Taking a Look Back at the Films of Darren Aronofsky on His 45th Birthday

Darren Aronofsky once said, “I’m Godless. I’ve had to make my God, and my God is narrative filmmaking.” And in the church of cinema, for many, the 45-year-old director ranks high on the list of worship. As one of the most psychologically enticing and visually minded filmmakers working today, he creates haunting worlds full of desperate and passionate characters clinging to intangible ideals. As intelligent as he is artistic, Aronofsky’s films come alive through his wonderful knowledge of how to tell a story through dialogue and images, but also characterized by the his ear for music and the help of composer Clint Mansell.

And as today marks the 45th birthday of Aronofsky and his famous petit mustache, let’s take a look back on some of his best work with behind-the-scenes clips and favorites from his amazing soundtracks.

Behind the Scenes: Requiem for a Dream

Aronofsky’s nerve-wracking and chilling sophomore feature about the mutual existence of addiction and psychosis and how love crumbs in its wake. Brilliantly directed, shot, edited, acted, and scored, the film takes us through four leading characters as they fall prey to delusion and reckless desperation. With music that feeds its way through your veins, there are few films who possess such cohesion of sight and sound. Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for her frightening performance as a amphetamine-addicted, lonely older women who becomes obsessed with the idea of appearing on a daytime talk show.

Soundtrack: Requiem for a Dream

Behind the Scenes: Black Swan

Aronofsky’s beautifully dark and sensual psycho-erotic horror thriller. Revolving around a production of Techaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the haunting doppleganger tale is told through a ballet dancer who loses her mind after gaining the lead role of the delicate White Swan. Aronfsky saw the film as a companion to The Wrestler, both surrounding demanding physical performances in various forms of art.  The film won Natalie Portman a Golden Globe and Academy Award with nominations for Best Director, Editing, Cinematography, and Best Picture.

Soundtrack: Black Swan

Behind the Scenes: The Wrestler

Aronofsky’s gritty and painful film of desperation and redemption. A deeply moving portrait of a man at his last end, the film tells the story of an aging wrestler attempting to cling to his past success and failing health while trying to mend a stain relationship with his daughter. Mickey Rourke took home a Golden Globe for his immersive performance as did Bruce Springsteen for his heartbreaking original song.

Soundtrack: The Wrestler

Behind the Scenes: The Fountain

Aronofsky’s romantic fantasy drama that serves as an amalgam of history, religion, and science fiction. Compromising of three story lines, we see the actors play different sets of characters entwined in themes of love and mortality. The visually stunning and hallucinatory film that spans over a thousand years won Clint Mansell a Golden Globe nomination for his stunning and encompassing score.

Soundtrack: The Fountain

Soundtrack: Pi

Aronofsky’s surrealist debut feature, the psychological black and white thriller first introduced him to audiences as visual and narrative force. Centering around a man whose obsessive pursuit of an idea leads him into a spiral of self-destructive behavior, paranoia carries the film as he searches for a key number that will unlock the universal patterns found in nature. The film won Aronofsky a Gotham, Independent Spirit, and Sundance award.

BlackBook Exclusive: Listen to Clint Mansell’s Stunning Soundtrack for Park Chan-wook’s ‘Stoker’

The most fascinating soundtracks provide a gateway into the world of its characters. When a film’s music wraps you in a blanket of sound that allows you to immerse yourself—incorporating the senses and heightening the experience—in a way that fully completes the director’s artistic vision and brings the story to life, that’s when a soundtrack becomes truly memorable. And if there’s anyone who knows understands the importance of symbiosis between filmmaker and composer, it’s the ingenious master of mood, the visionary maestro of cinematic sound, Clint Mansell.

Best known for his work with director Darren Aronofsky, the two have become entwined, creating some of the most amazing amalgamations of sight and sound on film from the paranoid and heartbreakingly hypnotic Requiem for a Dream to the classically disturbed and beautiful Black Swan. “Music is like another character in a film, I think. I’ve heard people say that the best scores are the ones you don’t hear—I think that’s rubbish! Betty Blue, pretty much anything by Morricone or Badalamenti—come on, don’t tell me you never heard those when you were watching the films!” says Mansell, who has now lent his talents to Park Chan-wook’s first English-language film, the fantastical gothic thriller Stoker.

