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We already knew quite a bit about Birdman, the new film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (or Alejandro G. Inarritu, which he now apparently uses). We know that it's a comedy-drama with a stacked cast, with Michael Keaton playing a former hotshot actor who attempts to stage a Broadway play. But we may have missed the most significant part to a cinephile: is this thing only one single shot?
The Film Stage has talked to people who have seen the movie, and apparently the whole film is one extended sequence made up of only a dozen or so actual set-ups. CGI and "blank spaces" have been used to connect this material to create a seamless experience akin to one single shot. That's... ballsy. The movie already sounded like a peculiar balancing act, and now you're involving this sort of technical trickery?
Inarritu is working with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who last year brought a similar vision to Gravity, developing extended sequences impossibly altered to look like single uninterrupted shots. This sort of trickery is not new: Alfred Hitchcock attempted this with Rope, a suspense thriller that took place in real-time, with only one sly cut in there to reveal to the diehards that such a feat was borderline impossible. Of course, he only had one room: the master filmmaker Alexander Sokurov moved through entire eras with his film Russian Ark, which only utilized a single shot.
The difficulties in Birdman's execution lie in the fact that the viewer is going to have to know the history of Riggan Thomson, Keaton's washed-up character. Apparently the superhero that he played in the past, the titular Birdman, has a loaded iconography, one that informs Thomson everywhere he goes. While the report suggests that there are some supernatural moments within the film proper, it could be difficult to emphasize this guy's larger-than-life past in dialogue. Of course, that's probably a minor challenge compared to the semi-nude dash through Times Square seen in the trailer, which was probably a nightmare to shoot. Look at that trailer. Can you imagine that as just one single shot? Insane.
Inarritu looks like he picked up more than a few clues from Lubezki and his buddy Alfonso Cuaron in making this ambitious genre-bending effort. Birdman. We'll see the results on October 17th.