Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – 2014 Iñárritu
Three viewings- two in theater in 2014 and again February 2020
Utterly astonishing cinematography in the Bordwell definition of cinematography—the camerawork—audacious— Iñárritu is a virtuoso— it is Rope, Russian Ark, The Shining, I Am Cuba– Iñárritu talks about I Am Cuba and Ophüls but the hidden cuts here (16 visible edits) line up a bit better with Rope (even if I agree with him that the free flowing nature of the camera is closer to La Ronde or something). I actually admire how innovative each invisible edit is—whether they tilt the camera to the sky or use a blank canvas—each transition is thought out – some blending the passage of time
The camera creates momentum– pushes open doors, follows them down the street– floating down from the rafters and weaving in and out of rooms, down and upstairs —it is timing, blocking (a major cinematic triumph here), a high-wire act
A brilliant drum score from Antonio Sanchez– it is a perfect match to the camera – movement—adds such immediacy, a hustle to each moment and scene. It is a dance- even the titles dance in with the score
Unlike Russian Ark there’s a real engaging narrative here, unlike Victoria there is beauty here in the mise-en-scene (even more so than 1917) – the changes in lighting on stage (the blue day for night with red lighting), the framing of the faces (again closer to Kalatozov’s work)
The screenplay and acting — passionate, clever and angry. A meditation on celebrity—both Keaton and North (as Ex-Batman and well known difficult actor) riffing on their persona—I wonder if they thought about a Lindsay Lohan-type for the rehab daughter role
Great scene of Keaton (the performance of the year in 2014 and Norton and Stone aren’t far behind) losing it alone in his dressing room accompanied by the camera and genius musical score. It makes a good pairing with Leo losing it in his trailer with the whiskey sour scene in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Actor-friendly close-ups with the framing during monologues an arguments
Love the empty hallway show at 77 minutes with cheering from the stage— the 86 minute liquor store chili pepper lighting mise-en-scene a stunner
It is comedy (not that genre definitions are important when talking about a great auteur or work- which this is)- which is a change for Iñárritu, as is the dedication to camera moving and long tracking shots – but it still has a lot I common with his previous body of work. He’s blending three characters here (even if Norton and Stone doesn’t have as much of an arc as his split narratives in Amores Perros, Babel, 21 Grams, etc) and it is gloomy—painful— Keaton telling the story to his ex-wife about how he got stung by jellyfish on his way to a suicide attempt is just about Iñárritu’ s incredibly bleak worldview in a nutshell—black comedy or not
We slide into diegetic vs. non-diegetic with the drummer in the film—Iñárritu is making loud choices (I think this speaks to Keaton’s psyche) – and all the choices land
For a film that’s essentially a thoughtfully constructed simulated “oner” there is actually a gorgeous montage at 103 minutes—drummers on stage, shot of the jellyfish
There’s more here- even after three viewings—flowers a big part of so many scenes
Fitting finale and finale image with Emma Stone and those Margaret Keane eyes looking at the skyline
a predictable awful evaluation by Rex Reed “suffer through a miserable load of deranged, deluded crap masquerading as a black comedy” and the dissolve “Alejandro González Iñárritu is a pretentious fraud, but it’s taken some time to understand the precise nature of his fraudulence.” These evaluations are embarrassingly bad and should be mocked. For what it’s worth the good Dr. Bordwell swings and misses on Birdman too writing his piece almost taking on the role of Lindsay Duncan’s NYT Tabitha critic in the film. He incorrected downplays the choices by Iñárritu.
I think we have to stop and acknowledge that Lubezki, as the dp, might be on a roll like one we’ve never seen before from a dp in the history of film. In a 9 year stretch we have children of men, tree of life, gravity and birdman. If you want to leave out children of men because it was so long ago I’m racking my brain to find a better stretch than what he’s done since tree of life. Baffling stuff.
Acting — Iñárritu has never had a problem getting great performances in his films. The entire cast is fantastic here. My praise is mainly for three actors though: Keaton, Norton, and Stone—and in that order. Stone does the best work of her career to date in 2014 and Norton since 2002 in 25th hour.
Keaton is an absolute revelation and worthy of all the praise. He’s hilarious and does a great job carrying the depth and conflict in his character- which is a damn great character.
I could go on and on ( comparisons to black swan). The form is brilliant and the style is completely in-step with the content. I think you could also argue that the film is as artistically ambitious as any film from 2014 (from Wes Anderson, Linklater). I have no problem calling it Iñárritu’ s best film to date in 2014 and a masterpiece.