Birdman

Fuck this movie. Or this movie will fuck with you.

I can’t tell whether Keaton’s performance is intentionally bad or piously self-aware or winking or pretentiously good or just winking badly. I can’t figure out if Inarritu’s decision to film Birdman as a feature-length unbroken tracking shot is the astounding epitome of the form or self-congratulatory boasting or if it effectively complements the thematic magical realism of the story. It is difficult to distinguish between the moments when Keaton, Norton and Stone (fantastic performances, by the way, I think…) are mocking art or making art of mockery. I wonder whether Inarritu is correct to denounce the “cultural genocide” perpetuated by formulaic super-spectacle pulpy CGI-extravaganzas or if Birdman is a pompous romp through its own shitty, grimy self-importance, so much so that it might be its own form of cultural destruction.

Despite wrestling with these issues during and after watching Birdman, one must respect Inarritu’s “cojones” to make a film that deconstructs its own art and the industry that makes it. Inarritu’s film gets right up into everyone’s safe little space – at times crazy-eyed and irrational, at times zen and articulate – and in so doing demands the viewer be intellectually challenged not just by its performances but by its form and structure and words, both by its self-awareness and its ignorance (or not?) of its own self-mockery.

Should I be impressed? Is this impressive? What, specifically, is impressive and what isn’t and why? Do the wrong things impress me at the wrong times? or do the right things impress me at the right times? Is cinema dead or is death cinematic? Has it all be done before or is there more? Is making something bad well better (or worse?) than making something good poorly? Is gratuitous product placement an intentional commentary or disingenuous hypocrisy? Is calling out your own Hallmark-movie moment a revelation or as preposterous as R. Kelly still being culturally relevant? Whatever the answer (and I’m still flip-flopping), there is one thing I am sure of: Birdman is intentionally challenging.

Unforgiving close-ups and harsh lighting expose every crevice and crease on Keaton’s (and Norton’s and Stone’s and every) face and neck; furrowed foreheads; every crow’s-foot. Saggy muscles on the underside of our arms and the flabby fat on our stomachs and backs. At his worst Keaton looks like “turkey with leukemia” and at best a fraud splattered in makeup sporting an exaggerated mustache and a horrendous toupee. Norton is the cocky embodiment of the “true” art-house stage actor but has moments of pure physical comedy as well as cinematic suave and charisma. Stone has a particularly great uncensored emotional outburst that could serve as the nihilistic thesis of the film: “who the fuck are you… you’re the one who doesn’t exist… you don’t [matter]… you’re not important.” Shouted right at and staring right at: you.

Birdman is a middle finger pointed straight at the viewer. So I point it right back: “fuck you” Birdman. But I stay seated. I’m engaged and bothered that I am; I laugh and I don’t know why; I scoff and wonder if I’m being fair. Birdman is an indictment of the audience and culture that produces film. It is an indictment of what is popular and how art is created, perceived and critiqued. Most of all, however, Birdman's essence is a pointed self indictment: of how it presents and perceives itself. And Birdman most assuredly deserves a “fuck you” for all its pretentious, high-minded, condescending bullshit. But so do I.

Because really, who the fuck am I? Some sort of pretend film critic, a pretentious unpaid, unprofessional writer looping big words into incomprehensive jumbled rhythms and rhymes without reasons that forget their point before they get there? This isn’t my job and I do it as if my opinion should matter to everybody. Sometimes, I get off more on people reading my shit than I do actually writing it. I’m a fraud – as a critic and writer – and I’m an intellectual pretender because (though I know more than some) I don’t know enough about cinema history or filmmaking to be competently informative or understanding of the filmmaker’s intention in my reviews. But despite being conscious of this truth, I write because every now and then the art transcends – either via the journey or in the outcome – all the bullshit. And though I must wade through a swamp of pretense and masquerade under a protective (or assaultive at times) façade… it’s worth it if even for just one moment of pure emotional or intellectual honesty. Whether by process or in product, or both, one moment of verity is worth all the introspective agony.

To wrap-up my thoughts, my self-aware, pretentious “think piece,” to end my self-defacing diatribe, to conclude this so-called “review,” this “critique,” I must admit that maybe what’s great about Birdman is that I can’t tell the difference between whether it is art for art’s sake or if the filmmakers are trying to make art relevant (or relevant art) or simply BE relevant. I can’t deconstruct the ambiguity within Birdman’s amalgamation of concepts, tones, ideas and performances from their context or my own. What is clear though – like all great art – is that it evoked a reaction. Good or bad, I just can’t be sure.

So fuck this movie.

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