I’ve been thinking about the bit near the end of Birdman where Michael Keaton/ Riggan Thomson (spoiler sort of but not really) is standing on the edge of a building in New York, deciding whether or not to jump off. A woman on another roof calls out, “is this real or is this a movie?” Keaton/Thompson sort of fliches and tosses her the word “movie” before focussing again on the drop. On the internet I saw some trivia which said that this was an unscripted moment, the woman just a random New Yorker who called out, and Keaton (not Thomson) responded. This made the moment make sense to me, a perfect accident thrown into the finished film. Then I saw on imdb that that this woman was played by someone called Jackie Hoffman. Scripted. So it was Thomson, not Keaton, who responded? But he says "movie" as if it were not scripted, letting the two truths, the fiction of the story and the act of making the film, bleed into each other. Lots of the movie was like this, playing games with the real world and the world of representation- the difference between them or the lack of it. It was the best piece of theatre I’ve seen in a while, theatrical in that the long takes drew attention to performance and the potential for misteps, mistakes, things we edit from film but can’t remove from the performance of life. Long takes create liveness and encourage scrutiny, moments are more real since they are embedded in a stretch of time. The note on his mirror at the start, saying “the thing is the thing and not what I think about the thing”, or something like that- playing throughout with the idea of phenomena (things too new for old labels), characters trying desperately to break through to somewhere that they can actually be seen as real and be noticed in their own right. Emma Stone’s rant about the way we are all competing for attention in the digital world, trying to cut through the noise, Keaton/Thomson’s final act on stage being the ultimate desperate version of that (and it wouldn't work twice). Tricks and games with the real and staged, like the one on the roof- the run through Times Square of course all full of hired extras and carefully choreographed, made to look like they just put Keaton out there and roamed with him, like it happened… the slurring shift from scripted performance to something else when Edward Norton throws his drink on stage in the dress rehearsal and destroys the set. Edward Norton transmutating the shit script into dramatic gold, something true, before your eyes, too easily to be comfortable, then making things too real when he assaults his wife in the bed on stage. Keaton revealing the shocking truth about his father, but it's not even true in the scene. The whole movie always clawing away at the moment, all the time, trying to make it into something real. Theatre theorist Burt O States (and Matt Wagner who used to teach us at Vic) says that you can’t have animals, running water, or children on stage because they refuse the fiction, they are phenomena which can't be tamed. Add to that drunken actors. Add to that drummers, who appear halfway through a drum solo, lurching from the soundtrack, outside the picture, into the moment. Add to that city streets and traffic. Add to that movie stars, who stick out like lions in zebra cages in all movies, except in this one, where Keaton is Keaton more than he is Thomson, and so we get that flipping of perception like we should in Shakespeare: Boy actor plays girls playing boy playing girl, king plays beggar plays king... Keaton plays Thomson plays the husband in the play… and we flick around between them. Theatre, and great theatre, but also exhilarating film.
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