Tracker Pixel for Entry

What we talk about when we talk about Birdman

by Greg Carlson | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Cinema | November 19th, 2014

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman” gives Michael Keaton the “Being John Malkovich” treatment in a messy, noisy backstage drama enamored of its own ruminations about art and artifice, celebrity worship, self-respect, narcissism and several dozen additional big ideas. In 2000, “Amores Perros,” the first installment of Inarritu’s “death trilogy,” divided audiences, a trait extending through “21 Grams,” “Babel” and “Biutiful.” Those who share the filmmaker’s penchant for insane coincidence, exaggerated melodrama and heart-on-sleeve emotional outpourings often praise the director’s visual intensity. Detractors, like Scott Tobias, pronounce Inarritu a “pretentious fraud” who is “incapable of modulation.”

Keaton plays the living daylights out of Hollywood has-been Riggan Thomson, an actor who walked away from the blockbuster “Birdman” franchise two decades ago and is now preparing a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” as writer, director and star. Fragile, stressed, and nearly broke, Thomson replaces one of his principal performers with stage darling Mike Shiner (Edward Norton, volume knob cranked), a manipulative scene-thief. Meanwhile, Riggan tiptoes around his rightfully resentful daughter Sam (Emma Stone), a recovering addict now serving as her father’s assistant. Thomson’s relationship with co-star Laura (Andrea Riseborough) is hitting the skids. Oh yeah, he also hears voices, can levitate, and possesses the power to move objects with his mind. 

Along with “Being John Malkovich,” “Birdman” recalls “Synecdoche, New York,” another Charlie Kaufman script that plays with the conundrum of honesty/dishonesty in film and theatre. Kaufman is a better hand than Inarritu at communicating the vicissitudes of the gossamer veil blurring reality and fantasy. Some of the movie’s side trips, like the blossoming romance between Sam and Mike, don’t fully pay off, and “Birdman” is at its best when focused on Riggan’s rapidly escalating crises. In one scene, Riggan struts through Times Square in his tighty whiteys after accidentally getting locked out of the St. James Theatre. At moments like this one, Keaton makes it difficult for the viewer to root against his shallow egomaniac – despite the character’s apparent addiction to attention-seeking behavior.   

Inarritu, working with the phenomenal cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, constructs “Birdman” to look as though the majority of the action occurs as one continuous, unbroken take. Lubezki defends the technique by claiming that viewers can become “immersed in the movie” via the uninterrupted exchanges of dialogue. The gambit can be exhausting, but the wide-angle lenses and imaginative, ever-shifting compositions function as a reflection of Riggan’s hyperactive desperation. Lubezki’s vertiginous camera also swoops and soars from ledges and rooftops to street level. The film’s final shot, wholly dependent on camera position, cements the director’s commitment to this unorthodox shooting style.     

“The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” is Inarritu’s subtitle, a reference to both the filmmaker’s hellzapoppin impetuousness and to the eventual headline of the New York Times review of Riggan’s play by theatre writer Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan). When critics show up in movies, chances are pretty good they will provide instant conflict for the performers who simultaneously fear and court them. It’s easy to read Dickinson as Inarritu’s straw woman, but in a terrific scene, she makes a powerful point about the value of championing original work over the adaptations and revivals that keep the cash registers ringing. Tabitha is Riggan’s bête noir, but she might just be the movie’s secret hero.

Recently in:

BISMARCK– The debate over whether the state needs an ethics commission has been ongoing for years, four times defeated by the legislature. This year, however, concerned citizens turned to the power of the initiated measure, and…

There will be a rocking event on coming this Thursday called Night Bazaar by Folkways. Night Bazaar is an event highlighting the community with a full spectrum of unique experiences, food, music, art and performances. Night Bazaar…

Thursday, August 23, 5-6:30 p.m.Plains Art Museum, 704 1st Ave. NDr. Craig Howe, Director of the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies (CAIRNS), will lead an art and poetry workshop in conjunction with the…

On August 14, The Bismarck Tribune reported that “A popular insecticide could be banned for agricultural use.” Popular as it may be I can think of a whole slew of adjectives that would be more appropriate like questionable,…

Well, Mr. President, Have You No Sense Of Decency Sir, At Long Last?We might have another flag debate in this country. We still see the Confederate symbol flying in activities promoted by white supremacists on the streets of…

FARGO - A collection of memories from High Plains Reader's annual Cocktail Showdown. Participants were judged on creativity, flavor, and presentation; and this year we added a new category. Like years before, each establishment was…

By Ben Myhre benmyhre35@gmail.com If you are a gardener in the area, you know that this is the time of year when zucchini becomes plentiful. In fact, many have a tough time using all of it. You may see just a small little zucchini…

Woodstock: even people who were born years after the original three-day music festival recognize the name. The event, which took place between August 15th and 18th at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in southern New York and attracted…

Elsie Fisher’s Kayla Day is the lonely but indefatigable middle-school protagonist of first-time feature filmmaker Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade,” a winning addition to the pantheon of the adolescent cinematic bildungsroman.…

It may be cliche to say the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, but when wet plate artist Shane Balkowitsch found out that his 15-year-old daughter Abby Balkowitsch was following in his photography footsteps, he was…

By Stella Mehlhoffstellamehlhoff@gmail.comAs I stared out of Guthrie Theater’s Amber room at a bird’s eye of the cityscape and river below, I hardly took in the night lights, my mind was too focused on the art I had just…

Fargo has its share of people who are passionate about stand-up comedy, even if the success of clubs devoted to it has been mixed. Despite the fact we have seen places like Courtney’s Comedy Club and Level 2 Comedy Club close…

When I was first introduced to the traditional spirit of my ancestors, Akvavit (or aquavit), I never thought I’d ever find myself standing next to a giant “Viking” ship while comparing different brands of the “water of…

I’m a big man, I’m tall and powerful, but this also causes some issues in the body department. I suffer from acute scoliosis in my lower back, and pain radiates from this area on a daily basis. I have only ever had one massage…

By Melissa Martinmelissamartincounselor@live.comThink back to one of your worst small decisions. Then answer the following questions:How did you make the decision?What happened after the decision?When did you know it was the worst…

Well, after nearly a dozen years of delay, it looks like Billings County is finally going to build a bridge over the Little Missouri State Scenic River north of Medora. The county posted a notice in the Federal Register on October…