[Disclaimer: This post discusses the first ten minutes of the film Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and two short 2-3 minute clips. Due to this, I’m sure this post contains slight spoilers, but really it’s nothing that isn’t already shown in the trailer.]
This year’s New York Comic Con was the most packed I’ve ever seen the Javits Center. The weekend exhibited panels, guests, and booths from a plethora of different fandoms. One of the most popular panels was for the upcoming release that closed out the New York Film Festival last night, Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). The panel occurred Friday night on the Empire Stage, and I was somehow fortunate enough to attend.
(Birdman trailer. I suggest watching this before you continue reading.)
(Wow, wasn’t that great? I’m excited.)
It all began with Hardwick excitedly running out on stage, gushing about how much he loved this movie and knew everyone in the room would love it too. In return, the audience yelled points at him, a reference to his Comedy Central show @midnight. Hardwick told the audience that we would be seeing the first ten minutes of the film, and then left us to be amazed.
Here are a few things I’ve gathered about Birdman from these first ten minutes and a few other clips shown later in the panel:
1. It’s meta.
Keaton plays a character named Riggan Thomson. Riggan is a washed up actor from a twenty-or-so-year-old movie franchise called Birdman. Though I wouldn’t consider Keaton washed up, this obviously draws some similarities to his Batman career in the early 90’s.
Additionally, there is a scene where Riggan and Zach Galifianakis’ character, Jake (Riggan’s agent/manager/lawyer/best friend), discuss actors they can use in a play that Riggan has adapted and is now directing. They list of a slew of actors to choose from realizing all of them have been cast in super hero franchises. (Cue RDJ as Iron Man jokes…)
Technically, this is also true of Norton who was cast in The Incredible Hulk stand-alone sequel made back in 2008. Even though Norton doesn’t play himself in Birdman, I can’t help but wonder if this was done on purpose.
Not to mention these LIMITED EDITION posters that were handed out after the panel that reference a Birdman 4 joke made in the film. (That clip can be seen in the trailer – start watching around the :26 second mark.)
2. It’s stunning
The film is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Biutiful, Babel) and features the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life, Children of Men), who has received consistent nominations and awards for his camera work and finally won the Oscar for Gravity in 2014.
One of the most stunning things I noticed about this film, and that Hardwick also pointed out on the panel, is that it all feels like one continuous shot. Keaton and Norton both agreed that it was one of the longest rehearsal processes either of them had ever gone through for a film. They agreed it was almost like doing a play. One can only imagine the amount of detail that went into shooting something like this, not to mention the obvious skill and dexterity of the camera team. According to Norton, “Film schools will be dissecting how a lot of this was done for years to come.”
3. It’s weird.
Birdman does an exceptional job of incorporating visual effects. One of the first shots of the film shows Keaton hovering above the ground in his underwear mediating, only interrupted by a Skype call from his daughter Sam, played by Emma Stone.
The VFX that occur in this film feel like they are occurring in real life. This is because of the almost cinéma vérité like nature of the film (the viewer is ever present of the camera, since it feels like it never stops recording). Nothing about Keaton’s levitation feels fake, and this is unsettling in the best way.
4. It’s violent.
The seamless integration of visual effects makes certain moments in this film very jarring – and this is only in the first ten minutes. I can only imagine that the rest of the movie continues to shock and thrill the audience.
A particular moment occurs early on in the film during a script read with Riggans and three other actors (one of which is played by Naomi Watts). Riggans has previously discussed his disgust with one of the actors and his penchant for over acting. As the camera circles the table, the audience is made painfully aware of this. And, all of the sudden, a stage light drops onto the actor’s head. He lies unconscious on the floor, bleeding out as every one on stage rushes towards him. Well, everyone aside from Riggans, who quickly heads back towards his dressing room as the camera follows him out.
5. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
When trying to describe the film, Keaton said, “It’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before. No literally, it’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before.” He tripped over his words a bit as he tried to find something less clichéd, but even as Norton tried to help him out, he too struggled for the right words to describe the film.
Norton ended up comparing his first experience of viewing the film in its entirety to the first time he watched Fight Club. Both times his first thought was – and I’m paraphrasing here, but only slightly – “What the hell was I just in?”
As an avid Fight Club fan, this only makes me more impatient to see all of the film. Especially since Norton described it as a movie “for people who really like movies and… geek out on cinema.”
If the incredible cast (Keaton, Norton, Galifianakis, Stone, Watts), phenomenal director/cinematographer pairing (Iñárritu & Lubezki), and gripping trailer haven’t already convinced you to see this film, then I suggest you see it anyway.
It’s a superhero movie that doesn’t fit into the superhero genre. It’s a dark comedy that borders on the absurd.
It gets a limited US theater release this Friday, October 17th, and I know I will be first in line at midnight (or 10pm, whatever the crazy kids are doing these days).
Stay tuned to my YouTube channel for more NYCC coverage!
–by Holland Farkas