GLIT­TER­ING SPELL

Natalie Port­man hits a high note in the dark fa­ble ‘Vox Lux’

The Gulf Today - Time Out - - FRONT PAGE -

“Vox Lux,” the ar­rest­ing new ilm from Brady Cor­bet, fol­lows a fic­tional teen pop star, Ce­leste, who grows up in very real times. A school shoot­ing in 1999, the same year as Columbine, in­spires her first hit song. Soon af­ter, the 9/11 at­tacks seem to push her to­ward a darker, more sin­is­ter sound. Later, in 2017, her mu­sic be­comes linked to ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence, and a now-grown Ce­leste turns to drugs and al­co­hol to cope with the pres­sures of star­dom.

“The movie’s not about a par­tic­u­lar per­son,” says Natalie Port­man, who de­liv­ers a har­row­ing per­for­mance as the older, barely-func­tion­ing Ce­leste (Raf­fey Cas­sidy plays the younger char­ac­ter). Port­man says she watched nu­mer­ous rock doc­u­men­taries to pre­pare for the role but, alas, she won’t say which ones. “I don’t want to name names,” she says, though she adds: “I mean — you can imag­ine.”

Like Cor­bet’s irst ilm, “The Child­hood of a Leader” (2015), “Vox Lux” is the bi­og­ra­phy of an in­vented, pos­si­bly dis­guised, ig­ure. To make sure the movie kept pace with the fast-chang­ing mu­sic world, Cor­bet, 30, (whose act­ing cred­its in­clude “Mys­te­ri­ous Skin” and “Funny Games’) tapped sev­eral plugged-in tal­ents. Sia, the Aus­tralian singer-song­writer pro­ducer (“Chan­de­lier ,”“Cheap Thrills ”), con­trib­uted to nearly a dozen songs for the sound­track. The orig­i­nal score comes from cult mu­si­cian Scott Walker, who fa­mously walked away from star­dom in the 1960s and turned to in­creas­ingly avant-garde com­po­si­tions. The chore­og­ra­phy for the ilm’s cli­mac­tic arena show is by Port­man’s hus­band, Ben­jamin Millepied, for­merly of the New York City Bal­let and Paris Opera Bal­let.

All of which brings up a ques­tion: How did Cor­bet con­vince so many peo­ple to con­trib­ute to a movie that paints their in­dus­try in an un-lat­ter­ing light?

“Uh, that’s not how I pitched it,” Cor­bet says wryly, sit­ting on a sofa with Port­man at a Man­hat­tan broad­cast stu­dio on a re­cent af­ter­noon. “I mean, I think that all the peo­ple that de­cided to be in­volved share a sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment. It’s im­pos­si­ble not to share that sen­ti­ment, frankly. Be­cause it’s true.”

For Port­man, “Vox Lux” marks the lat­est of many roles with strong mu­si­cal asso­ciations. As Sam, the love in­ter­est for Zach Braff’s An­drew Large­man in “Gar­den State” (2004), Port­man in­tro­duced a gen­er­a­tion to the in­die-rock dar­lings the Shins by promis­ing they would “change your life, I swear.” As a trou­bled bal­le­rina danc­ing fever­ishly to Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” in Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s “Black Swan” (2010), Port­man won the Os­car for best ac­tress. Last year, she starred in Ter­rence Mal­ick’s “Song to Song” as the wife of a record pro­ducer (Michael Fass­ben­der).

Port­man, 37, de­scribes her own mu­si­cal tastes as fairly stan­dard for her de­mo­graphic. As a pre­teen, she says, “I was lis­ten­ing to a lot of pop, like Tif­fany and Deb­bie Gib­son. I was a to­tal ‘80s kid.” As ado­les­cence dawned, “I was lis­ten­ing to a lot of ‘girls with feel­ings,’ “she says. “Fiona Ap­ple and Ju­liana Hatield.” “Pretty good artists,” Cor­bet chimes in. “Great artists,” Port­man says. “That’s when I con­nected mu­sic with emo­tion and ex­pres­sion.” Much of the ilm takes place in glam­orous New York City, but it’s of­ten played by Long Is­land. That means Port­man found her­self re­turn­ing to her old stamp­ing grounds while shoot­ing ear­lier this year. The Inn at Fox Hol­low, a ho­tel in Wood­bury not far from her home­town of Jeri­cho (and her Syos­set High School alma mater), served as home base for the crew while shoot­ing sev­eral dance num­bers at a nearby sound­stage. “I had been to many bar mitz­vahs there,” Port­man says.

What’s more, the swanky Gar­den City Ho­tel stood in for a Man­hat­tan ho­tel where Ce­leste be­gins a day of emo­tional up­heaval and hard par­ty­ing with her man­ager (Jude Law). “I’d also been there for bar mitz­vahs and bat mitz­vahs,” Port­man says, laugh­ing. “The door­man there was like, ‘Oh, my God, I re­mem­ber you from be­ing 13 years old.’ It was re­ally sweet.”

Ini­tially re­leased on Dec. 7, “Vox Lux” has drawn mostly fa­vor­able but also po­lar­ized re­views. Some crit­ics have ob­jected tot heilm’ s bloody open­ing se­quence — the Columbine like shoot­ing — and raised ques­tions about what, ex­actly, the ilm is try­ing to say. Is Cor­bet con­nect­ing pop­u­lar mu­sic with tragedy? Maybe even with evil?

“The ilm is a fa­ble. It talks about that which is pop­u­lar as be­ing a po­ten­tially de­struc­tive force,” Cor­bet says. “But no, I don’t think that pop­u­lar mu­sic is evil. I don’t think pop­u­lar movies are evil, I don’t think cap­i­tal­ism is evil. But I think it’s ex­ploited for evil all the time. And I sup­pose that’s what I was ex­am­in­ing.”

Ac­tors Stacy Mar­tin (left), Natalie Port­man, Raf­fey Cas­sidy and di­rec­tor Brady Cor­bet ar­rive for the pre­miere.

Natalie Port­man and Raf­fey Cas­sidy in a scene.

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