aronofsky's propensity to weave numerous meta-threads throughout his films usually makes CLINT MANSELL a suitable choice. Mansell's post-modern, minimalism is perfectly suited for Aronofsky's films, but would that hold true for a story based around the psychological-dance of a ballerina?  Natalie Portman portrays the repressed dancer, Nina, who has long struggled to nail the lead role in one of her troupes ballets. Having finally done so, she must both battle with (and yet embrace) both inner and outer "demons." And simply performing well is not enough.  She is bent on attaining perfection in the performances of the white-swan princess and the black swan alike. What is ultimately delivered on-screen, via Portman's award-worthy acting and Aronofsky's sublime direction is quite the erotic-psycho-thriller.

Now, When you talk SWAN LAKE, you, of course, talk Tchaikovsky. As one might expect, his famous music plays no small part in this film. And it is his familiar themes that linger in the viewers mind after the film's final swan song, but with that memory will come a certain chill. Most interesting is the fact that CLINT MANSELL has taken key segments from the famous ballet and adapted them for use as the film's score - a film that, while based around a ballet, is in the end, a thriller.

Mansell makes strong use of out of one of Tchaikovsky's most memorable themes of all, the "Swan Theme."  He does make liberal use of it throughout, but not always in the most direct manner. We do get a rousing introduction to it in track 3, "A New Season" and later, in, all it's fullness, in tracks such as "Stumbled Beginnings" (12), as the troupe performs Act I of the ballet. It's Mansell's more subtle adaptations of the theme that are the most interesting; however.  In "A Room of Her Own" (4) the piano leads out with this theme while the eeriest of mix darkly processed sounds wave and undulate offstage. Before long this dissonance takes over, building up to an explosive bit of sound design. This piece leaves no room to doubt just how black things are going to get. Reversed samples and edgy synths echo and moan as we are absorbed into Nina's contorted world. As twisted and uncomfortable as things become, we can still pick up electronic moans performing Tchaikovsky's swan theme.

I'd like to say that Tchaikovsky's work is the skeleton of BLACK SWAN and that CLINT MANSELL's music is the subtle sinew connecting it all; however, while that is likely a good analogy, it implies that discerning Tchaikovsky from Mansell is fairly easy to do. It is certainly not. There are a number of other thematic ideas which Mansell employs that may either be small repeating segments written by Tchaikovsky or may be Mansell's own, but cleverly written in Tchaikovsky's style. Those who know Swan Lake inside and out will likely be able to tell. Rather than spend uncountable hours (or days) trying to dissect this, I'll simply point out a few more tent-poles of the score.

First, we have a waltz that accompanies Nina's innocent dancing in "Nina's Dream" (1) and then is briefly reprised in "The Double" (9). A beautiful, pulsing piece played on piano and strings introduced in "Mother Me" (2), then recurs in "A New Swan Queen" (5).  Another important introduction is found in "A New Season" (3). Here, a three-note orchestral burst plays just after a brass fanfare and just prior to the first notes of the "swan theme" but Mansell makes it a recurring action/dramatic idea that returns at key moments of the film such as: towards the conclusion of "The Double" (9) and at the midpoint of "Opposites Attract" (10). Lastly, Mansell gives us another simple idea formed by a repeating 3-note, rising, motif on (what sounds like) a heavy processed guitar in "Cruel Mistress" (7) and carries it over to piano in "Night of Terror" (11). Regardless whether these piecs originate with Mansell or Tchaikovsky, CLINT MANSELL has done one bang-up job of adapting it for this film.

BLACK SWAN is is an eye-popping thriller, whose thrill is subtly enhanced through Mansell's workmanship. In fairly strong contrast to his other late-year-entry, FASTER, BLACK SWAN is marked by the beautiful tension created over the entirety of the score. Having to match the ominous, visual, surreality of Aronofsky's film would be feat enough, but to then elect to use Peter Tchaikovsky's bright and beautiful SWAN LAKE as the score's basis is another accomplishment altogether. This choice alone earns Mansell a big, bowl of credit since: one, it must have been unimaginably more difficult to adapt a ballet to work as a horror-score, and two, doing so would likely disqualify the effort, no matter how good, from Academy Award consideration.

In the film itself, Mansell's work does what it should, subconsciously enveloping the viewer in both the rapturous world the the innocent white swan but also that of the seductive black swan. At the same time, we are pulled into the fractured mind of the young lady who wishes to perfect the performance of both.  With some irony, I say that it remains Tchaikovsky's themes that leave the most indelible mark on the viewer/listener. His ballet is, afterall, at the heart of the film and his memorable work should duly take center stage. On the other hand, as they were designed to, Mansell's original, dark and dissonant elements, play the role of the understudy in this performance, but manage to leave their own dark stain somewhere in the hearers psyche. The unabashed beauty of Tchaikovsky's SWAN LAKE is, when recalled in our memory, bent by Mansell's craftmanship to produce a momentary shiver instead of enduring bliss. This is no small feat and the end result is a perfect fit for the film.  My best guess is that those who adore the original Tchaikovsky composition may take some offense, but those who enjoy CLINT MANSELL's work in general (and those predisposed to beauty-tinged by a bit of horror) may take the most delight in repeated listens.


Rating: 7/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Nina's Dream 3:28  ***
2 Mother Me 1:56  ****
3 The New Season 1:38  ****
4 A Room of Her Own 6:23  ****
5 A New Swan Queen 3:29  ***
6 Lose Yourself 1:30  ***
7 Curel Mistress 2:08  ***
8 Power, Seduction, Cries 1:06  ****
9 The Double 8:01  ****
10 Opposites Attract 2:48  ***
11 Night of Terror 3:45  ***
12 Stumbled Beginnings... 5:44  ****
13 It's My Time 1:42  ***
14 A Swan is Born 3:51  ****
15 Perfection 2:20  ***
16 A Swan Song (For Nina) 2:39  **
  Total Running Time (approx) 52 minutes  

 

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