I am not one of those people who tries to see every film nominated for an Academy Award each year. But I usually end up seeing one or two of the Best Picture nominees, just because they sound intriguing. I fulfilled my annual quota for this year by seeing "Birdman" this weekend. (Don't ask me about any of the other movies; this is the only one I've seen so far.)
As a fan of magic realism, I'm thrilled to see attention heaped on this movie -- although I'm sure part of the excitement in Hollywood is due to the subject matter. Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an actor whose career peaked more than 20 years ago, when he starred as Birdman in a series of superhero action movies. (Keaton did a lucrative star turn as Batman more than 20 years ago. Meta much?) Now he's attempting to jump-start his career by writing, directing, and starring in a drama based on a Raymond Carver story called "What We Talk About When We Talk about Love." And he's spent his last dime to bring the play to Broadway.
Carver's story is under copyright, so although you can find illegal copies online, I won't link to any of them (here's a plot summary, though, if you're interested). Like the story, the movie's subplots involve the many forms of love.
But the movie's main plot involves the eternal conflict inherent in every creative field in these capitalistic times: Serious Art vs. Popular Entertainment. Riggan can't escape his past -- especially since his superhero alter ego keeps growling at him that he's better than this crappy production and would be better off going back to Hollywood. A theater critic out-and-out tells him that she's going to give the show a horrible review because she doesn't like his kind waltzing onto Broadway like they own the place. His co-star Mike Shiner (played by Edward Norton) is a big name on Broadway who doesn't respect Riggan, either. (Of course, I couldn't help being reminded throughout of the literary-vs.-genre-fiction debate.)
As with any movie about acting, there's a blurring of art and reality. The cinematography makes it appear as if the film was shot in a single take, which adds to the magic-realistic feel. As the scenes change, the camera follows the characters through labyrinthine backstage hallways. It's no accident that at one point, Riggan surprises Shiner as he's reading Borges' Labyrinths.
I don't know whether "Birdman" is the best movie released last year, but I very much enjoyed it. We'll see here shortly what the Academy thinks; the Oscars will be awarded February 22nd. The voters do like movies about their craft (witness "The Artist" winning Best Picture in 2012), so "Birdman" could be a shoo-in. Time will tell.
One programming note: I'm attending the Tucson Festival of Books March 14th and 15th. If you're planning to go, look for the BookGoodies booth -- that's where I'll be, with a whole bunch of my fellow indie authors. Officially, I'm supposed to sign Seized Saturday afternoon and Seasons of the Fool Sunday morning -- but I'm not averse to signing any of my other books at any time. So if you'll be the festival, too, come on by.
These moments of movie blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.