Out February 26 via Milan Records, Stoker: the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is a sonic pleasure. The 18-song album creates a brilliant emotional/psycholigcal landscape for Chan-Wook’s film, evoking both the bone-chilling feeling a light breath on the back of your neck in the dark and the sensual touch of an erotic waltz on the keys. Bookended by haunting yet delicate monologues about coming into adulthood, the soundtrack transports the listener into the headspace of its characters and the feelings that possess them. Mansell employs his affinity for both industrial and classic sounds to create something entirely arresting and powerful, both other-worldy and tactile.

“I hope the music plays a very important role of enhancing and supporting the story and the characters,” says Mansell, who went on to say that he wanted to “create something elegant and yet powerful and emotional for the score. To capture a young girl blossoming in to adulthood, finding out who she is and what she wants was the challenge.”

sotker

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, and Jacki Weaver, Stoker revolves around India (Wasikowska), a musically inclined girl whose father dies in an car accident on her 18th birthday. After her father’s death, her Uncle Charlie (Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother (Kidman). Soon after his arrival, India comes to suspect this mysterious and charming man has ulterior motives, but instead of feeling outrage and horror, this friendless girl becomes increasingly infatuated with him.

Described as everything from Hitchcockian in its suspense and Malick-esque in its quiet wonder, the film is also enhanced by the work of iconic composer Philip Glass, whose “Duet” we’ve already gotten a taste of, and Emily Wells’s wonderful “Becomes the Color.” Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood’s “Summer Wine” rounds out the soundtrack to complete its essence of dark corners of the mind and hallowed halls, filtered through an anachronistic sense of delicacy with a sharp bite.

Clint will be performing two shows to support the release of Stoker in New York City on April 3 and 4 at the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle (get your tickets now before this one sells out!) and at The Orpheum in LA on April 6. Stoker creeps into theaters this Friday (3/1), so we’re pleased to share the soundtrack streaming in it’s entirety to get you in the suspense-filled mood of the film. Enjoy.

Ten Movies You Shouldn’t Watch Alone on Valentine’s Day

Back when I was single, I didn’t put too much stock in Valentine’s Day. (I still don’t, really; I’ll probably stay in and watch movies with my boo.) But I also never really did it right, either. One year, I came home from work, opened a bottle of red wine, and watched the 1977 film version of Equus, which had just arrived from Netflix. You know, there’s nothing like a lighthearted movie about a naked teenager murdering horses! It’s quite charming. Another year, after my boyfriend dumped me three days before Valentine’s Day in a Chipotle, I stayed in with a friend (who had recently broken off her engagement) and watched The Departed. Not too cheery!

So please, don’t make the same mistakes I have made. Here are some movies you should probably avoid watching at home alone this Valentine’s Day.

Sophie’s Choice

You’d think surviving the Holocaust would be bad enough, but then Meryl Streep’s Sophie comes to America and things don’t really work out so well for her.

Kramer vs. Kramer

Meryl Streep is in a lot of sad movies, although this one does have a precocious child actor in it. Don’t let that fool you!

Anti-Christ

Do you like genital mutilation? Then sure, go on, watch the movie that perfectly portrays Lars von Trier’s slow decent into madness.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

It’s romantic, sure, but even though it has a somewhat happy ending, Eternal Sunshine is not the kind of thing you’ll want to watch tonight.

Paris, Texas

First of all, you really have to give yourself a lot of time to get through this one. It’s long and slow. It’s gorgeous, though, but definitely not a feel-good flick.

The Ice Storm

This is the opposite of any movie that made the ’70s look groovy and fun. The clothes are claustrophobic, the mood is tense, and key parties, for the record, are very emotionally complicated!

Celeste and Jesse Forever

Don’t let the familiar funny people in the lead roles fool you: this movie is bleak.

