Some Ramblings - Birdman (2014) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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Angst, unlike sorrow, is one emotion that requires a context to evoke sympathy from the audience. While sorrow has a general universality, angst is relegated to a specific domain. Angst placed in the setting of the growing up years has a strong recall value from all and sundry. But put angst in a scenario where a mafia don suffers panic attacks and visits a psychiatrist unwell and unable to discharge his daily duties killing and maiming people. Try evoking sympathy out of that scenario! Like the adage, a rich man's joke is always funny, a rich man going (for) broke is never sad, however dire the circumstances might be. Woody Allen's movies generally fall under this category. Save for the last year's brilliant 'Blue Jasmine', which is probably his best take on a blue collar movie, most his recent movies center around people who are of impressive pedigrees, economically and financially, who seem to be going through a crisis of identity during a game of lawn tennis (wearing long skirts and full pants) over lazy afternoons. They are amusing, for sure, and funny, to boot, but never sympathetic. These are not the down in the trenches folk trying to get by life one painful step at a time. These are people who ponder over their existence in abstract terms and epistemological ideas, while being served high tea by a well mannered butler. But then again the point of such movies is never about their identify-ability. While there should necessarily be ones about the true grit of life, there should also be ones that ponder over the nature of it in general too, just like in the book store where Life Interests section abuts the Reference section. 'Birdman' is one such case of angst of a washed up actor, who once ruled the silver screen, now struggling hard to get back that one final moment in the sun by staging a 60 year old play on Broadway. It is way too specific a case to evoke anything from the audience other than a little amusement. And then the internal machinations of mounting a Broadway play, its financing struggles, the casting headaches, the critics, the reviews, and the whole ecosystem that subsists on (to paraphrase one character's own words) 'rich old white people spending a fortune on a matinee before they move on to a good meal in a good restaurant nearby', is never about identify-ability, it is always about showing off its craft, how well it can engage and enthrall, and boy does it engage and enthrall!

Alejandro Inaritu, who forms the Holy Trinity of Directors with Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron from Mexican New Wave cinema, mounts 'Birdman' with as great a visual flare as one of those high profile Broadway plays as a 'Les Miserables' or 'Spiderman After Dark', in that its breathtaking style and near constant movement and the camera that simply refuses to cut away between long extended takes almost mirrors a true Broadway play, happening in real time. The choreography of the action with some takes that run on for tens of minutes at a time, and the camera that follows the action in the backstage moving from one area to another, starting off in one room soaking up all the action, moving out of it to another wing by following another character that left the earlier room and then picking it up in some other quarter, in the theater, out of the it, on the streets, in the air (yes, that's right!), in Times Square, with the same kind of fluidity and seamlessness as a bird soaring the high skies, is a bravura performance of skill, patience, and of course, the unmistakable contribution from the main and supporting actors. Photography helmed by Emmanuel Lubezki who filmed 'Gravity' last year, ups his ante with this outing and makes it near impossible to figure out the cuts in the whole movie (which in any case would not amount to more than 10 in more than a couple hours of running time) moving it with the same grace as a ballet dancer. This movie is so rich on technical front that it can almost be excused for its self indulgence. While the content rapidly swings back forth between being topical, with all its pop culture celebrity references, and being surreal, the mixture made famous by the recent Spike Jonze-Charlie Kaufman combination ('Being John Malkovich', 'Adaptation' and Kaufman's own 'Synecdoche, New York'), the tone gets more and more fantastical where one is amazed by the sleight of the hand of the director than the quality of the trick itself. On the whole 'Birdman' offers up some great entertainment if one doesn't mind some mind bending material set to some great foot tapping jazz background score populated by actors who are at the top of their game, all of which puppeteered by the able hands of an assured director who is more interested in how the material is being played than what is actually being played. Now that's what's called a Broadway show, Take a bow!


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