Pi in Your Face

Director Darren Aronofsky makes films that resemble himself: smart and abrasive

John Pierson, indie film guru and Split Screen host, points out that the major indie auteurs of the late '90s--Neil LaBute, Kevin Smith and Todd Solondz--are writers first and visual artists second. Few current left-of-the-dial filmmakers, he says, have crafted a distinct visual style to match the verve of earlier indie gods such as Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch and the Coen brothers. "There's just a handful on the visual side," he says. "Darren is one, and Todd Haynes is the other. And then you start scraping." While Pierson would like to see Aronofsky apply himself to a more traditional narrative for his next film or two, the young director's visual flair, he says, makes him a significant talent. "Darren is a real breath of fresh air."

Fresh or not, neither Aronofsky nor anyone at Warner Bros. seemed much interested in speaking about the director's helming of the Batman franchise. As reported by Daily Variety last month and rumored on the Internet since at least February, Aronofsky will both direct and work with comics artist Frank Miller to develop the screenplay for Batman: Year One, based on a noirish, 1987 comic-book series Miller wrote for DC Comics. Aronofsky seems like a left-field choice for the project, which will look at Bruce Wayne's initial year as the caped crusader. But it's not hard to figure out why Warner would look for fresh blood: Despite a good start with Tim Burton's first two films, Batman has gotten very lost under Joel Schumacher's stewardship. (Even gay men disowned '97's homoerotic Batman and Robin.) Picking Aronofsky, who's known for doing things his own way, suggests that the studio recognizes the need for serious surgery on its dying monster.

"But if you want to see a film that's right down the middle of the road, please, please don't come see Requiem for a Dream."
"But if you want to see a film that's right down the middle of the road, please, please don't come see Requiem for a Dream."


Pi shows at 8 p.m. Sunday, April 22 at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center on the SMU campus.

Requiem for a Dream shows at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 25 at AMC Glen Lakes Theatres at Walnut Hill at North Central Expressway (director Darren Aronofsky in attendance).

The SMU Film Festival runs April 21, 22 and 25. Call (214) 378-1250 for info.

Aronofsky admits that he only got into comics seriously in the last half of college, when a friend turned him on to stuff like The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, the latter written and illustrated by Miller. "He introduced psychological realism to comic-book characters," says Aronofsky. "What does it take for a real man to put on tights and fight crime?"

During the next few years, Aronofsky will be shooting Batman as well as a science-fiction script he's been writing since the beginning of the year. (Brad Pitt is rumored to star.) His tastes and ambitions send complicated signals. Will he follow the Brian DePalma model, beginning his career with smart, personal films and then drifting into indifference, or the trajectory of a Stanley Kubrick--establishing a signature style that's undiminished in studio settings? At this stage, Aronofksy resembles Tim Burton, the oddball director chosen for Batman on the evidence of the eccentric Beetlejuice--back when a Batman revival was a cool new idea and not a musty corporate warhorse.

"I hope I'm still working in 20 years," Aronofsky says. "I'd like to do a wide range of films--I'd like to do a musical, I'd like to do a western, I'd like to do a heist movie." He's interested, he says, in films big and small, mainstream and arty. "I have a taste for both of 'em. If I could work in both worlds, I'd be really happy."

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