Thursday, December 12, 2019

#22- The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Birdman (2014) 

Have you ever wished to reinvent yourself? What would that take? What would you have to risk? These are the central questions of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s cinematic wonder Birdman. Its ultra modern take on showbiz and the desire for redemption is creative and thought provoking. You'll be nibbling on the feast of ideas it executes brilliantly days after you've seen it.

Michael Keaton's plays washed up actor Riggan Thomson, trying to regain his former glory he received for his past performance as superhero Birdman. A part that's so self referential its almost as if the movie was written for him. He has a veritable treasure trove of insight in which to pull inspiration from. Thomson is trying to claw his way back into significance by writing, directing, and acting in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story. He has a deep desire to be respected and validated and a drive that only comes from the knowledge that this is his last shot. However he's overflowing with anxiety and self doubt which manifests into a gravelly voiced alter ego personified by the titular Birdman. This voice is constantly second guessing his creative process and yearns to go back to the days when they could just phone it in and cash checks. There are obvious parallels to Keaton's history as the man who opened the door for the superhero genre, and a bitterness exists in his performance that he wasn't given his fare share of the credit for doing so. It's ultra meta to the point of being autobiographical. The meta aspect of not only his performance, but of the entire movie really gives it a wholly uncommon aura. It feels almost like a documentary in that sense. You don't see many movies like this and that is an genuine compliment.

The aspect of this movie that is most talked about however is the creative way it seemed to be one continuous shot. This incredible feat of filmmaking was gloriously executed by camera genius Emmanuel Lubezki. (won an Oscar) Through inventive camera tricks, masterful technique and intricate planning Lubezki is able to completely pull off one of the greatest cinema tricks I've ever witnessed. The camera is deftly following actors from one scene to the next, almost like a apex predator would stalk prey. It feels like a living organism. It never ventures into the gimmicky or gets boring. You'll be constantly wondering how they managed to actually pull this off. A few films have done this before, most notably Hitchcock's Rope, but this is on a another planet.  lt It's one of the greatest technical achievements of this century, bar none.

It's fitting that the film is set in a Broadway theatre in New York City because the acting is first rate, nobody is taking a scene off here. Everybody is just going for it, and nailing it. Most notably Edward Norton, playing Mike Shiner, a brilliant and volatile pro who is obsessed with the art of it all. (Is this movie meta or what? I fucking love it!!)  If Keaton wasn't giving the absolute performance of his life then Norton would be threatening to steal the show. His portrayal of an overconfident method actor will have you despising him one minute and admiring him in the next. He's just so great in this. Delivering stellar performances as well is Zach Galifianakis going against his typical type-casted roles to deliver as Thomson's friend/lawyer and Emma Stone, who shines as his newly sober daughter.

I also have to take a minute to praise the score in this movie, it comes in the shape of Antonio Sanchez's freeform drum explosion that electrifies the film like a conduit and really hits home the anxious neurosis of some scenes that feature it. It makes the movie feel that much more alive. Just like every aspect of the film, it's dazzling.

Birdman gains untold layers of meaning from the presence of Keaton, to the point that you'll almost need to have multiple rewatches to catch all the nuances of his performance. It's' an ultra modern movie. That is constantly mentioning Facebook, Twitter, and viral moments. It's really makes Thomson feel like an aging relic that's been buried in the desert and forgotten about. In reality, the same could be said for Keaton. It's obvious that the conflicts in the movie are his as well. The desperation of one last chance, a gamble on yourself, and the need for a project of great ingenuity to win said gamble. Gone are the hokey one liners and spandex suits, replacing them is a deep dedication to craft and love of the art. I mean watch this scene and tell me he doesn't deserve all the awards.

My favorite exchange in the movie comes when Norton's character tells a critic about Keaton,

"Tomorrow night he’s going out on that stage and risking everything. What will you be doing?"

To me that's the premise of the movie.

Birdman is the first movie that’s made me proud to write this blog, not because I'm risking everything, nothing that dramatic. I am though taking a shot, a risk, to be a little more validated, and I found a deep connection with this movie while rewatching because of that. I'd bet that's not a typically unique experience either. Which is why I think at first glance this movie may come off as pretentious but, it actually has a wider appeal than one might expect. Or you could just watch it for the technical achievement alone.

your choice. 

I'm so pumped that this movie kickstarted the Michael Keaton renaissance I'll always pay for a ticket to a Keaton picture. Quick shout out to his portrayal of Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming which is, in my opinion, the best villain performance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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