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Strut and Fret: This is not an article about Birdman

about Birdman

Birdman is a 2 hour wreck that provides no answers, and only somewhat resolves it’s character drama. But my God, it just felt right, and whether or not it was a ‘good’ movie (those are sneer-quotes), I suspect it will have more impact on me than anything else I watch this year.

Birdman is caustic. It’s full of anarchic frustration, not answers. It never pretends otherwise. It doesn’t even have the good manners to focus on a single question it can’t answer. It’s all over, and when it starts to, maybe, say something clear, it contradicts itself as quickly as possible and throws a dick joke at you to keep you off balance.

Honestly, I really liked this movie.

When I sat to write about it (call it a review if you like), it sort of made me feel like shit. This isn’t what I set out to do. I don’t want to be a critic. Not like that. If there is any clear message in Birdman, it’s that traditional print critic’s don’t offer much, and are becoming irrelevant with the rise of social media. Social media critics are relevant, but still don’t offer much. They’re portrayed as a peanut gallery, who jumps on whatever offered the best sound byte of the day.

Here at the robot, we’re trying to find a voice. The internet is full of voices. Many of them are angry, childish, or hopelessly self-aggrandized. We’re trying not to play those games. I get why people do – it’s easy, and one good twitter flame-war can drive ad revenue for a month.

Birdman takes some unsubtle shots at critics. From most of what I’ve read, most critics had their defenses up before those shots were even in the air. But if you give them the chance, I think they hit their mark just fine. The critic, in so many ways, risks nothing. Not to say that criticism, especially criticism done well, contributes nothing. But as Birdmans key player emphasie again and again, writing a critical piece just doesn’t put you on the line in the same way. Critiques are opinions, and we’re all used to being told we’re wrong in our opinions. Some of us relish it.

But creating a play, book, movie or game (yeah, those too)? That’s different. You’re operating without constraints. You are the focus, not someone else.  When a someone takes issue with a review, they take issue with your opinion. When they take issue with a creative wok you made, they take issue with you.

Birdman lets us see it. That hole that people on the creative end want (need?) to fill. It’s pretty universal. Inside every person who wants to create is a personality that makes no fucking sense. You need a hole, that thing you’re missing that you think, somehow, your effort at creation might fill. We see it all in different characters in Birdman, some need validation, others want love, or Truth. Others simply want to be exceptional, in whatever way they can.

At the same time, they have to have the hubris to think that the best way to fill the void by using up the time and money (Therefore: more time) of a bunch of strangers. They think that whatever is missing can be compensated for by giing something away, that other people may not even want. Think hard about that. The more you do, the less sense it makes.

That cognitive dissonance isn’t a subject of the film, it is the film. It isn’t resolved, because it doesn’t resolve. If it could be, actors, writers and directors would all be happy people who don’t drink, get divorced, break down or kill themselves. They would be content. And here the confusion continues. We, the audience, idolize the inability to feel content. We call it being driven.

I really like this movie.

Throughout the film, Riggan (the actor who played the titular Birdman) has the option of returning to the Birdman franchise for one last film. We see this temptation through his eyes, not the eyes of finance men or producers. He isn’t driven by money as much I you might expect. He wants to be exceptional. As Birdman, he was exceptional. When his alter ego (the manifest vision of Birdman, who speaks to him throughout the film) tries to talk him into doing the production, he never talks about money. He talks about giving people what they want. About going out on his own terms. About making people cream their pants (his words, not mine). All this is said with the implied sentiment that there might be something wrong with the whole franchise. He calls the genre apocalypse porn.

It casts a new light on all those sad looking super-sequels, doesn’t it? Maybe they started life as a cash grab, but how many people involved just wanted to recapture the magic, and show us that they’ve still got it? Who can blame them? It’s the exception, but sometimes those movies come together. Sometimes a twenty-year-too-late sequel comes out, and brings us all right back. Everyone wants to be the exception. Remember that hubris from earlier? It doesn’t leave the choice. It requires that you keep trying, keep pushing your luck. Keep believing that this movie you’re working on will be one of the exceptions.

It’s usually incorrect, but I can’t imagine the creative world functioning without it. If you want to put out a film millions of people will watch, it’s hard to be timid.

And I guess that’s the takeaway. This site isn’t a home of content creation, it’s a home for critique (those who can’t…). However we dress it up, that’s what we do. But we can try to do better. No letter grades. No shallow consumer advice (is it worth your $10? Think about the last thing paid $10 for. So, yeah, probably. Move on). We’ll try to talk, try to engage, try to give everything it’s chance. We’ll try to give something back. And we’ll always try to remember that everything we read, or watch, or play, was made by someone who has accomplished something that every writer at this site has tried, and failed, to do.

Near the end of Birdman, Riggan leaves a liquor store as a man shouts lines from Macbeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Enter a Messenger

You see that last line? That’s important. “Enter a Messenger”. In Birdman, most of that speech is delivered by a man off camera. Off stage? We’ll call it off stage. The long, uninterrupted take that composes the film gives it that feel. This isn’t cinema, it’s theater. Theater has no cuts. No montage. When Riggen enters the scene, the over delivers his final line, and looks to Riggen, asking if it was too much. He was trying to give Riggen a note, he says.

He was teeing Riggen up for his line, and Riggen enters right on que. He’s the messenger.

In the film Riggen walks off, startled, and says nothing. In the play, the messenger brings news of doom. He tells Macbeth of an encroaching army so vast it appears to be a walking forest.

As I did stand my watch upon the hill,
I look’d toward Birnam, and anon, methought,
The wood began to move.

Did you know that already? I kind of hope not. If you didn’t, I’m contributing. I brought something with me.

Liar and slave!

Make of that what you will.

Behind every film, or book, or comic, is at least one person who really cares. Even Transformers 4. I won’t lie, I had the option of watching that movie, and I couldn’t do it. I lasted about 15 minutes. But I didn’t write about it. I won’t, beyond these passing mentions. Because regardless of the cynical financial reasoning that brought it about, or the overall quality of the film, somewhere there is a person who helped make it, and who really, truly wanted to do right. Maybe it was just a key grip and a few best boys. Maybe it’s Micheal Bay. I don’t know.

Every movie deserves it’s chance. If I couldn’t even manage that, it’s my own damn problem.

Go see Birdman. Do your best to let it get to you.

I need a drink.

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