Sky Movies Premiere, 10.10pm
It’s probably not a coincidence that since the destabilising shock of 9/11, multiplex sound systems and home theatres alike have throbbed to the ever-expanding antics of a bewildering array of all-conquering comic book superheroes. From A (Avengers Assemble) to X-Men. From the sublime (Batman Returns) to the ridiculous (Green Lantern). The sweet (Big Hero 6) and the sour (Kick Ass).
Fluttering its wings to deceive in an overcrowded amphitheatre of dreams is an oddity like Birdman. Which isn’t a superhero movie, of course. It’s merely preoccupied by perceptions of them. Because in ‘reel life’ Michael Keaton was the pre-Christian Bale Batman back in the 90s. It’s why he’s been cast as Birdman, a washed-up Hollywood celebrity attempting a comeback on Broadway in his own hopefully pretigious adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. What they talk about is the chasm between art and commerce.
The constant thwarting of great expectations in careers that soar then sink. Or that never take off at all. Unless, as here, you give in to the wishfulfilment quirks of something like Robert Altman’s early-70s flop, Brewster McCloud.
Cleverly edited to look as though it was seamlessly filmed in one continuously flowing camera motion, Birdman looks better than American television’s old Playhouse 90 live broadcasts, but not appreciably different. Well, apart from the levitation and isolated action fantasy scene.
Oh, and Keaton wandering the streets in his Y-fronts. Westinghouse wouldn’t have worn that. Mexican film-maker Alejandro González Iñárritu has always been more erratic than his compatriots Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, and – as an exercise in ego and insecurity – Birdman is more Biutiful than Barton Fink. It’s a supposedly satirical comedy of theatre folk and the acting’s big. Broadway big. But we’re not talking All About Eve here. Like Rob Reiner with his Spinal Tap cricket bat, we’re talking affectation.
Oscar-winning cameraman Emmanuel Lubezki achieved cinematic poetry in motion on Cuarón’s Gravity, but Birdman’s fundamentally a theatrical conceit. Bravura steadicam technique, perhaps, but sylistically it’s no real advance on Hitchcock’s mid-20th century Rope trick. Here, it’s as if the film-makers are constantly poking us in the ribs, demanding to know ‘How are we doing so far, on a scale of 9 to 10?’ Birdman – grand gesture or goofy gimmick? A bit of both. A charge equally applicable to the film’s excitable use of music. Because this is the kind of art that can’t stop calling attention to itself. You know the kind. Artifice.