Wednesday, November 05, 2014

"Birdman": He's everywhere (like "Chicken-man") in Inarritu's black comedy about a schizophrenic former star


I was once called “Birdman”. In the 1990s, when I worked for a life insurance company in Arlington, a mockingbird befriended me.  He would greet me every morning as I parked, and follow me to the car as I left.  He would sometimes chase starlings and then fly back and land next to me, to impress me.  I guess with my bald head, he thought I was the owner of the “territory”.  And in the Army, back in 1969 at Fort Eustis, I was called “Chickenman”, after the Saturday morning cartoon character.  “He’s everywhere”. And more recently, I have found that a wild crow would befriend me, chasing me inside the day of Hurricane Sandy repeatedly because he knew a storm was coming.  
    
In the black comedy by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”, the washed-up former superman Riggan (Michael Keaton) would like to “be everywhere” again, as he sits in a decrepit studio apartment above his theater (it seems to be the St. James) west of Times Square in New York City. He is trying to put on a play to rehab himself, from what is obvious schizophrenia (he doesn’t take his meds).  Around him are a former lover (Andrea Riseborough), a sassy standin actor Mike (Edward Norton, who looks very smooth), Mike’s wife (Amy Ryan) and the tolerant producer (Zack Galifianakis).  There is also his hip daughter "Sami" (Enna Stone) as well as Lesley (Naomi Watts).  The play is “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (wiki), based on a collection of literary short stories by Raymond Carver. (The director's most famous film before was probably "Babel").  
  
The movie mixes the play with Riggan’s own madness.  Some scenes you only find out later that he is on stage (and that includes Mike in a sex scene).  An early dress rehearsal ends in a fiasco, as part of the stage collapses.  The performance at the end will also lead to disaster, with live weapons involved.  It would have been better to show the audience’s reaction once they realize the shot was real.
  
The film gradually shows Riggan’s superman fantasies, flying around Manhattan as a raven.  The special effects resemble those of David Lynch.  But it’s all in his head.  In fact, the opening shot shows a fireball falling to Earth, while in the next theater there was a sneak preview of “Interstellar”, which I did not know was even happening. The sound effects in the Dolby soundtrack are stunning.
The movie does seem to give some insight into what schizophrenia would feel like, and makes one wonder more what might have been going on in the mind of someone like James Holmes. 

Ann important component of the plot is Riggan's separation from modern life, especially his odd disinterest in social media, which he never caught on to because he is old-school.  Therefore he is taunted by a newspaper blogger who can destroy his play before it ever gets a run.  

The film makes interesting use of classical music, especially the opening of the Mahler Ninth and later a Mahler "Ruckert Lieder" song, as well as some Tchaikovsky (an odd mix) and later Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony.  The film also has a complex drum score played by Antonio Sanchez, and Miles Teller ("Whiplash") would have enjoyed this performance. 
  
The official site is here  (Fox Searchlight and Regency).
  

I saw the film before a small audience at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA.  

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