Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

tn_birdmanorBIRDMAN OR is an incredible movie on a technical and craft type level. It’s like a play, really. Mostly dialogue and centered around one building, but it’s also very cinematic because it’s photographed ROPE-style, as if the whole movie is one continuous shot. Of course it’s not, that’s all an illusion, and it’s not even supposed to mimic real time. Sometimes it will pull up to the sky and it will become day or night before it comes back down, or the events within the shot will make it clear that time has passed. One second they’re in a rehearsal for a play, the next there’s an entire audience there. Pretty tricky stuff pulled off with the genius of director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki, expanding on the long takes he did with Alfonso Cuaron in CHILDREN OF MEN and GRAVITY. The director/co-writer this time is their buddy Alejandro González Iñárritu (BABEL).

It’s the story of Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton, JACKIE BROWN), who was a serious actor but became known mainly for playing a super hero in a trilogy of movies in the early ’90s. Now he’s trying to adapt a Raymond Carver story for the stage. He’s having all kinds of problems right before the first preview, while also dealing with emotional crises about his lagging fame, his perceived lack of respect as an artist, his failed marriage (Amy Ryan plays his ex-wife, still in his life), the crappy job he’s done as a father (Emma Stone plays his recovering junkie daughter/assistant, who is constantly annoyed with him and her job). So we, as the point of view of the camera, hover there and watch his rehearsals, his arguments, we fly through the labyrinthine back halls of the theater, into the dressing rooms, onto the scaffolding, onto the stage, outside into crowded Times Square. There is crying, fighting, fucking.

Meanwhile Riggan seems to be losing it, he occasionally hears the Beetlejuice-like voice of his movie character egging him on and finds that he can move objects with his mind and even fly. In fact we first meet him levitating in a yoga pose, but still managing to look pathetic in his slightly loose tighty whiteys and dingy theater-basement apartment that the narration tells us “smells like balls.”

It’s an impressive magic trick on the part of these actors, having to hit so many emotions and so many marks, as well as play their characters in the play, sometimes badly, sometimes brilliantly. Naomi Watts (as Riggan’s lead actress) is once again called upon for her ability to use two acting styles in a movie, one of them less believable than the other. (And also to kiss a woman again.) And Edward Norton (THE BOURNE LEGACY) is the respected, impossible to work with stage actor. So make of that casting what you will. Probly a coincidence. I think it said so at the end, any similarity between one guy being a dick and the character being a dick is a coincidence and there’s no way anyone could’ve known.

(I’m not saying he’s a dick, that’s just his reputation, I wouldn’t know if it’s true. I just know I liked Eric Bana’s Hulk better and I’m scared to tell him.)

mp_birdmanorAnd there’s other clever shit too, like the score, which mostly consists of feverish improvised jazz drumming by a guy named Antonio Sanchez. A couple times Riggan walks right past him, just sitting there performing the score on the street or in a hallway. Sort of like in I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA when they’re followed around by the bands playing their theme songs.

As a movie it’s just firing all its filmatic engines, it’s really good. But in my opinion the ideas beneath the surface are not nearly as smart as they’re probly intended to be. It has the feel of satire, but like so many Hollywood-self parodies it’s mostly saying obvious shit and doesn’t even feel entirely accurate. The movie actor wants to be seen as a serious artist but is really just doing it for his ego, the theater actor is a crazy pretentious asshole, the critic is cruel and unfair and full of shit and given way too much power, and they all have a little bit of a point but mostly are dipshits and they all hate each other. Then the daughter constantly looks at her phone and preaches the gospel of Twitter and Youtube which is her only measure of cultural relevance. The movie seems afraid to write off what she’s saying, because it’s made by adults and they want to get it, they don’t want to be too old to understand all this internet and electrical what not. But then – surprise surprise! – Riggan becomes one o’ them viral sensations they got now when he does something crazy. Take that, social media age!

And just for us oldsters there’s something tragic that happens and the old guard read a bunch of deepness into it that’s not really there. Such a huge problem in the arts, thank god we got these dog-licking-its-balls Hollywood-on-Hollywood movies to set things straight.