Far From Heaven

Things sucked for women and gay guys even more back in the ’50s, basically.

Half Nelson

There’s nothing romantic about this one, unless you consider the love for a crack pipe to be heartwarming.

Requiem for a Dream

Sure, it’s a lively little romp through the perils of addiction, but you might have a nightmare that your Valentine is a rabid fridge monster who wants to eat you.

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

D.A.R.E. Will No Longer Try To Steer Kids Away From Pot

Just like me at the age of 25, D.A.R.E.—the non-profit program that sends police officers to elementary schools to scare kids away from drugs (and to hand out t-shirts later worn ironically by dudes in their twenties)—will no longer try to avoid marijuana. Well, I guess it will avoid it entirely, as anti-drug sentiments will be dropped from the curriculum.

Blogger Mike Riggs breaks the news over at Reason:

"D.A.R.E. America has determined that anti-drug material is not age-appropriate," the state affiliate leader, who asked not to be identified, told Reason. "The new curriculum focuses on character development."

News of a major curriculum change was first reported in early November when an elementary school resource officer in Kennewick, Washington told KNDU25, "The new curriculum starts as of December for us…it does not bring up the subject of marijuana at all." (Marijuana is the only illicit drug that D.A.R.E. claims to have reduced the use of through its educational programs. Drug reform advocates have slammed D.A.R.E. for its characterization of pot.)

It seems as though the program will continue to focus its efforts on educating about alcohol abuse and persuading kids not to take up smoking, assuming that D.A.R.E. alumni will be able to use the same sort of thinking to avoid other illegal, addictive substances. It’s also an attempt to remain credible, Riggs asserts, as some studies have proven that the program actually encourages drug use. (I guess that’s why we shouldn’t teach kids about sex, huh?) Here’s a breakdown of the new curriculum, titled the keepin’ it REAL campaign:

The subject of marijuana is attended to in the new D.A.R.E. kiR elementary curriculum. The topic, however, is addressed only after it has been established to be an age appropriate topic for the individual concerned classroom.

A wealth of research data substantiates the two most common and dangerous drugs with which elementary aged students have knowledge or familiarity are alcohol and tobacco. These are the substances, across all segments of the population, with the highest use levels at this age group. The experience or knowledge of alcohol and tobacco creates an environment in which it is appropriate to talk with young students about these drugs.

The D.A.R.E. kiR elementary curriculum provides information about drugs, focusing on alcohol and tobacco. Students learn to apply the information, within the constructs of a decision-making model, and to employ resistance skills in making safe and responsible decisions about drugs. While we do not focus individually on all possible drugs which can be abused, we believe the students can apply the learned decision-making model and developed resistance skills to other substances such as methamphetamine, prescriptions drugs, cocaine/crack, heroine, etc.

For the general population of 5th/6th grade students, the topic of marijuana is not age appropriate. Most students in this age group have no basis of reference to the substance. Research has found that teaching children about drugs with which they have never heard of or have no real life understanding may stimulate their interest or curiosity about the substance.

Here’s a thought: why not screen Requiem for a Dream for fifth and sixth graders? It certainly solidified my No Needles In My Arm stance that I’ve upheld for many years. And then you can also bring in a New Yorker on cocaine to lecture them about, well, anything, because being stuck in a room with some chatty jag on coke has also kept me from touching the stuff myself. And, duh, show them a few episodes of Breaking Bad. But there’s no way to keep people from smoking pot, I think, unless you can argue that laughing hysterically and getting super into nature documentaries is a bad thing. Sorry, just keepin’ it real. 

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

Jared Leto Declares War On The Record Industry With His Documentary ‘Artifact’

Artifact, a fascinating new documentary directed by actor and 30 Seconds to Mars front man Jared Leto (under the pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins) made its US premiere at the Doc NYC Fest last night in Chelsea. Focusing on 30 Seconds to Mars’ desire to leave its label, corporate behemoth EMI, the film reveals how the band discovered the seven-year contract termination choice loophole in its contract and the record label’s plans to sue them—for thirty million dollars.

