In Motion

“Birdman” (2014) dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

One of my favorite directors, Inarritu, has completed his fifth feature film in his departure away from multi-dimensional narratives centered around a tragic accident (think the trilogy 21 Grams, Babel, Amores Perros and maybe even Biutiful….yes, the rest of his films). Now, he is focused on a character study and, more importantly, an ‘unedited’ style of storytelling-an ‘inescapable reality’, according to Inarritu.

This is a change in his storytelling style, moving towards a persistent linear plot. Inarritu mentions in his recent Variety interview that he feels life is experienced in a sort of linear, Steadicam form, and so he uses much of that visual style in Birdman. Just look at the beautiful Steadicam shots in the trailer! I love the sense of the floating, following perspective that the camera creates.

Of course, another new feature in this Inarritu film is its genre: black comedy. With that dream cast, it looks like it might be one of my favorites of the year!

I’m excited to see how Inarritu streamlined the film to appear as a constant un-cut motion. Its not that its technically difficult, just that it will be interesting to see how it ties into the Broadway setting of the film and the back-and-forth transitions between real life and on-stage acting that the main character experiences. The character’s time on the stage in theater becomes inseparable form his personal life. Birdman is more than fiction, it appears. It really is an ‘inescapable reality’, as Inarritu wishes to convey.

I always like to see the visual style, and even the sound, reflect on the character study.

It comes out October 17th!

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A little tangent on the use of steadicam…

Two great, and different, uses of it come to mind. The first is the classic long take with no-cuts that leads your gaze as it follows the action in a scene.

Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, along with director Cary Fukunaga, use this method in a memorable scene from a True Detective episode. This technique has been used in many classic films since the 70’s (Goodfellas, The Shining, Rocky) but I decided to use this newer example (starts around 02:00):

True Detective S1 E4 Final Shot from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

And then there’s the Terrence Malick way of using many cuts at different angles or rotations of the Steadicam to create a collage of a scene and/or encourage the sense of constant motion and wandering:

Watching Soon…

Terry Gilliam’s “Zero Theorem” (2014)

You may recognize Gilliam’s visual style from his other well-known works, “Twelve Monkeys”, “Brazil” and others…

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…lots of fish-eye, caricatures of characters, carnival/theater-type settings and props, eccentric or outcasts as main characters. Cinematographer Roger Pratt worked with Gilliam in these older films to achieve that visual style, but it seems Gilliam still keeps it consistent in his latest.

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Charlie McDowell’s “The One I Love” (2014)

Ari Folman’s use of Animation

…exploring 2 works by director Ari Folman.

 Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Waltz with Bashir movie image

This film is a beautiful showcase of the advantage of using animation…and especially in a documentary. Folman explores his & his old friends’ memories of the 1982 Lebanon War and a massacre of which he feels guilty of taking part, even though he was on the outskirts of the city & was only part of the group of soldiers that lit flares throughout the night, not knowing what was happening in the Palestinian refugee camps.

The art style is much like a graphic novel, and was essential to streamlining the images from memories, dreams, interviews, and scenes from the Lebanon war. I was surprised by how emotionally moving and ‘real’ the film is, due in part to the choice of animation.

Bashir

There was criticism of the film stating that it depicts the partakers in the war as another kind of victim, instead of perpetrator, since Folman and the others he interviews in the film are heartbroken at how they were involved and the film highlights the effects it had on the soldiers years after the war. However, many of the scenes from the war illustrates the damage that the Israeli soldiers caused in their callousness and how they blindly followed orders as IDF soldiers. I don’t think the film is intended as a plea for sympathy for the soldiers, nor does it stand out as such, but rather, it takes a ‘conflicted’ perspective, and it certainly displays the victims of the massacre.

I really liked the animation style and the way Folman built up to his memory of the massacre, with the help of former soldiers and others who were present. I highly recommend this one.

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The Congress (2013) 

congress

Yes, Robin Wright as…Robin Wright, but somewhat in the future, after she signs a contract with Miramount Studios, allowing them to use a ‘scanned version’ of herself in any films the studio chooses so that she won’t ever have to actually ‘act’ anymore and can spend time with her family.  That forms the beginning of a increasingly complex story about how Hollywood grows to take over the world, in a sense, as people of the near future seek to escape their ‘real’ selves by taking on the forms of any celebrity/character they choose.

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The animation style is much more caricature-ish and reminded me of old cartoons. It actually gets a bit confusing towards the end as Robin Wright attempts to reach her son after lost connection with him in her years of being in the ‘animation’ realm..(?)..but I did appreciate and enjoy the film’s take on the concept of escapism from dystopia that appears frequently in modern sci-fi films.

The entertainment industry is the leader of this movement and becomes a sort of dictatorship, allowing everyone to become distracted enough (by their ability to become anything/anyone, live any kind of life they want) to not question the rule of Miramount Studios or their alternate ‘real’ life. Finally, the last step in Miramount’s plan is to introduce the “free choice” drug that allows anyone to visualize whatever movie/story they want in their imagination. So, the film explores the idea of escapism via delusion/alternate realities, and the idea of ‘free choice’.

Jon-hamm-as-dylan-david-polonsky

^That’s the character voiced by Jon Hamm.

One of the reasons the film seems too complicated and confusing is that there are scenes in which Robin Wright is struggling to maintain a consistent reality. Sometimes it is unclear if she is hallucinating or is seeing/living ‘real’ life…but I think that this confusion of reality in INTENDED for the audience.

I believe you are supposed to feel a little disoriented, much like Robin Wright throughout most of the film……

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….but I could see how that would be just too uncomfortable or confusing, or how it becomes ‘too much’ by the end of the film. I do wish there was a little more clarity on the details of the story and concepts.

Yet, I still recommend it and I look forward to Ari Folman’s next work!