IT’S ALWAYS GOOD when film critics call a film “ambitious”. It’s a way of saying “this was creative but I hated it”, and also “avant-garde but actually quite boring”. Usually “ambitious” is used as subtle trash talk.
When films give themselves rules, when directors restrict themselves and try to make tell their story in an interesting way, things get very interesting. What really drew me to wanting to see Birdman – other than Edward Norton’s little face – was that I read in EMPIRE that the film was shot to look as though it was on one continuous take, and that it only used natural lighting, now that sounded ambiguous to me. Was it being filmed on location? Did this location have a lot of windows? Were there ceilings? How would the crews shadows not mess everything up? How long did these actors have to act their scenes? Would they go 20 minutes at a time without some form of cut? Was it being shot on a Steadicam? What if the Steadicam man fell over? Would I get dizzy watching it? For months the production of Birdman bugged me. This endeavour in cinematography got me more excited than the plot, I don’t think I really understood the plot prior to watching and I was still excited.
Some of the most creative films I’ve seen have been incredibly limited. In this modern age of Technicolor and surround sound, it wouldn’t make sense to turn off the microphones and RGB for a film – but Michael Hazanavicius did it for The Artist and that film won 5 Oscars. Locke is 85 minutes of nothing but one man driving and talking on the phone, its run time is real time and it is compelling and brilliant. It could have been shot in someone’s basement with clever lighting and the audience would never know, because there’s so much more interesting things happening in Locke than the setting – there is nothing else to be concerned about other than the unfurling dialogue that is the key to Ivan Locke’s distress.
Sometimes it’s not an artistic choice that forces this kind of restriction – Rian Johnson’s Brick is famously low budget, he was aware he couldn’t create the type of hyper-reality necessary to create a high school neo-noir, so he used the dialogue to tell the audience that it wasn’t real life and had teenagers talking as if they were part of a 1930’s crime organisation.
“The language, by the way, was a big choice that was made, a.) because it was fun to do; but b.) in my mind, it was really important for the audience to know, coming into it, that they were in a heightened version of a high school movie, and we couldn’t do that with production design, we couldn’t do that with money to do that crazy design that was just going to look like a high school movie. When we made this, there were tons of high school movies coming out, so the language was a way for me, without any money, to just make the audience instantly have to say, “Oh, this isn’t the real world. I have to adjust to this. This is sort of the equivalent of a comic book reality.” – RIAN JONSON
My favourite genre of films I named for myself. The One Day Drama, also called (by me) as The Twenty-Four Hour Tale. Sometimes films take place in a short time frame, and more wild stuff happens than films that span weeks or months (or even years) of film time. Clerks is a ‘cult classic’ that is just a day in the life of Dante and Randal, working in a small convenience store. Its phenomenally funny and proved that all you need for a film is a good script. Limit yourself to see how many jokes you can fit into one day and you might have the start of a career as successful as Kevin Smith’s. Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing takes place on “the hottest day of the year”, and it delves deeply into racial issues deeper than some year-spanning historical dramas, in less than 24 hours. One of my other self-created genres is the One Room Odyssey, of which notable films include Rear Window, The Mist, Carnage, The Breakfast Club, Rope, and You’re Next. When two top 1001 Films You Need To See Before You Die (Rear Window and Breakfast Club) are there – it’s clear that a few rules can contribute to a great film. If you haven’t noticed, Richard Linklater is kind of obsessed with time and not only is it the main thing that carries his most recently adored film Boyhood. He took twelve years to film Boyhood. TWELEVE. Dallas Buyers Club was shot in 25 days. Boyhood was not just ambitious – it was risky. So much can happen over twelve years, some actors fall out in twelve minutes, how could it possibly be anything other than annoying to shoot once a year? While I thought Boyhood was very good, and although I didn’t find it to be the most entertaining film of the year, it certainly was one of the most interesting, the actual film-making is an achievement in itself.
I don’t think you can separate Birdman from its camera tricks; the creative technique forces the rest of the film to be as creative. Without cuts there is a different kind of energy about the performances, Emma Stone fails to even squirm during 7 minute long shouting scenes, and the film mirrors the theatre in that these characters couldn’t exist outside of the world of Broadway – but as we watch them so intensely they are easier to believe since they can’t hide between takes. The soundtrack is extraordinary, it’s a never ending drum beat, and it fits perfectly. There’s a scene when Keaton tips a busking drummer, we realise the sound is diegetic and is wonderful. The script was cuttingly intelligent and darkly funny, it could just be my awful sense of humour but I was laughing the whole way through. The film gets a bit meta, as Keaton and co. dwell on relevance, looking for meaning and honesty in films and theatre, art versus entertainment and “the digital age”, but not in a stuffy obnoxious way, but in a very self-aware humours way, and it starts to feel as schizophrenic as Keaton’s Riggan Tomson (I was just waiting for someone to look at the camera a-la parks and rec just to remind us they knew we were watching).
Birdman was ambitious; and I’m so glad it was. Through the film it’s clear that director Alejandro González Iñárritu is passionate; it comes through as the film is so honest, experimental and fun. I left the cinema feeling giddy; I couldn’t think about anything other than what I’d just seen and I wanted to run across the centre of town, back into the arms to the theatre group I was in when I was 14. Everything is most exciting the first time, and I think we can all well and truly agree that Birdman is the first of its kind, and I just hope it will have everyone wanting more! Have bigger studios wanting to take bigger ‘risks’ (are female directors still considered a ‘risk’?) in all aspects of film making and force Hollywood films to be more creative. I’m so excited.
By Reba Martin
Reba Martin is a teenager from Bristol. She’s been obsessed with the Simpsons since before she could walk, and still watches it religiously to this day. Her hobbies include planning to go to the cinema, and going to the cinema. She cries uncontrollably with joy at animated children’s movies, so she doesn’t feel her judgement is clear enough to choose a favourite film (but if she had to it would be Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.) You look at her movie diaryhere and her Tumblr at changingghost.