Michael Keaton plays movie star Riggan Thomson as he walks the streets of Manhattan’s theatre district haunted by “Birdman”; a character he played in a series of superhero movies. However, Birdman is no help to Riggan as he attempts to mount his very first Broadway stage play that he hopes will imbue his life with meaning and purpose.
During an early episode of our Road to Cinema YouTube series with Oscar winning producer and director Tony Bill, Bill told us his criteria for a superior piece of filmmaking. He used the latin phrase, “sui generis” which means “one of a kind.” Every film Bill attempted to make, whether successful or unsuccessful, was motivated by that “sui generis” criteria. When I recently watched the masterfully crafted “Birdman”, I was struck by the layered world created by director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the deep performances of the ensemble cast led by Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki choreographing long, complicated takes up to 10 minutes in length, and the hypnotic drum score of Antonio Sanchez. All of those unique elements add up to a “one of a kind” experience which makes “Birdman” unlike any film I have ever seen,”sui generis” to the utmost degree.
Watch this scene from “Birdman” with Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone which shows the unique staging and style of the film. You will notice how this is one continuous long take with no cuts.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inrarritu shot almost the entire film in a real theatre both on stage and off; the St. James Theatre located in the heart of Broadway and Manhattan’s theatre district. “Birdman” operates beyond the hold of a single genre. It’s a comedy, a satire on theatre and film, and a human drama. Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson; a washed-up movie star whose crowning achievement was playing the superhero “Birdman.” (Yes, “Birdman, not “Batman.”) Riggan uses every last cent he has to mount an ambitious Broadway theatrical production of an obscure Raymond Carver short story while trying to manage his ego, his sanity, and the pawning people floating within his orbit. Among those trying Riggan’s patience are his domineering co-star in the production played by Edward Norton, his daughter/personal assistant played by Emma Stone, and Riggan’s producer/business manager played by the hysterical Zach Galifianakis.
From The New York Times “Anatomy of a Scene”, Oscar nominated director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu guides us through a scene where Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton) attempts to direct Mike Shiner (played by Edward Norton) in a rehearsal of the play. However, Riggan’s attempt at directing Shiner is futile as Shiner pushes Riggan out of his comfort zone.
The screenplay of “Birdman” was written by Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Armando Bo, and this week’s guest on The Road to Cinema Podcast Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris walks us through the development of the screenplay, the creation of Riggan Thomson as a character, and how the production process of long, continuous takes affected the writing process.
Listen to episode #14 of The Road to Cinema Podcast with “Birdman” screenwriter Alexander Dinelaris. Subscribe and rate The Road to Cinema Podcast on iTunes. Follow us on Twitter @JogRoad for the latest updates.