One thing I kept think about was the casting of Keaton. Obviously there is some meta type shit going on here because in real life he played Batman around the same time as his character played this stupid Birdman character. Riggan seems to have some guilt and disgust about all the best movie actors of today playing super heroes, an age kicked off by his movies. I don’t think this is Keaton’s real attitude, but it does line up with his history. His Batman movies were the beginning of the modern comic book movie. There’s actually not another actor that did that in that era, this could only be Michael Keaton.

And yet look at him. He has shown no sign of struggling to regain relevance and respect under the shadow of Batman. In fact, Batman gave him enough money to just kick back and not work for years and years. And now that he’s been showing up in movies again these last couple years it’s like an old friend is back. It’s “Oh good, Michael Keaton decided to act again,” not “I’m glad they’re finally giving him another shot, he deserves it!”

And while I’m sure people come up to him on the streets all the time and ask him if he’s ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight I don’t think he’s stuck being mainly thought of as Batman. He definitely doesn’t have journalists asking him if he’s gonna do another Batman movie. His own persona is as iconic as his masked character and other people are more associated with Batman now than he is. If it’s been a problem for him he doesn’t let it show.

I don’t know, maybe this is a weird complaint, but it bothers me that there is exactly one actor in the world who had a career like this character, and yet he did not have a career at all like this character. Doesn’t that mean that it’s not accurate satire? It’s not like it’s making fun of a broad category of actors who kicked off the modern comic book movie. I guess it’s the satire of what would’ve happened if Michael Keaton was a totally different type of guy who didn’t turn down BATMAN FOREVER. And it’s about time somebody took that non-existent alternate dimension sellout version of Michael Keaton down a notch, right?

Which reminds me, let me tell you the specific reason why I put off seeing this movie until now.  I was actually really anticipating it before it came out, and then during the opening week I happened to overhear a guy recommending it to his friend. “It’s an attack on the fame culture, and the blockbuster culture,” he said. “On the whole American film culture, really. And it needed to be said.”

Of course he meant that as high praise, but it was the first indication to me that the movie was gonna be kinda on the dumb-guy-who-thinks-he’s-really-smart side. And it is, so I’m glad I had accidental forewarning from this guy who wants to blow the lid off of American film culture for having the gall to make popular super hero movies. The swine.

(To be fair though I don’t think that guy’s take on the movie is totally accurate. The people doing the Raymond Carver play don’t come off looking any more deep than whoever made the bird monster movie. It’s really an attack on everybody trying to make art, because they all suck.)

Anyway, I still I enjoyed it. It’s not a work of genius, but it’s definitely ingenious. It’s worth, you know, taking a peck at or whatever. It’s for the birds… but also some humans!

This entry was posted on Friday, December 5th, 2014 at 4:52 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

28 Responses to “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

  1. Hallelujah! Finally, someone else who felt the exact same way I did about this movie and I’m so glad it turned out to be Vern. It’s absolutely worth a watch, it’s not a bad movie at all. Keaton’s absolutely fantastic and I hope it launches a Keatonassaince. But, man, is the movie nowhere near as clever or smart as it thinks it is. This is the kind of stuff a pretentious film student would think was brilliant, the kind that hasn’t seen very many movies, just the ones your supposed to see. Guess I’m not a big Iñárritu guy, all his movies have an air of pretension and feel like they’re shouting at you about how important they are, but they just feel empty and shallow underneath.

  2. That’s pretty much how I felt. It’s a virtuoso filmmaking experience but it’s not really saying much, and the things it is saying I don’t think it really believes. It’s really well made and entertaining, but it didn’t really stick with me. I’m glad I saw it in the theater, though, both because the camerawork and music really are pretty great and because I think it’ll seem even more inconsequential on video.

  3. Now that I think about it, what the fuck do I care if it’s consequential or not? It was a fun movie. It had a lot of good energy and got me jazzed up, even when I knew it was kind of just conning me. I liked it. You should check it out.

