03 November 2014

Lullaby of Birdman That's What I Always Hear When you Sigh Never in My Word Land Could There be Words to Reveal in a Phrase How I Feel

I don’t have any idea what life is about but I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. I don’t know what the film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is about either but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching it.

I’ll have to see it again before I can attempt to write about it intelligently because god forbid I should write stupidly about anything. But I will comment generally about it now.

Yesterday I went to see another film which I may or may not discuss at greater length in another post (Gone Girl). Before said movie there were a series of trailers for mindless drivel. It should come as no shock that  Hollywood is continuing to spew out mindless drivel. Variations on the same damn thing done the same damn way often with the same damn actors (that robert downey jr. has become a total whore). One of the trailers I saw yesterday was for a film starring Liam Neeson in which his wife is killed, he’s arrested and escapes and he must find and protect his daughter. Fortunately he has years of training in explosives and combat and spying and all that cool stuff. He’s got the FBI, CIA, every cop in the US and the dog catcher chasing him. Yes folks he's gone rogue. One man against the government’s minions. Q: Where have we seen this before?  A: Countless places. He’s got a buddy on the inside who almost certainly is trying to talk him into giving up and probably says at one point something like “I can’t protect you anymore.” There’s a lot of pithy dialogue on cell phones and dumb people getting killed while trying to get their mitts on our hero and a pounding sound track and 1,001 other cliches.

It’ll make money.

Humans like patterns, they like predicability. They like familiarity. They like answers. They like nicely wrapped packages handed to them. They don’t like to be intellectually challenged. Thinking hurts. They want their packages to come with all the latest bells and whistles. They want it cool. They don’t like old or foreign or ambiguous or challenging or open-ended. A little mystery is okay but only within boundaries. They don’t like to have to wonder what will happen next unless that question will be answered in the sequel. And boy do they love sequels because there’s even less to figure out and the main characters are already familiar.

A movie like Birdman could be a great disappointment to the hoi polloi. What the hell is going on? Is that part supposed to be really happening? Why did they do that? Why did he act that way? What’s going on with all this stuff and for the love of god what the hell is that ending all about?

Forget the aesthetics of the journey, there are too many mysteries along the way that Agatha Christie wouldn’t have a chance with. More structure please.

We are a plot obsessed culture. Traditional linear story lines that take us from point A to point Z only stopping along the way in alphabetical order. We want moral certainty and empathetic answers — yes or no variety — to any questions posed. Remember the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)? That’s as far as most people will go with ambiguity and only because everything else was so crystal clear.

Birdman will confuse the hell out of a lot of people. Ya know for that matter it confused the hell out of me but I like to be confused. Like is reckless and random and infinitely unknowable so having a movie like that is just fine with me.

Religion provides a lot of answers for people. Hell for some people it has all the answers. Nothing to see hear folks no need to examine life just accept that we’ve got all the answers and go on about your business. Opiate indeed.

Critical thinking is one of those relatively recent education buzzwords and it draws a lot of fire, particularly from conservatives. Of course it does. It’s a call for teaching young people to think for themselves, draw their own conclusions through a careful examination of the facts. It says that making up one’s own mind is a much better way to go about learning than accepting the latest or predominant dogma. Teachers don't force feed answers but teach students to find the answers for themselves.

Part of the resistance to critical thinking is that it can make things so messy and uncomfortable. All these truisms found not to be true. All these challenges of the status quo. The potential that people will try to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted. The kind of people who do their own thinking are the kind of people who don’t always want a movie that is so fucking predictable. Or even knowable.

Birdman does far more than confuse. You can have some idiot spouting gibberish on screen and confuse the hell out of everyone but it wouldn’t be art. Birdman encourages and inspires thinking and feeling. It helps that Michael Keaton in the lead gives the performance of a lifetime in a role that he was made for. It further helps that the supporting cast — and what a supporting cast — of Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis and Andrea Riseborough are all excellent. Most importantly director Alejandro González Iñárritu -- who also co-write the screenplay -- knows how to create a cohesive narrative -- of sorts -- within a movie that approximates a psychedelic roller coaster ride.

Here's something: Keaton's character used to play a super hero called Birdman (just as Keaton himself used to play Batman) and now he's trying to put on a play based on a Raymond Carver short story. He wrote, is directing and starring. It's not easy what with...well now I'm getting into the area of plot points which is kind of misleading.

It's just the best new film I've seen this calendar year and this, so far, is a helluva good year for films, despite all the garbage being cranked out. Oh yeah and I liked Gone Girl too but in a very different not flying off a cloud way. Hey!

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