Last night I had the pleasure to watch Birdman, and wow what a film!
Everything was superb from acting to writing to everything. But what was a clear standout for me was the cinematography. Rather the shear brilliance of Birdman’s cinematography. The one-long-take look of the film was indeed a pleasant surprise. I first noticed this long take when the film started, with Regan (Micheal Keaton) walking out of his room to the rehearsals of his play, then coming back to his room, followed by press interviews followed by everything else. I was patiently waiting for the long take to end, so that I could go back and watch it again. Little did I know that this long take would end with the film.
Flawless, ingenious and creative are some of the words that come to my mind when I think of this astounding feat. With camera following the characters from one room to the other than following another character out of the room to some place else. Going from indoors to out on the streets to the bar then back to indoors to the theater. Not only does it feel surreal, you feel what any character is feeling as the camera follows behind their feet. This made the characters more relate-able and eventually the impact of the movie is so powerful as you feel you are part of the film and the world created by it. One of the more memorable sequences is Keaton walking across Times Square in his underwear, you can feel the awkwardness as the camera follows him from the back alleys of the theater through the square and back into the theater from its main entrance. Whats even more impressive is that it was shot in 30 days.
After watching the film, I did some research on the cinematography of the film and wasn’t surprised when I came across articles like “Here’s How Ridiculously Difficult It Was To Film ‘Birdman’ In 30 Days” or “Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki details the ‘dance’ of filming ‘Birdman’.” Here the Oscar winner talks about how some of the scenes 7 to 10 mins long were shot more than 20 times to get them right. Let alone the obvious pressure that the cast and crew felt during these scenes. One hitch up would lead them to re shot the entire sequence again. Not to mention the lighting of every scene required different attention. Now that’s commitment.
Glimpses of his technique can be scene in last year’s ‘Gravity,’ more specifically in the opening scene. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Lubezki have created here is an invisible character in the film and through that character’s eyes we see the film. That character is us, the audience. Needless to say Lubezki’s Oscar win won’t come as a surprise.