Sam Strange Remembers: BLACK SWAN

Sam Strange recalls the time he made a movie about ballet and Tiger Moms.

Being a ballerina is hard! I had this concubine one time. She was pretty mouthy, but I like that in a concubine. One day she got jealous and threw out a deeply personal Tijuana Bible collection I’d commissioned by an artist who could draw just like Jim Lee. I was pretty pissed off, and blah blah blah I found out that she could kick my ass. I asked her, “How’d you do that!?” She responded, “Ballet, bitch.” Then she did the splits while levitating.

After we broke up I decided to give this ballet a look. I found out that being a ballerina is hard! Those girls (and guys dressed up like girls) work tirelessly. They break bones just like football players, and all for the sake of their art, just like baseball players.

While hanging out with ballerinas, I caught wind of the Swan Lake story, which involves a bunch of stuff I don’t remember. All I really took from it is there’s a white swan and a black swan. The white swan is innocent, while the black swan is sexy. The same actress has to play both parts. This struck me as a great opportunity to explore a subject dear to my spite: The Tiger Mom.

Tiger Mom is the popular nomenclature reserved for Asian mothers who drive their kids like cattle through a strict educational regimen designed to terminate in maximum wealth at all cost. As you might guess, this parenting style does not produce many little Sam Stranges, and that offends me both as an artist and as a person perfectly willing to make half-Asian children. My goal with Black Swan was to save and cradle the artistic rights of an entire generation of Asian youth. I worry this goal may have been lost in casting. Despite being a story about all the crazy shit an Asian girl goes through to become an Asian-American, I had to hire white actors because I needed the film to to have Cincinnati Zoo promo tie-ins.

So Black Swan‘s protagonist is a ballerina who dances with technical perfection but no soul. She knows the moves, she practices routines over and over, she has no time for friends, and she’s never met her vagina. Despite this rigid adherence to discipline and work, she’s still not Ichi-Ban.

That’s a problem because her mother is a Ballet Tiger Mom. Her only goal in life is to have a daughter Number One enough at ballet to take the lead role in Swan Lake. She even named her daughter White Swan to insist she was born to play the part.

Two simultaneous events occur which seem to justify the Tiger Mom’s determination. One, the current starlet in White Swan’s dancing company turns 25 and gets put out to pasture. Two, the company’s director, Brit McFrenchface, announces that their next play will be Swan Lake.

Obviously White Swan wants the part, though she hopes she can score it without getting raped because it’s not ballet, so she may not be good at it. But things are not so easy. Her perfect audition has only one flaw: it’s flawless. Tiger Mom never thought of that. “If you want the part,” he says. “You’ll have to learn how to dance the Black Swan.” She says she can, but her attempts are hilariously stiff and undersexed and filled with accidental nervous toots.

Sensing her one chance drifting away, she enters Brit McFrenchface’s office to beg for the role. He of course rapes her, and she accidentally bites his lip in defense. “There!” he yells. “THAT’S the Black Swan I need!” Egged-on by his reaction and her own sexual retardation, she eagerly tries to bite his nose, which is much closer. “No, no,” he recoils. “One bite was sufficient, thank you.”

So she gets the part, and her Tiger Mom celebrates by buying a cake which they smell for a whole fifteen minutes before throwing away. Then it’s back to work while the Tiger Mom sleeps. Secretly, though, White Swan takes off the Swan Lake record and dances to Vampire Weekend instead. Following this small act of defiance, an inky black feather arises on the skin directly above her butt crack.

Her next day is pretty eventful. While warming up, a new girl shows up from Los Angeles. She doesn’t actually know how to dance, but she’s so Black Swan that it doesn’t matter. Her sexual swagger and rehearsal cigarettes and lack of a Tiger Mom immediately undermine White Swan’s burgeoning independence. She bounces back that night, though, when Brit McFrenchface introduces her to the world as his new starlet. She even sasses-off at the departing starlet who tries to throw a drink in her face but misses because she already threw ten drinks into her own.

Brit McFrenchface then invites her back to his place where he rapes her again. She’s less feisty this time, so after he’s done he tells her to go home and masturbate. She says okay and immediately looks the word up in a dictionary. The concept confuses her, but she does her awkward best. Though she’s not in any danger of finishing, her mother bursts in before she can finish. She’s appalled until White Swan tells her that her director directed her to do it. Hearing this, Tiger Mom makes her stay up all night practicing until she gets it right, which she never does. Still, the effort means something, and she wakes up with a facebook account.

Her next day is pretty eventful. She spends most of the morning trying to Black Swan as hard as she can, but she still commands all the seductive strength of an underaged retarded prostitute. The director asks everyone to leave so he can rape her again, but for the first time in his career, he faces a problem rape cannot solve. White Swan senses that he’s about to give up on her. This feeling increases when Black Swan casually walks across the room completely naked for no reason. White Swan averts her eyes in embarrassment, but Brit McFrenchface ogles greedily, as does her mirror reflection.

While taking a pee break, White Swan notices something odd going on with her fingernails. She runs to the sink and watches in terror as they all rot off her hand, revealing long, fake black nails with intricately painted white flowers on them. Just then, Black Swan knocks on her door and invites her out on the town. White Swan doesn’t know what that means, but she agrees because Black Swan’s assertiveness imbues her with pavlovian submission.

While out on the town, White Swan finally cuts loose. She drinks alcohol, knowingly ingests a roofie, does ecstasy, and makes out with some random dude (Sam Strange cameo!). Then she goes home with Black Swan and has awesome lesbian sex while her concerned Tiger Mom listens through the door, wondering if this was dictated by the director or not. Finally, after years of vaginal repression, White Swan has her first orgasm, and all her Wicked posters turn into Pat Benatar posters.

Her next day is pretty eventful. She wakes up late, hungover, and alone, which is weird because her door was locked from the inside. This means her night of wild lesbian sex was merely a stress-induced hallucination. Still, an orgasm is an orgasm.

She runs to tell Brit McFrenchface the news, but he’s too busy having sex with Black Swan, who may now be the new White Swan. This breaks the floodgates on White Swan’s insanity. She begins seeing doubles of herself everywhere along with aging starlets stabbing themselves in the face with nail files. She takes it out on her mom, cathartically letting all her hidden resentments out in the open. Tiger Mom demands she quit ballet and rededicate herself to Chemical Engineering, but it’s too late. White Swan locks her in the closet and stays up all night watching Jersey Shore.

Her next day is pretty eventful. It’s the Swan Lake premier. When White Swan shows up, people hardly recognize her because she’s so assured and sexual. She’s totally rocking iPod buds and all her clothes are American Apparel. Brit McFrenchface takes one look at her and instantly rewrites his hidden plan to replace her with Black Swan.

The performance goes stupendously. She lives the role of Black Swan and successfully fakes the White Swan role from memory. After years of struggle, she finally becomes Number One at ballet. The next day, she quits and enrolls as an English major at NYU, getting B’s and C’s, mostly. Two decades later, she’s super poor, and her mother’s Tiger Ghost haunts her with “I told you so’s” until she and her wife succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning later blamed on shoddy apartment maintenance. They would have died of malnutrition anyway. Such is the life of a true artist.

(three stars)