by Jaime Grijalba.
There is something quite interesting about the fact that so many critics have dissed and even downright hated something as interesting to discuss and even important like ‘Birdman’ (2014). It’s not really the best movie of the year, nor revolutionary in the way that it was filmed, or the themes that it presents aren’t exactly more or less interesting than in any of the other films that are nominated for anything in this year’s Oscars. I really hate to write these kind of things in a defensive manner, because it seems as if I’m the solely defender of “these truths that we hold dear”, and I’m not. I do think that it’s one of the best movies of the year, but I also don’t think that it’s a movie that deserves or even needs any kind of defense, but I feel like the lonely dude in the desert that yells (or tweets): “Birdman was kinda great, why anyone else thinks this way?”, or at least among the crowd of new internet cinephiles that I’d like to be fully adopted by that thinks that this movie is somewhat lame, and not only that, the worst thing that has ever graced our screens. In a turn of events, I’ve found myself in the side of Mike D’Angelo, out of all possible critics, thinking that this movie is good (though he would never call it among the best films of 2014), someone who actually despises the “shot in one take” style of certain films, as he is an advocate for how the emotion and everything that cinema truly is, is done through editing. So, there must be something here that should be taken care of, something that we should pay attention to, because sometimes it’s way too easy for me or for anyone to point at this movie and tell it how “wrong” or “gimmicky” or whatever one superficially think it is. As much as it annoys some people, I think we need to go deeper to understand the true values of something like this latest film of Iñarritu.
Critics have name called this film without any real formal and accurate confrontation (just as D’Angelo said, the critic is as much a caricature as everyone else in this movie), because it’s a satire, a scathing portrayal of everything that is put onscreen and it even manages to squeeze a critique towards the audience that is watching the film. It is, in a way, basic. In the sense that satire always targets those who are up in the scale, so who does this movie makes fun of: actors, directors, writers, critics… all people that have some kind of power when compared to the rest of the world. Well, there comes along the famous scene where an interestingly dressed character yells at the audience saying “this is what the public wants” in a husky voice while explosions and soldiers shooting happen behind, that is a formal attack on the audience and their power. Why the people who hate so much the superhero blockbusters don’t have some kind of relief or even some support in this movie? Here they have their best weapon, not the dumbification of the common people, not the “ugh garbage comic movie number sixteen”, but actual acknowledgment of the power that the audience has in the movie landscape of today, it is their say, it is their money, their wanting of seeing the superhero spectacle that fueled the industry and made them this always-constant-updating machine of announcements, directors, stars, franchises and crossovers that one must be some kind of wizard to take anything into account and somewhat find any reasoning behind planning movies well into 2019. It is our fault, let’s say, it’s our fault that we have this coming, and here there’s a movie that doesn’t dare to not tell it just like it is: we are the ones to blame.
“But critics are the worst kind of people according to this movie, and actors have the most important job in the world, fuck this movie”. Well, if you actually watched the movie, it’s not a love letter to the art of acting, because the acting that they show in the context of the play is godawful. And they sell it as great acting for the Oscars because it’s in the moments that they’re not in front of the big audience that their true chops show off, specially when there’s a complex shift in the way that they look at each other, the way they talk and everything else. While obviously not as masterful as something like ‘Opening Night’ (1977), one of my favorite movies of all time, it is less self congratulatory by managing to be less scathing. The Cassavetes film ends up being a love letter to performing and female performers, to the joy of living that comes through being shown off in the theater, it is in those final minutes that we see that the true happiness for Gena Rowlands is in those moments, where she plays, she destroys everything, she finally understands what this whole thing is about, and she does it through the magic of acting. Iñarritu almost makes a condemnation of the performance, how that action can destroy us, can make us turn and twist and make us the worst person alive, how it can turn our families upside down, how it can destroy your mind, not because it’s the hardest and most important job in the world, no, but because it’s a job that requires for your own soul to be torn apart from what you truly want, and it does this by way of glorifying the figure of the ex-superhero, while the self-hating Gena Rowlands ends up with a happier ending (of sorts), in which she finally manages to break her strings.
It’s been said before in some other places, but I think I need to say it, since it connects so much to my own experience with culture. ‘Birdman’ feels completely connected with Latin American narrative of the 20th century: Márquez, Carpentier, Borges, Cortázar, and many other exponents of magical realism. These short stories and novels are filled with characters that without any reason start flying, or short stories that are some kind of ouroboros, where the people reading a book inside the story start to realize that they are in the book themselves. There are direct references at times, like when the character played by Edward Norton is taking a sunbath in his expensive machine, and he is reading Jorge Luis Borges’s short stories. I think not many could’ve made a movie like ‘Birdman’, and that’s not because of the virtuosity of Iñarritu, or how much of a good filmmaker (or not, the judge is still out for me) he is; but the outsider perspective that he has of the whole show business is the only way that could’ve made it possible for anyone to make this movie the way that it’s made, in the scathing manner that it takes every aspect of it, how much bitter spite Iñarritu must have towards “the way things are done here” is so evident in this movie that one must wonder at how this movie was made. I won’t call it brave, or not even necessary, but damn, if people can’t see the points that I’m making, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.