RogerBW's Blog

Birdman 28 March 2023

2014 drama, dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis; IMDb / allmovie. Back in the day, Riggan Thompson played the hero in the Birdman films; now he's putting on a Broadway play in a bid to be taken seriously for his art.

There are two separate films here. One is the technical gimmickry of making the film appear to be all one shot: there are no cuts. There were two problems with that for me: the first was I know enough about video editing to realise that if you've got even a single frame with nothing moving in it (even more so if there are no people in it) it's not hard to cut there, set up the shot again on a different day, and edit over the inevitable minor differences, and there are so many of those obvious cut points that I end up being unimpressed with the technical wizardry.

The second point, and I think the more serious one, is that it isn't in service to the story. The dramatic unities aren't respected; we have a shot of Riggan preparing to be interviewed, pan round to the other side of his dressing-room and there the interviewers are. We sometimes leave Riggan to follow other characters. There are fast-forwards in time. In other words, all the usual editing tricks have been reinvented for this new way of presenting a film; I'd have been more impressed if we had been constantly following Riggan, without the breaks for other people or the fast forwards, through two hours of his own subjective experience.

And it's a shame that such a fuss gets made about the "one shot" presentation, because apart from that the film gets quite interesting, trying to look at the tension between commercial success and the respect of your peers. (The film critic who promises to give the play a negative review whatever it's like, simply because Riggan is a Hollywood celebrity who thinks he can act, may be the true heroine of the piece. And in the end, though the play will be a success, it'll be because it's that guy who blew his nose off on stage, not because the actual thing is any good.)

It's also a very subjective film: there's no way, I think, to work out from what's shown here what may have happened in consensus reality, except that Riggan is certainly experiencing hallucinations, and one sequence is clearly inspired by nightmare. Which makes the deliberately ambiguous ending feel like a bit of a cop-out: what do you think happens to round off the story? Whatever you like.

There's a great cast, though only Keaton gets much character development. I suspect the multiple Academy Award wins were for (a) being "about" acting, thereby stroking the ego of the Academy voters, and (b) being "clever" rather than trying to appeal to the mass market. I don't love it, but I may well come back and watch it again in a few years.

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

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Tags: film reviews

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