  4. The theme song should go “Biiiiiiirdmaaaaaaan, come together with your hands.”

  5. As with your GONE GIRL review I feel like you sometimes take an overly literal approach to evaluating movies. It seems to me that it’s irrelevant whether anyone in real life has had a career like Riggan. The point is he’s a populist entertainer that wants to make Serious Art and thus opens himself up to ridicule. This has many real world parallels. I recall people being taken aback by the casting of Adam Sandler in PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE for example. And people being shocked that Van Damme could act in JCVD. I suspect Iñárritu just picked a superhero character since they are so popular right now and he finds them kind of dumb. They’re just emblematic of a certain kind of entertainment. Plus it allows for a great way to visualize the alter-ego character. To me casting Keaton seems more like an after-the-fact meta-joke (and the perfect choice for the role), not some statement on his career or any other comic book movie actor’s career.

  6. And thank you for calling out Inarritu’s bullshit message. And what’s his beef with blockbusters? Blockbusters didn’t stop Inarritu from making five art films that did well and won oscars. But that’s all his movies, thinking they’re so deep because they’re about sad shit and life is hard, man, but Inarritu lacks he maturity to even understand how his characters’ poor choices lead to those tragedies. It’s not just random.

    Anyway, BIRDMAN is the best movie I have ever completely disagreed with. Love Keaton and the long takes are just so impressive even I couldn’t always figure out when they cut.

  7. Ed Norton was really impressive – he took what could’ve been an ungenerous caricature of a character and made him funny and original. I think that’ll be the main thing that stays with me about BIRDMAN.

  8. I’m just still disappointed that this isn’t a major motion picture about HARVEY BIRDMAN, ATTORNEY AT LAW.

  9. I really gotta disagree that the point was “High art is good and Blockbusters are dumb”, because does the film really come down in favor of one over the other? Emma Stone’s Oscar Nomination Clip* monologue about Theatre being a dog and pony show for rich old people cuts way deeper than that the big SFX scene with the robot vulture. This is a story about a guy who wants to make something and he’s stuck between the opinions that doing sophisticated work makes you a pretentious asshole and doing escapism makes you a lowbrow asshole. No matter what he, and by extension all creative type folks, can’t really win (SPOILERISH: I guess he kind of does but I lost it when the positive review had the line about how Riggan invented a new type of theatre that can only be called “Hyper Realism” which is the jerkoff fantasy everyone who has ever done a stage show has had at some point. That can’t be anything but a joke). Every character is refreshingly human, each one making some really good points in some scenes and being totally full of shit in others. I never felt like I was being preached at, just given some things to think about delivered with A+ style.

    The final shot sort of sums up the intent of the movie for me: Read it how you will, but nothing is spelled out exactly and maybe the whole thing is just a big joke, maybe.

    And now that I’ve made my pretentious points I need to be even more pretentious and make a few stray observations as a Professional Theatre Type Person:

    A lot of Riggan’s problems could have been avoided by hiring a decent Stage Manager. Whoever he had was doing a terrible job.

    Given current costs of running a show in New York it would not be unreasonable to assume Riggan spent in the high six or low seven figures on his vanity project, so at least he put his money where his mouth is.

    Actresses breaking up with their boyfriends to then sleep with each other and grown men wrestling in their underwear over stupid shit doesn’t happen on every show, but I can honestly say I have seen both happen more than once.

  10. Jake, maybe so. But it seems to me like the movie definitely implies that it’s making a statement about how Hollywood is, and that is for sure how many people have interpreted it, including the guy quoted at the end of my review. So it seems to me odd that the main character does not actually represent an existing phenomenon in Hollywood. I mean, for sure it is intended to be in some way poking fun at the popularity of super hero movies, but only the scene where he talks about the acclaimed actors playing super heroes really has any resemblance to the actual trend. I don’t see this as a big problem in the movie, just as the best way to illustrate how broad and not very observant the Hollywood satire part of it is.

    But luckily I don’t think that’s the main topic of the movie.

  11. Oh, man. The quote from the random Birdman moviegoer is priceless. I can just imagine the urgency in his voice as he exclaimed “And it needed to be said”!

