Darren Aronofsky’s MasterClass: Breaking Down His Directing Style & Technique

Darren Aronofsky, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, Pi, Noah, The Fountain, Masterclass, Black Swan,

Darren Aronofsky

Renowned for his somewhat odd movies, Darren Aronofsky is a Brooklyn born film director, screenwriter, film producer and an environmentalist. Being exposed to the Broadway theatre performances at an early age by his parents sparked in him a deep interest for the showbiz and film industry.

Darren Aronofsky trained as a field biologist with The School for Field Studies in his youth in 1985 in Kenya, and then in Alaska in 1986. According to him, being so close to nature has changed his perception of the world and at the same time connected him to the environmental issues for life.

Darren says the environmental studies taught him the way of scientific method from hypothesis leading to conclusion which had an impact on his work. In 1987, he got enrolled in Harvard University to study live action and animation, he studied directing and received his M.F.A from the American Film Institute in 1994. His classmate included Todd Field, Scott Silver and he also won the institute’s Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal.

It was during his time in Harvard when he took a serious approach towards film making. He met Dan Schrecker and Sean Gullette who later on starred in Darren’s first film Pi.

Darren’s films often generate controversy and are famous for their quite often bleak and violent subject matter. He has won several film awards thought after his completion of senior thesis film. Supermarket Sweep was a National Student Academy Award finalist. Darren Aronofsky’s movies from the year he started till now are themed about search for happiness, need and longing or love, obsession with publicity as well as the burden of responsibility.

Aronofsky’s first feature film was a psychological thriller Pi, which he both directed and wrote himself. Shot in 1997 this low budget movie of mere $60,000 was sold to Artisan Entertainment for $1 million. The film brought number of honors to him which included the Director’s Award and also an independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.

His next movie was a psychological drama Requiem for a Dream was based on a novel by Hubert Selby Jr. The film attracted some really strong reviews. This movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and earned five Independent Award nomination. Requiem for a Dream earned an Academy Award nomination for the Ellen Burstyn’s remarkable performance.

The first two movies of Darren Aronofsky Pi and Requiem for a Dream, both were low budgeted and montages of very short shots were used frequently which is also known as hip hop montages. He refined it for his second movie.

Aronofsky explained in an interview that the reason for interest in hip-hop montages is related to my life in the 80s in Brooklyn when it was an explosive hip-hop time. While at college, Aronofsky was experimenting with this idea of sampling to storytelling. And his toying with the ideas led to the numerous hallucinations that frequently break out in the movie. Darren Aronofsky was really excited about his harrowing drama of addiction based story. According to him it was an incredible way to show people getting high without actually having to go through the process. While an average 100-minute movie tends to have 600-700 cutes, Requiem features more than 2000.

What he came up with were rapidly edited visual collages which portrayed the protagonist gulping pharmaceuticals which could also show the mental state of the hero with adjusted frequency. It wasn’t high-tech but helped in creating a language for the film similar to a musical motif which carries a message of its own.

Darren Aronofsky is known to get into heads of his characters which is his marvelous talent and quality both. And is known as his signature style. His working style includes lot of split screen and very tight close-ups. Scenes are shot by strapping camera to the actor, long tracking shots as well as time-lapse photography are prominent techniques which he uses in his films.

More than often in his films, Darren replaces between extreme close shots and extreme distance once to create a sense of isolation.

After refusing to direct in an entry in the Batman film series, as well as writing a World War II horror film Below, Darren Aronofsky started production on his third movie which was a romantic fantasy as well as a sci-fi drama, The Fountain. He developed the idea for this movie with this Ari Handel. According to him, The Matrix had totally revitalized the science fiction genre and he wanted to make a movie exploring new horizon as did The Matrix, Star Wars etc.

With The Fountain, Aronofsky limited the use of imagery generated by computers. He wanted to use the computer graphics to the minimum and surely got great results. The film didn’t do really well on box-office but surely got a cult-following.

Also with this movie, Darren endowed a scholarship at SFS. The scholarship tends to benefit the students belonging to urban areas and have shown a resolve and determination to the environmental issues and have limited financial resources. In the same year though he became a member of SFS Board of Trustees.

The visual style of his first two movies show various similarities to Tetsuo: The Iron Man, a Japanese film.

Aronofsky’s fourth movie, The Wrestler was a sports drama and was released to gain critical fame and both of the leading stars were nominated for Academy Award. His fifth feature film Black Swan has also gained a lot of praise and honors which included nominations for five Academy Awards as well as for Best Picture, Best Director and winning the Best Actress for Natalie Portman’s performance. Darren was nominated for Best Director at the Golden Globes and for Directors Guild of America Award nomination.

Darren used a more subtle approach in The Wrestler and Black Swan accentuating the acting and narratives. Both of these movies were directed with a grainy style and muted palette. Music happens to be an essential element of Aronofsky’s movies film composer Clint Mansell has worked with him on all of his six movies.

Darren Aronofsky calls Black Swan a companion piece to The Wrestler because of one of his early projects which involved a love affair between a ballerina and a wrestler. He gradually separated these two worlds as it would have been too much for one movie. No matter how people tend to differentiate between the art factor and take ballet as an art but not wrestling, the amazing fact found by Darren Aronofsky was how similar were the performers in both of these worlds and how both involved the remarkable use of bodies for self-expression.

His sixth movie, Noah as the name suggests a biblically inspired movie which released in March of 2014. It was a very different kind of filmmaking. There were amazing events and amazing creatures. There are no live animals used in the movie. Noah’s shooting was done in Iceland and New York. All of the creatures were created digitally. An entire animal kingdom. According to Darren Aronofsky, the idea of dropping live animals was easy as it wasn’t wise to work with live animals politically and it would have been an extremely difficult task technically.

Darren didn’t want the clichéd elephant, polar bear, and a lion. Neither the giraffe’s head peeping over the rail of the Ark. His intention was to respect the story and history associated with the event and actually envision what would have been involved.

According to the Industrial Light & Magic who collaborated with Aronofsky for Noah, they had done the most complicated rendition of animals of the Ark in the history of the company. It was a detailed study which involved going through the entire animal kingdom and selecting few of each specie, some rodents, reptile, pachyderms and the bird kingdom. The species were given life with different colors and furs. Nothing was fully recognizable but nor was it absurd.

Fame is a fickle friend and filmmaking brings both positive, negative and critical reviews to Darren’s films. Numerous aspects of his movies have been controversial. Requiem for a Dream met with one in the US and was rated N-17 by MPAA because of a graphic love scene. And Darren Aronofsky’s appeal was denied which stated that cutting any scene would ruin the message. Artisan released it unrated.

The Wrestler was condemned by the Iran newspapers and websites and named as an anti-Iranian movie because of a scene where Rourke breaks a pole across his knee bearing Iranian flag. The villain character Ayatollah was also criticized for his Arabian clothing which might lead audiences to belief that Iranians are Arabs.

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan was also subjected to controversies like who designed the 40 ballet costumes for Portman and the dancers. Also, a lot of coverage was given to the dance double issue that how much credit was to be given to Sarah Lane the double and to Portman. Lane claimed to have danced more than she was credited for. Aronofsky said Natalie did most of the scenes there were total 139 dance shots and 111 were done by Natalie and 28 were by Sarah. So if one does the math, Black Swan is 80% Natalie.


MasterClass of Darren Aronofsky in OIFF 2015


BONUS:

DP/30: Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky

DP/30: Black Swan Cinematographer, Director & Editor


DP/30 – The Wrestler’s Mickey Rourke & Darren Aronofsky


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