One of the most annoying well-made films I’ve ever seen. Birdman is psychobabble mumbo jumbo and a relentless jolt of egomania, one that forces you to listen to theatrical stage prima donnas pontificate about needless things and behave vociferously for an insufferable length. I know, this is Michael Keaton’s “comeback” and the long awaited showcase for acting chops glory as Riggan, a one-time blockbuster franchise champ seeking thespian relevance. Keaton has been raved about for months now about how great he is. Well, he’s not bad and I don’t blame him for taking a role where he gets to chew the scenery. However, every actor chews the scenery for inexplicable amounts of time. Heck, the camerawork itself chews the scenery.
To boot, “Birdman” has already been noted for being a seminal artistic achievement in the way it has been crafted. The film is shot in one continuous take with invisible edits to give the effect that everything is taking place in real time because the whole film is one shot, no cuts. Hey, it’s one hectic night behind the scenes of a stage play – how juicy! The first time this technique was ever done was by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film “Rope,” and the best example of it done was the bewildering but visually mesmerizing 2002 Russian film “Russian Ark.” Like “Rope,” director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu flash pans his camera around a wall or runs the camera into the back of an actor’s shirt. Then the camera – next shot – swerves or backs out to film the next take. Sure, the cuts are as invisible as I have ever attempted to observe.
Yet, this whole showboating technique is aggravating because there are scenes begging for cuts, or camera movement for sake of changing point-of-view objectivity (or giving the audience a damn pause), that can’t be done because Inarritu is sticking to one camera. This whole one-take method is being hailed as “genius” from slavishly high-brow film snobs, but you know what, I hated it.
I also hated the nonstop clanging of drums and cymbals on the soundtrack that is mistaken for being a music score. Spike Lee or Robert Altman employed such muzak in their worst films as a way to connote characters in a high-strung environment. These sounds are a baseball bat to the head. So annoying. We already hear everybody bitch, bitch, bitch so relentlessly that the muzak is just another aggravating layer. By the way, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan among the actors and/or narcissists.
I nearly forgot, there are some surreal elements like the kind you find in a Michel Gondry film like “The Science of Sleep” (2006) or Guy Maddin like “The Saddest Music in the World” (2003) except done here with less charm. Innarritu wants to delude us into thinking his surrealist stunts mean something.
Innarritu, who once made the great multi-narrative interlink chronology “Amores Perros,” is particularly being hailed for this as becoming a renegade director. But to me, I find him to be a director heading into the kind of extreme egomania to compare with the dissention of Terry Gilliam (see everything post-“Tideland”) and his arrogant kiss-off of the industry. Each new film by Innarritu is only getting more obtuse.
That’s not going to stop people from staying away from the hype machine that is really pushing this film now. There is an audience for this film, I’ll give it that – it’s for the kind of people who hangout at hipster bars every weekend, who catch the occasional film, and over-praise said artistry as revolutionary.
But come on, I must be missing something. Am I not aware that “Birdman,” is like, a goddam huge deal?!! Well, film history tells me “L’Atalante,” “La Dolce Vita,” “Au Hasard Balthazar,” “Andrei Rublev,” and “Nashville” are essential masterpieces and I made up my mind on them that they are just as phooey. Of those titles, I give “Nashville” a reprieve because it at least inspired countless better mass ensemble cast movies.
Oh, somebody out there might come up to be on the street and make a hard debate on how genius this film is and how anti-commercial it is. Maybe it is “genius,” but my retort to that is, So What? And that applies to the ending, where Riggan abandons all the nonsense and takes flight over the cityscape and bridges of Manhattan. Is it well-made. It is, but So What?
119 Minutes. Rated R.
AVANTE-GARDE / ADULT ORIENTATION / SATURDAY NIGHT SLUMBER
Film Cousins: “Rope” (1948); “The Dresser” (1983); “An Awfully Big Adventure” (1995); “Russian Ark” (2002, Russia).