In the film, Keaton plays a former action star turned playwright and director consumed by his ego and the compressed world of his play and its production; a world that never stops, that is dense and claustrophobic, and that he simply cannot control. Undoubtedly, Birdman’s most effective component in conveying this feeling of overwhelm, and the film’s most ground-breaking characteristic, is its cinematography.
Shot by Academy Award winner Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki, Birdman is constructed to look like one long take and it’s somewhat reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rope in the way it hides its cuts. Though it must be said, Birdman, taking advantage of new technologies such as the portability of the Arri Alexa, produces the continuous long take sensation more successfully than any film before it.
Though each cut discreetly signals the end of a segment or interaction, the cuts are never perceived by someone who is not looking for them. This long take sensation invites the viewer to become much more immersed in the movie and to take part of the action like an invisible voyeur walking around the Broadway theater. Throughout most of the film, the camera moves aggressively within tight corridors and crammed rooms that are somehow interconnected with each other, creating a disorienting maze like feeling that wonderfully mirrors Riggan’s (Keaton) state of mind.
I entered the movie theater with certain skepticism, wondering if the feeling of a long take would truly benefit the film narratively and visually or if it was just a gimmick designed to create buzz and sell tickets. Ultimately though, I found Birdman to be a breathtaking act of storytelling that uses its unique style to connect more deeply to it’s subject of acting and the theater, and to immerse the audience unlike any other Hollywood film in recent years. Two thumbs up!
About the Author:
Nicolas Pinzon is a filmmaker and storyteller currently enrolled in UCLA’s Professional Screenwriting Program. He has a B.A in Arts and Humanities with a concentration in both Music, and Gender and Sexuality.