    During the first half of the film I went back and forth about how much the film worked as a satire. The critics seemed far too mean to seem real, but I’m not in the movie business so who knows. Once I let go of whether or not the film worked as satire, I was able to really enjoy the film. It really is a superb piece of filmmaking. Everybody puts in a great performance, and there’s a tremendous amount of energy throughout its running time. I do think the film is also about growing older and facing our own obsolescence, which transcends the satire bits. If you read it on that level, I think it might work better for some people.

  12. animalramirez1976

    December 6th, 2014 at 9:23 am

    This movie didn’t leave me cold, exactly. Room temperature is more like it.

    The character types were straight out of a MGM satire of Hollywood and/or Broadway from the 40s: the washed-up star who wants to be taken seriously, the egotistical method actor who drives everyone crazy, the exasperated producer, the neurotic, insecure actress, the horrible critic. But all these characters were presented seriously and as having legitimate points of view; even Edward Norton, who had the most ridiculous character and the only one really played for laughs.

    That sounds like an interesting idea: a joyless satire. But the tone was really flat and off-putting.

    And the film was also really overstuffed with other ideas as well: wacky slapstick, creepy surrealism, virtuoso filmmaking, a picture of modern-day Broadway shows routinely cast with washed-up film and tv stars, and reflections on fame in society. That’s just too much stuff.

    Oddly, I never thought of this film as being about superhero movies or Hollywood films in general.

  13. To me BIRDMAN seems to be about the theater much more than it’s about movies. Unlike Vern I never really interpreted it as being specifically about Keaton’s career, or as any kind of anti-Hollywood satire. It’s about a middle-aged dude who’s desperate to find meaning as a person and/or artist, and that is the subject of many (perhaps too many) other highbrow type movies and books. He’s trying to define himself instead of letting others define him, and I think that’s a pretty universal concern.

    Is the movie really against superheroes and all that they stand for? That dream (or whatever) sequence with the giant robot vulture I thought was pretty amazing. When Birdman gloatingly tells Keaton that audiences want to see destruction and mayhem, the visual evidence is pretty persuasive, because that sure was cool.

    Our culture today seems more and more divided between people who only like superheroes and fanboy franchises, and people who only like New York Times-friendly dramas about urban intellectuals. And if you’re old enough to remember a time when film buffs liked all kind of movies – when it wasn’t considered that offensive to enjoy both ANNIE HALL and SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE – then I think BIRDMAN can be regarded as more of a depiction of what a weird time we’re in now, and how frustrating it is to only be allowed to do one thing and yet be hated by anyone not into that one thing.

    Is TAXI DRIVER “satirizing” cab drivers or urban vigilantes, or is it simply a character study of one man coming unglued? Does A CLOCKWORK ORANGE side fully with Alex or with his adversaries? Would we interpret these movies differently if the lead actor’s biography was distractingly similar to that of his onscreen character?

    I think the movie sympathizes with the Keaton character more than it criticizes him, as he tries to make sense of an increasingly inhospitable world. It’s almost certainly on his side when he harangues the theater critic. (A friend of mine had a completely opposing interpretation to Vern’s – he loved that scene for defending entertainers in the face of elitist snobs.)

    When Keaton’s daughter gives him the big lecture about how he has no concept of relevance because he has no online presence – and because there are hundreds of other people fighting just as hard for relevance as he is – I don’t know that the movie is fully agreeing or disagreeing with her, it’s just one more piece of confusing and discouraging information for our hero to process.

    Perhaps Vern is right that the bravura filmmaking is disguising some overly familiar themes. Vern once said “I need another movie about the New York art community like I need another TV show about lawyers. Which means I don’t need any.” That’s a great quote but might also indicate a lack of sympathy for the Keaton character’s “plight.” Maybe in Seattle there are too many people who only like art films and theater and don’t respect action movies and superhero movies. In other regions (such as the Internet) there seem to be an awful lot of people who feel the opposite. And of course both prejudices are wrong.

    In any case, I’m sorry that one guy on the street liked this movie for the “wrong” reasons, but that needn’t take points away from what is still a pretty good movie in my book.

  14. The Original Paul

    December 7th, 2014 at 11:36 am


    “Our culture today seems more and more divided between people who only like superheroes and fanboy franchises, and people who only like New York Times-friendly dramas about urban intellectuals.”

