Clint Mansell Black Swan Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

An exhilarating score for a remarkable piece of filmmaking.

Spencer Grady 2011

Destructive obsessions, distorted realities and irreversible mental decline; recurrent motifs in the cinema of Darren Aronofsky. His latest film, psychological thriller Black Swan, threads these themes around the story of a New York City ballet dancer, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), whose quest for perfection as the Swan Queen in a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake pushes her beyond the brink of madness.

During the film, an imperious director (Vincent Cassel) tells his troupe that his will be a version like no other. Such plot elements serve to inform, free and shackle Mansell’s soundtrack. The nature of the story itself, of course, means that the shadow of the Russian romantic forever looms large, but Mansell’s brief was always to deconstruct the original score. Here, the influence of Matthew Bourne’s adaptation of the ballet comes to the fore, with its uncompromising thrust and visceral potency enhancing the sense of the hyperreal which pervades Aronofsky’s film.

But it doesn’t take more than a cursory listen to identify characteristic Mansell touches. Those familiar with his soundtrack for Duncan Jones’ Moon will already be accustomed to the edgy bouts of brooding malevolence which punctuate Black Swan’s more traditional passages. They will also recognise the bursts of kinetic syncopation which conjure the panic and paranoia of Aronofsky’s film while offering tribute to the slashing strings of Bernard Herrmann's music for Psycho.

Despite missing the bombast of Mansell’s work on The Fountain and the troubled poignancy of the aforementioned Moon, Black Swan demonstrates the maturing relationship between Aronofsky and his composer of choice. There just remains the doubt over whether the pair are becoming too comfortable with one another’s art, reaching a point where synergy threatens to give way to complacency. Certainly a few moments of Black Swan seem a little too habitual (the contributions of Pyotr Ilyich notwithstanding). Regardless, Mansell has succeeded in reinvigorating his classic source material, spiking its old dreamlike reverie with a dose of contemporary darkness. An exhilarating score for a remarkable piece of filmmaking.

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