What was meant to be a documentary about the creative process of recording their next album turned into something else entirely: a David-and-Goliath toe-to-toe with Terra Firma, a huge conglomerate owned by billionaire Guy Hands, who had recently taken over EMI with plans to revive the label’s legendary, but crumbling, debt-ridden legacy. It’s also a fascinating look into what is now a very soon–to-be-defunct platform—the record label—and includes commentary from some of the music industry’s leading corporate players and insiders.

Aside from being a gifted actor and musician, Leto also seems to have a definitive career ahead of him as a filmmaker. The film itself is beautifully shot and full of very clean, tender moments between band mates Leto, his brother, drummer Shannon Leto, and guitarist TomoMiličević. Chronicling the recording process with legendary producer Flood as the band hastily hacks a studio in Leto’s spare Hollywood Hills home, the film is filled with insane antic moments and bolts of inspiration as they struggle to create their next album (the aptly named This Is War) amidst raging financial and legal pressures.

Kindly granting me time before introducing the film last night, the charming and utterly sincere Leto told me a bit about where he thinks the record industry is going, his advice to the young musician, and making Artifact, which won the audience award for Best Documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival this year.

Artifact is a really special, DIY project,” Leto said. “It was made by just a handful of people. And we made it because we believed in telling this story. We believe it’ s important for artists and for audiences around the world to know the way things works, so that they can be better informed, and make decisions about how [they] interact with and support artists.”

When I told him my niece and nephew are already clamoring for guitar lessons, I asked him what his advice would be for the aspiring rock star. “I’d tell them to wait as long as possible before they would ever sign a deal,” he admitted. “They’re so many tools now to share your music. You don’t have to be reliant on your record company to share your music. You can make an album, an album that sounds very good, and you can do it very cheaply. Times have changed since I signed our record deal in 1998. But I would tell a young person to wait as long as they can, organically as long as possible, and focus on your craft, your art, and your dreams. The deal will come. But I wouldn’t rush it.”

Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream made Leto not only an indie film icon; it also proved what extreme levels he would go to for his art. (He lost nearly 30 pounds for the role.) It seems that he was really born, though, to make music. “Well, I haven’t made a movie in five years, so, the answer is probably right there,” he says. “But I think the main reason that I haven’t made a film is that I’ve probably been too busy. Part of the success with 30 Seconds to Mars is that you have less time to do some of the other things in life, even the good things.” Leto seems particularly happy with his busy life. “None of us ever expected that it would turn out the way that it has,” he explained. “We’re about to finish our fourth album right now, and that’ll be out sometime next year.”

Asked if he would start his own label, but revealed that he owns and operates an Internet platform that is worthy of a burgeoning media mogul. “I probably wouldn’t [start a label],” he admitted, and revealed he finds it more important for artists to share their work directed with their audiences. “I actually have done this, with three companies that I started on the tech side, to impart solutions for artists,” he explained. “One is a company that does social media management for marketing and commerce, another is a ticketing company, and the third is a social theatre where people can create live experiences and share them with audiences without advertising or sponsorships. These are solutions we’ve developed so artists can really share their work.”

Artifactalso highlights the creative challenges of making art in a way that many documentaries often aspire to, but rarely achieve: “We all shared a part of our lives that we’ve never shared on-screen before, a very intimate and personal part of our lives,” he said. “We take you inside the laboratory! Inside the studio, and in our hearts, and in our minds, to share how difficult this point is in our lives—just battling this massive corporation, and fighting for what we believe in. The record company [guys] are not bad people. They just happen to work in a business that has a lot of challenges.”

Watch Puppets Take on ‘Requiem For a Dream’

Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For a Dream is one intense movie full of graphic shots that stick in your mind long after you’ve seen it.  Had it been made with puppets would it have been so disturbing?  See for yourself.  Someone has gone ahead and made a short clip of the flick that centers on four people lost in drug addiction using furry little creatures.