    Man, that might just be the most pessimistic statement ever made about movie-fandom. And that’s coming from the guy who says that, from his experience at his local multiplex (hell, I had to drive for an hour and twenty minutes just to see bloody NIGHTCRAWLER), filmmaking is divided into three camps: the stuff pandering to tween boys, the stuff pandering to tween girls, and the straight-to-DVD kids’ animated films that didn’t make enough money in America so they got stuffed in cinemas over here to recoup their losses.

  15. Curt – thanks, I appreciate your insights. Fortunately I don’t see such as clear divide between only-art-movie and only-super-hero people as you do. Or if I do I generally don’t discuss movies that much with those people. I’ve always tried to promote open-mindedness and broadening of horizons in movie tastes. I figure people who can’t appreciate some lowbrow and some highbrow are boring people.

  16. Is that really true? The number of comments here discussing and complaining about the new STAR WARS and TERMINATOR movies that won’t be released for 6+ months dwarf the number of comments for GONE GIRL which can be seen right now in it’s full length non-trailer version and is by one of the greatest directors currently working. Or BIRDMAN. Or BOYHOOD. Or WHIPLASH. And that’s not even stuff on the higher end of the brow. When you review a film by Michael Haneke the comments tend to be a back-and-forth between the people who think he’s just a pretentious douchebag and those that disagree and think he’s actually a pretentious asshole. Literally name-calling the guy for having the audacity to make a film that they don’t like (probably anyway, no way they’d support that douchebag by paying to see one of his movies. Take that, Pretentious McSadpants!).

  17. Thank you all for your comments. I hope I really am wrong about that divide in the audience, and that you all read my post and thought “man, he crazy” rather than “whoa, he’s right.”

    Back to BIRDMAN: I think I loved this movie more than you guys. Like Marlow I had some personal experiences to project onto the movie. Part of me saw myself in the Keaton character’s shoes, and could relate to being surrounded by naysayers – some of whom are idiots, some of whom have good points that are painful to hear.

    (Also, I saw it soon after having an argument with someone who was extremely close-minded in his obsession with movie formulas. So to see a movie that regarded artistic ambition as even enough of a thing to be worth arguing about – and was filmed in a bold enough style to prove it – was very nourishing.)

    That none of the characters are completely right was something that for me added depth and complexity to the movie, rather than making it “an attack on everybody trying to make art”. Keaton’s character has a very real need for validation yet is making questionable sacrifices (affecting his family’s financial stability) in pursuit of it. Ed Norton’s character is arrogant but nonetheless gets some moments of humanity, such as wishing he could see the city through young eyes. And Emma Stone’s character is an irresponsible recovering drug addict, which (to me) made her monologue about relevance seem less like a Capt. Picard end-of-episode “message” on the screenwriter’s part and more like something an impatient daughter might actually say to her crazy, self-obsessed dad.

    I don’t think the movie takes a stand completely in favor of either blockbusters or “art”. They each offer a different type of allure (wealth and popularity vs. respect and personal fulfillment) yet each is elusive and difficult to hold on to. Keaton’s character is caught between the two – his past career as Birdman and his lifelong obsession with Raymond Carver both contribute to his current breakdown.

    But if anything, the film is perhaps slightly more in favor of blockbusters and spectacle, rather than art. “Art” is clearly embodied by the hostile theater critic and (to a lesser extent) by the Ed Norton character using the pursuit of truth to justify his callousness. By contrast, there’s no calculating studio executive to represent the evils of blockbusters – at most there is the hallucinated Birdman taunting Keaton in his ear. The people who know Keaton as Birdman (including journalists) seem genuine in their affection for him and his character. And Birdman provides not only the film’s title but all of its visual metaphors.

    That’s the final irony – this is a very stylish, edgy, technically innovative arty drama, yet it has a much harsher view of the quest for artistic cred (shown as a descent into madness) compared to the uncomplicated joys of mass entertainment. To me the most satirical point is that Keaton earns the public’s love simply by embarrassing himself on the Internet, yet needs to actually harm himself to get the “real” artistic cred he so recklessly craves.

