Taking what was supposed to be a one hour break from studying that quickly turned into a 24 hour break, I noticed that ‘Birdman,’ Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s 2014 film, was available to watch on my TV. So…I watched it. If I hadn’t know beforehand that practically the whole film (bar the scene near the end) was supposed to look like it was shot entirely in one take, I probably wouldn’t have noticed — and maybe this is the point Iñárritu was trying to make. I’m not sure exactly what the point was — there are multiple reasons; some I came up with include he’s trying to show how camera shots often go unnoticed by critics and audiences today, or was practising the opposite of this and emphasising the effect shots, lighting-basically every micro-element in film- has on a film.
Even though the ignorant version of me watching this film wouldn’t have noticed the ‘oner,’ I know I would have noticed the lighting, the angles of the shots, and the use of sound within the film as this was, ironically, emphasised by the fact the film is a ‘oner.’ I use ‘oner’ in inverted commas here, as it’s apparent this film isn’t a replica of an Orson Welles oner, yet it’s persuadable that this is for a reason, too — Welles’ long one-takes are just as constructed as Iñárritu’s, but the difference between them is the former is trying to make it look real, like it’s happening in real-time, whilst the latter chooses to embrace the context of what is partly happening in the film (a man coming to terms with the fact his life is fake due to being fictionalised through the medium of film, art, plays) by being unapologetic in its digitally created extended shot, yet still re-intellectualising the cinematic scope– it’s like what Wes Anderson films would be like if he’d ended up like Emma Stone’s character Sam rather than spending his life in tweed drinking tea. (I’m joking). (I love you Wes).
This brings me to my third conclusion on the possible reason of using a clearly constructer oner; the shot is challenging the audience of today — the constant references to Twitter, Facebook, social media, and going viral completely juxtapose with the two hour long take that doesn’t cut. Films are beginning to get quicker and quicker cuts between each scenes, because, to generalise, directors think their audiences are stupid and have a short attention span. What Iñárritu is doing is asking audiences if this is true — he’s asking us to pay attention to the entire film that contextualises the society we live in; the social media age. And, quite frankly, thank god. Twitter and social media have become so important in our society and culture, but contemporary films seem to be ignoring this, but finally we have a film that accurately portrays what it is like to live in a digital age without over-dramatising their effects.
To go back to talking about my revision, I’m currently studying ‘King Lear’ for my exam in June. It’s interesting watching this film after spending your whole life revising ‘King Lear,’ as Michael Keaton’s character can easily be a replica of the play. In fact, one of the play’s central themes — the idea of nothing — is a central theme in Shakespeare’s tragedy, too. When Lear declares in Act One Scene One of ‘King Lear’ that ‘nothing can come of nothing’ to Cordelia, it can easily be mirrored with the way Riggan treats his daughter Sam, as well as the way he sees the world around him while engulfed in Birdman’s thoughts (for example the man who was screaming about the world being ‘nothing’ only to find out that he was acting to impress Keaton’s character — nothing has become nothing here).
‘Birdman’ is not a film to ignore. It contextualises our society, and asks the questions everyone faces but are too afraid to ask, without forgetting that this is just a film, and a great one at that. However, I would argue this is more than just a film — ‘Birdman’ is indeed the meaningful piece of art Riggan so tirelessly wanted to create.