The Cinematography of ‘The Black Swan’

This has been a good couple of weeks for cinema-going, after seeing 127 Hours and The King’s Speech, I managed to get tickets to an advanced preview of The Black Swan. The film has been out for quite a while in the US and was in film festivals last summer but is only being released to the UK audiences proper today.

I really enjoyed the dark tale and found the handheld style to really work with the film. There are some debates on the internet about the merits of this kinetic style, but I felt closer to the action and felt like I was getting in Natalie Portman’s character’s head and was struggling along with her. It had touches of Cronenberg about it and was totally different again from the two films I mention above and some visual similarities to Kieslowski and Repulsion/Rosemary’s Baby. This different world that they created was one of the main things that I took away from the film; so familiar yet so alien.

The Cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, used a 5DMKii to shoot the rehearsals and have reference footage for how he would later shoot (on 16mm) – which I think is a great use of a camera that I have and want to maximise its potential. They ended up using 7Ds and 1DMKIVs for some shots where smaller set-ups and crews were necessary. He shot with a “Canon 24mm lens at 1,600 ASA to get as much depth of field as possible at a stop of T81⁄2” and pulled focus by hand. It’s nice to see the big guys doing stuff that is comparable to independent and tiny operations. I couldn’t tell the difference between the film and digital, but I didn’t know then – maybe if I went back to it and focused less on the story. Usually, my first watch is to take in the story as much as possible.

Find out more, including what a Texas switch is and its origin, in this interview with Libatique.

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