  18. Jake: Well, I was talking about the people I know in Seattle, not the commenters here. Your evaluation is definitely inspired by true events, but I don’t think it’s completely fair. It’s easy to get more comments about a movie that doesn’t exist yet that most humans on earth will watch than one people might not have seen or plan to see. And all of the movies you mentioned got more comments than alot of my random slasher or Billy Blanks reviews. Plus, smaller, less mainstream movies including UNDER THE SKIN, LOCKE, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (which I haven’t reviewed, but get many requests for), THE ROVER, ENEMY and BLUE RUIN have been pretty well liked by people here.

    But I share your frustration sometimes. Obviously I have the most passion for action movies, but I used to have a goal of showing people why that genre deserved more respect and appreciation than it was getting. That seems to have kind of happened by now. But getting some of the guys I’ve met who love action movies to open their minds to other types of movies on occasion can be pretty hard.

    I still stand by my old soundbite that a well-rounded person should be able to appreciate both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jean-Luc Godard. Personally I’m much more knowledgeable about the first one, but everybody oughta take a look at different eras and styles of movies. If you love food you don’t only eat one kind of food.

  19. Vern that is very true. It’s a key reason I stick around here. Despite the fact that I’ve pretty much abandoned every other place I discussed film on the internet in.

    I’m a very multifaceted person in real life. People get genuinely shocked that I’m very heavy into philosophy despite my sometimes clownish demeanor. Certain people can’t even believe that I genuinely enjoy sports despite the fact that I never play them and still read comic books etc.

    So I expect the communities that Im a part of to be made up of many other multifaceted folks both online or off. When they’re not I just tend to lose interest.

    I used to be more tolerable of them before. however once I turned 30 last year that changed. Now I just find it to be a chore to be around in a community where most people are pretty one dimensional. especially when I’m the one dropping most of the knowledge and not learning anything from my peers and those communities.

    Not that I have anything against sharing knowledge but it just seems that’s the only thing I do in those places and it could be exhausting. considering how precious I consider time I just don’t appreciate wasting it on the net that way. Especially when I already do that in real life with most people I know already.

    I like more mutual communities where I could both drop knowledge but also gain knowledge from fellow posters like this one. Its just a much more productive way to use the Internet to communicate with other hobbyists IMO

  20. Vern: That makes more sense. I tend to find people in real life have more varied taste in movies than often seems to be the case online. Or when they don’t, they aren’t as prone to hyperbolic rants and complaints.

    “It’s easy to get more comments about a movie that doesn’t exist yet that most humans on earth will watch than one people might not have seen or plan to see.”

    But isn’t that what Curt was saying? People into blockbusters and genre movies often completely ignore other types of films. There’s new films out this year from Linklater and Fincher and Jodorowsky and Jarmush and von Trier and on and on. All of whom can be identified with their last names, so you know they’ve got street cred. As a film lover how can you skip those or have no desire to see them? I don’t get it. And certainly obscure older films nobody has seen won’t get that much in the way of comments. But these are not obscure at all. So while I don’t quite agree with Curt that the dichotomy is completely clear cut (and I’m not sure it’s actually any different today than it was in the past) it’s still a phenomenon I notice online.

    And even the artsy to extra artsy films you mention people liking are all genre films (except maybe LOCKE? I didn’t see that one). I’d be interested to know exactly how many people have been demanding you review the new Dardenne brothers film coming up.

  21. The Original Paul

    December 8th, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Jake – it’s not quite Dardennes, but I keep on at Vern to see / review the excellent HEADHUNTERS, which is a foreign-language crime drama set largely in the world of high art. I think there are a lot of different tastes represented here. Come to think of it, I’m probably the most anti-“art film” guy here, and that’s purely based on recent personal experience (I’ve seen a lot of really bad ones recently, and the nearest arts cinema to me is over an hour’s drive away so it stings a lot more when the journey isn’t worth it.) And I loved HOLY MOTORS, so don’t take even that too literally.

    Broddie – amen to just about everything you just said, brother. And on a related topic, get the fuck out of my head!

