Scene of the Day – The Birdman Shadow

TO celebrate Michael Keaton’s 66th birthday, let us return to the film that helped launch him back into the spotlight (pardon the pun).

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman (2014) is an unusual cinematic experience. With its seemly one-cut visual style, ever-present drumming score, philosophical undertones and playful casting, there are many things to unpick from this film.

Keaton shines in the lead role as washed-up Hollywood actor Riggan who attempts to find relevance and artistic credibility – even if the two can be conflicting – by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway play.

Riggan’s plan is not as simple as it seems. Surrounded by a cast of equally unstable and lost characters – his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) and co-star Mike Shinner (Edward Norton) – Riggin’s problems only seem to be worsening.

Not least, his continued wrestling with his past which, like Keaton and Batman, includes a career-defining superhero franchise. The Birdman figure haunts Riggin like a Jungian shadow and manifests itself in physical form to berate him for swapping Hollywood for the stage.

One of these Birdman scenes occurs when Riggin is at his lowest point. Following a biting conversation with theatre critic Tabitha – who threatens to pan his play – he gets drunk and falls asleep on the street.

He wakes up laying in trash to a familiar, gravelly voice:  ‘So you’re not a great actor, who cares. You are much more than that. You tower over these theatre douchebags. You’re a movie star, man!’

As Riggin gets up, the Birdman – in full costume – walks behind him giving a pep-talk about ditching his play for a Hollywood comeback. ‘You save people from their boring, miserable lives.’

Iñárritu’s camera then pans round to a front view of Riggin and, for a brief moment, it looks as though the Birdman’s wings are his own. Riggin’s eyes are transfixed as though he is buying into the Birdman’s ego-massaging speech.

‘Give the audience what they want, some good old fashioned apocalyptic porn.’ Riggin clicks his fingers and an explosion falls from the sky. Over-the-top CGI action and gunfire ensues around him. ‘Big, loud, fast!’ A Wilhelm Scream plays. ‘They love action, not this talky philosophical bullshit’.

When the action subsides, Riggin starts to gradually lift into the air. He is ready to soar high above the nobodies.

Typical of Iñárritu’s film, this two minute leaves us with so much to ponder. Birdman’s words sound like they could come from a money-man working behind the scenes and telling truths about the mechanism of Hollywood. From perceptions of mindless, easy-to-please mass-audiences to the ease of feeding into an actor’s insecurity and ego.

Keaton is at the centre of it, bringing his own history to the role. With that, he delivers one of the best performances of his career.

Happy birthday Mr Keaton. Happy birthday Birdman

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Yesterday’s Scene of the Day: Scene of the Day – Interstellar Goodbye



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