“… Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.” – Edward Norton in Birdman
WATCHING the amazing film Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was like being inside of a gigantic maze that is part reality perspective, part theatrical event and when taken in its totality, moviemaking magic. A seismic script, the genius direction of Alejandro González Iñárritu and cast that is not only in on the riddle, but lives it.
What’s it about, you know, besides Michael Keaton’s life, superhero role and self-jettisoning action away from the genre that made him a super star? The cruelty of creative karma is that no one plans to wait 17 years for another Oscar caliber tour de force performance that is arguably the role of your life.
In a nutshell:
A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory. [IMDB]
Michael Keaton‘s presence is so instrumental to this film that he seems to have slipped into his autobiography, though that’s only giving credit to one dimension of Birdman and not nearly enough credence to the script for its own merit. Along with the other actors, Keaton, in this Broadway film dance, also manage to destroy reality TV through a flick of Iñárritu’s imagination.
The cog in the artist wheel that the audience grabs hold of tightly so as not to lose the thread that is twisted inside out, backward, pulled forward and then stretched out to challenge your comprehension skills, is not your ordinary filmgoer’s ride.
Having just walked the streets of Broadway last week, the very places where Birdman is filmed, watching it felt like a private screening. The script in many places whispering lines that were part of my life.
“Why don’t I have any self-respect?” laments Naomi Watts playing Lesley, after an angry encounter with Riggan [Michael Keaton].
“You’re an actress, honey,” purrs Laura. A character Andrea Riseborough his having way too much fun with to get paid for playing. Of course, I jest, because that’s the case with all of the actors in this marvel.
Academy Award-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki presents a film so luminously muscular that it turns Broadway’s St. James Theater into a funhouse.
Did I mention a CGI robo-condor, Lindsay Duncan’s Pauline Kael-evoking New York Times theater critic and a telekinetic dressing-room-wrecking sequence that would be at home in “Citizen Kane”?
“I keep waiting for someone to tell me I’ve made it…”
It’s the one line that few reviewers’ raves have bothered to mention, because only a select few can understand the depths of what it means. A gut-wrenching query to no one in particular that artists wrestling to make a dime out of their dreams, ducking the paths to sell out and cash in, have said to themselves out loud. Usually after loved ones, who make a monthly paycheck that’s as regular as the sun rising, wonder aloud what’s next, because they never quite get the rhythm of creativity or the people who risk it all, whom they love and watch torture themselves with every venture, year in and year out.
I’m one of the lucky people who found a mate who not only gets it, but revels in the wild adventure that is the canvas of artistry that makes up our life.
Oh, to do something remarkable.
To dare to risk revelations to attain artistic acclaim.
…and to succeed in monetizing a vision without selling out.
To soar like Birdman.
First you better be on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, because nothing happens unless social media registers it, as Riggan finds out.
Michael Keaton waited a long time for this one and the sparkling genius, the humility required to slay his ego and realize what is exposed on the screen should humble every person who can find a theater showing this monumental indictment on the American cultural landscape, and leave them in wondrous worship of the artists who reveal it all before them.
“When did you take away the gin, you motherfucker!” – Edward Norton as Mike Shiner
Method actors, artists, and creative vagabonds living in a world where only wealth is valued are all surviving through pain, life experience, and using their inspirational tormentors, while floating in a jigger of gin or sugar, whatever poison keeps you lubricated on the journey that will never, ever end.
Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) relies on tectonic lift, self-sustaining lies, and innocence of what may come or remain forever illusive, not that it matters to the dreamer, who wouldn’t stop creating no matter the outcome.
Photo above from FoxSearchlight, Michael Keaton with Edward Norton