  22. The Original Paul

    December 8th, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    And that’s another point… a lot of people who might like to watch more art films just don’t get the opportunity. Myself included. For me a trip to the arts cinema requires a tenner’s worth of petrol plus a meal out. So naturally the stuff in the multiplexes is going to get more attention.

  23. Broddie, I reached a similar crossroads in my own life a couple years ago. A friend reacted to my plight with this reassuring quote: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find another room.”

    I think some people’s exclusion of certain types of movies might not always be due solely to ignorance or close-mindedness. Sometimes it’s because people think they’re fighting some kind of culture war. People feel they have to oppose Hollywood in order to champion art films, or vice versa.

    And the Internet didn’t even invent that attitude. It was definitely going on in decades past – back then these arguments were waged in the pages of books, magazines, newspapers and manifestos, rather than online.

  24. I’m late to the party on this one, but I think that, like Jake and Curt, the movie to me fell squarely on the “entertainment” side of the “art vs. entertainment” thing inasmuch as it addressed it at all. If nothing else, I think the scene between Keaton and Norton, where Keaton gives a monologue about his dad that’s convincing enough for even Norton to believe it and drop his affected tough-guy facade, cements that in my mind.

    And then on top of that the two characters who represent the art world are ultimately the most shallow and superficial – Norton’s character is clearly a genius, much more a master of his craft than Riggan, but we find out as the film progresses that it’s because he’s all surface, he’s pretty insipid when he lets his guard down, he can emulate human emotion but he’s confused by it, he can’t get a handle on it; when he tries to rape Naomi Watts he’s dumbly surprised that she’s still upset it about later, and all he can muster up is a gormless a pithy “Actresses!”

    And then the critic and her weird review of the play, which my wife thought was so odd-sounding that it seemed more like a eulogy than a review (and it makes sense, there’s a lot of other funerary symbolism in that scene – the ex-wife wearing all black, the daughter laying flowers on his chest).

    Anyway, aside from all that, one thing I thought was neat was the way the film used the rehearsals of the play throughout, to highlight different passages and then come back and see that the lines have new meaning as they introduce new context. That was fun.

  25. I don’t think the issue is that it necessarily comes down on the side of high or low brow, but that it presents a weird high/lowbrow dichotomy that probably doesn’t really exist anymore*. I mean, Sir Ian McKellen was both Gandalf and Magneto, and that was over a decade ago! Not to mention the work of Iñárritu’s compatriots Cuaron and del Toro, who made superhero and/or genre films that were hailed as artistic triumphs by critics every bit as elitist as the critic in Birdman.

    Riggan spends the whole film trying to transcend a past that I guess he feels has left him unfulfilled, by re-evaluating himself according to some ideal that never delivers on its imagined promises. It’s like somebody saw Synecdoche NY and wanted to do something similar, but had no actual artistic/existential anguish of their own to motivate their film. Just some cynical, half-correct* idea of how that anguish might appear.

    *Half-correct I guess because how else do you explain the dude Vern overheard, and the film’s apparently rabid fanbase in general?

  26. I felt the exact same way about Keaton’s casting and the meta aspects. I found it weird and distracting how they went so literal with parallels to his real life career, when it didn’t seem to match Keaton’s actual persona that much at all. He’s never struck me as a Christopher Reeve type, who is indelibly tied to his signature role – If anything Keaton was cast against type in Batman. It’s the opposite of something like The Wrestler, where the character didn’t have much directly in common with the actor’s real life and career, but everything to do with it in the subtext.

    That said, I liked Birdman and respect it for its craft, and for the fact it’s just chocked full of interesting stuff – even it’s flaws are interesting flaws.

  27. I always thought that editing (and score) are a movie’s two worst enemies, simply because of how distracting they can be. After watching this and the German one take wonder VICTORIA within a small amount of time, I’m proud to say that I’m right and long takes, when done in very natural and non-show offy ways, are the best way to present a story on film IMO. (It’s just too bad that neither BIRDMAN or VICTORIA had really good stories to tell. So yeah, I fully agree with what has been said above.)

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