It has been over a year since Alejandro Inarritu's piece debuted on the silver screen, and it has been a year in which the film has been lauded by critics and viewers, alike. I have only recently been able to view the movie, but was immediately in agreement with all those that have expressed their love for the drama, yet a comment a friend made to me was what was left resonating with me. Upon talking with him about the film I expressed that it could be one of my favorite films to be made recently, and his response was that it was a "weak" top movie to have. He agreed that it was a great movie, but that it was not a film that should have been considered for the Best Picture category, or a film that should be regarded as one of your personal favorites.
I have since, rewatched the film for a second time and have found that there are many reasons why he is wrong.
The Use of The Shot
One of the most notable things that Inarritu did that made Birdman so great, was using a film technique that emphasizes camera movement and a long shot take, rather than editing. Back in 1948, Alfred Hitchcock experimented with using longer shots and by trying to hide any editing through the use of props and character movement in his film Rope, and Inarritu seems to have been influenced by this technique. Rather than having a film that is filled with cuts from one angle to another, the film moves seamlessly both within the scene and between scenes, to give a continuous stream from one scene to the next.
When films have a large amount of editing with multiple cuts, it almost begs the audience to remember that they are watching a film. While watching a film, you escape from your own reality, to another one (whether this is your purpose for watching movies, or not), yet when there are multiple cuts, its a visual marker that reminds you of your real universe. A film like, Birdman, however, with almost little editing gives you the impression that you are almost walking with the characters as they progress through the story. Slowly, more and more, you become immersed in the narrative and the way the camera literally walks from scene to scene on the set makes you feel that you actually in the film and never gives hint at the fact that you are simply just watching a film.
Yes this is a film that uses well-known actors who are highly regarded in their profession, however their individual talents are not what make the film great. What makes the casting of Birdman delightful is the fact that you could believe that this is what the actors are like in real life. In some ways, you could say that the actor/actresses characters on screen is some resemblance of themselves, or take on some small piece of their own consciousness.
Michael Keaton played Batman twice, and you could see how he could have some esteem issues from people constantly referring to him as Burton's Batman despite any roles that he's done since. Ed Norton has long been known to be a method actor, which is exactly what the character Mike Shiner is. Although Emma Stone seems rather happy and perky in real life, is there not the possibility that she could have a darker more sardonic side to her, that she doesn't necessarily display in the public eye? There are more than one references to each of their own real life as actors (e.g. the mentioning of the 1992 release date of Birdman, which coincides with the sequel of Batman Returns), yet there is one character that may seem to represent someone else, other than themselves.
Zach Galifianakis plays Jake, the producer of the play, and although he is witty and quirky like he is in other works he's done, he seems to also be an onscreen resemblance of Inarritu. At one point he states, "I'm the only thing holding this thing together" giving reference to the fact that he is the only one to gluing all these characters and actors together, which would be exactly what Inarritu would be doing as the director of the film.
Its a Film about Filmmaking
Despite revolving around the production of a play, the film is clearly about what it takes to not only be an actor/actress, but is also about what it is like to make a film and all the pieces it takes to put together. The combination of the long shots and the use of actors that could resemble themselves creates the sense that you are watching what it was like to make the movie itself. The consistent movement in and out of the play gives us a look into what could be what it was like to shoot a movie and what it takes to hold everything together.
The fact that Jake refers to him holding everything together shows that its not an easy process to make a movie and that many people, with large personalities or social conflicts, creates chaos from a producers standpoint.
The film also discusses what films are being made in more recent times. When Riggan is having one of his more explosive meltdowns, we see a commentary on the fact that Hollywood has focused on creating big-blockbuster action films that make a lot of money, but may not have a lot of sustenance. The scene references that the film has had too much talking and that people don't like all the dialogue, they like action. It shows that the film industry has become watered down with the superhero trope and making money, rather than making films that are artistic and make large additions to our culture. This follow in line with Inarritu being influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, who was highly regarded for being able to create films that were artistically impressive for their commentary on specific culture or psychological aspects, while still being commercially appealing.
Birdman, thus, remains to be a film that comments on the fact that there shouldn't be a need to sacrifice what is dramatically artistic for being more commercially appealing. It garnered respect and recognition in the film community, but may be over looked by some of the population for being too boring. My friends comment, therefore, brings out the very commentary that the film wants to bring up, which is the fact that today's filmgoers would rather hold movies with more action in a higher regard than those which may be more technically difficult, but with a high dialogue content.