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Do you feel lied to?

Because if you saw Black Swan, you have been. Or, at least, that’s the opinion of Natalie Portman’s dance double in the film.

A couple of weeks ago, Sarah Lane – the double in question – claimed to not only have danced in most of the movie’s big scenes but that filmmakers asked her to keep quiet about the extent of her performance.

Lane, a soloist for the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, said: “A producer called me and asked if I would please not do any more interviews until after the Oscars because it was bad for Natalie’s image. They were trying to create this image, this facade, really, that Natalie had done something extraordinary. Something that is pretty much impossible … to become a professional ballerina in a year and half. Even with as hard as she worked, it takes so much more. It takes 22 years, it takes 30 years, to become a ballerina.”

Natalie Portman in Black Swan hi-res

Lane claimed that all the full-body shots featuring dancing were her, and that Portman’s face was superimposed onto her body through special effects to make it appear as if she were executing technically sophisticated moves.

Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky said: “Here is the reality. I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film — 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. Twenty-eight are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math, that’s 80 percent Natalie Portman.”

In response, Lane said: “It’s possible if you’re counting the close-ups of her face as actual dancing shots. I don’t call close-ups of her face actual dancing.”

Of course, people can come up with statistics to prove anything (75% of all statistics are made up) but Fox Searchlight haven’t helped matters by quietly taking down behind-the-scenes YouTube clips that showed the VFX team superimposing Portman’s face on Lane’s body.

Lane says that she’s not making a fuss about this because she wants the glory, and she acknowledges that she signed a contract that would not guarantee her on-screen credits, but that her feelings changed late last year after Portman received an Oscar nomination for best actress and the movie’s backers began an aggressive campaign on the actress’ behalf.

She said: “It really hurts for someone to say that they got a personal trainer and they became what I spent blood, sweat and tears doing every day, all my life, in just a year and a half.”

And it’s certainly true that a lot of the campaign was focused on Portman’s physical transformation. The Academy loves it when an actor does something besides act in a movie and there was a lot of that in Black Swan’s promotional material, including the implication that Natalie became a world-class ballet dancer.

Natalie Portman, for her part, has kept silent over the entire affair.

While I don’t buy Lane’s protestations that she isn’t at all interested in some of the attention – it must be hard to see someone win awards off the back of a performance you gave – I agree that there is an argument that needs to be addressed.

Cinema, by its very nature, is one big lie, but it’s when those lies break out of the confines of the movie theatre that it becomes an issue. For me, the problem depends on how much of Natalie Portman’s Oscar win was due to her (perceived) dancing ability.

It’s no secret that the Academy loves it when an actor transforms themselves physically, or undertakes something that bleeds into their personal life, and there’s no denying that Portman ticks both those boxes. However, if the result of her ballet training was a more muscular physique but with too little dancing ability to perform the necessary scenes, then not only have the Academy been hoodwinked, but so have we.

This isn’t like Escape to Victory where we’re required to suspend our disbelief and accept that Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone can hold their own on a football pitch alongside the likes of Pele. Director John Huston never released any statements declaring that foot doubles were only occasionally used and that the actors had become world-class players; however, that is what we’re being expected to believe from Darren Aronofsky, Fox Searchlight and choreographer Benjamin Millepied (Portman’s fiance).

By giving Sarah Lane a mention in a future special edition Blu-ray and perhaps an extra payment, I expect this drama will blow over, but it has certainly ensured that in the future, filmmakers will have to be very, very careful about what superhuman attributes they claim of their stars.

 

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