BIRDMAN OR (THE UNXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) is a great film. It was one of my favorite films of 2014. Partly due to the fact that I've always been a long time fan of Michael Keaton. The other reason is my continued growing appreciation of art house cinema.
Last year I started watching the works of filmmaker John Cassavetes, a pioneer in American independent film making, with his improvisational methods and his cinema vertie (documentary style) technique. I became a fan while watching a good portion of his work. Some worked for me and some did not. All in all I enjoyed the process.
What Alejandro González Iñárritu's new film reminded me most of was what if Cassavetes had directed a Federico Fellini film. Fellini's film 8 ½ is a movie that constantly flowed through my mind while watching BIRDMAN OR (THE UNXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE). The more I think about it, this would probably make for an interesting double feature!
Fellini's 8 ½ is probably the best film ever about directing. It's about a troubled filmmaker who is having some serious director's-block as he attempts to get a new movie off the ground. Overwhelmed by his work and personal life, the director retreats into his thoughts, which often focus on his love life, both past and present. These thoughts also teeter into the fantastical, and as he tries to sort out his many entanglements, the filmmakers new film starts to become autobiographical.
In BIRDMAN OR (THE UNXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) Micheal Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a former cinema superhero who quit the role of Birdman at the height of franchises popularity. Washed up, Riggan is now getting ready a ambitious Broadway production that he hopes will give him the comeback that he needs. It's a creative gamble that he hopes will prove that he is an artist and not just a has been movie star. Days before opening night a cast mate is injured, forcing Riggan to hire an actor who is notorious for shaking things up on set/stage. All of this plus Riggan must deal with his girlfriend, daughter, and wife.
Iñárritu's new film has two popular gimmicks going for it. The meta aspect, seeing that Keaton played a popular superhero character in real life for two movies then left the series. And the second gimmick that might be more popular than the first, is that BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) looks like it was all shot in one take.
Keaton cast as Riggan Thomson because he played Batman is indeed very cool. It adds a nice touch to the viewing experience. The film edited to make it seem like the movie was one continuous shot was awesome. However, I still consider the famous stedicam shot from GOODFELLAS to be the best. It's only one scene but no trickery was done, it's genuinely one take.
What I like more about the “film being one continuous shot” is what it represents. The impression I get is that it is about the franticness of a Broadway production. Ever since I had the once in a lifetime opportunity (for this Midwestern at least) to see a Broadway play, I have a deep, deep respect and admiration for the art.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is where Riggan gets locked out of the theater during a public test run ( I forget what they call those). So he is locked out and has to walk a block or two through Times Square and enter the lobby of the theater to get back on stage. It's a cool scene and quite comical for reasons I won't ruin here.
BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) is still in theaters because of Oscar season and I highly recommend checking it out.