Normally, directors usually go out of their way to heap praise onto Alfred Hitchcock, rather than bad-mouthing one of his most-revered films. But Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a breathtakingly unique filmmaker, and after his hugely anticipated black comedy, Birdman, was recently compared to Hitchcock’s 1948 thriller Rope, he surprised many by reacting negatively to the analogy.
One of the big talking points about Birdman has been that it ambitiously sets out to come across as though it were filmed as one long continuous take. This, of course, has been done before, most notably by Alfred Hitchcock when he made the thriller Rope. However, during a discussion with Time to promote Birdman Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu admitted that he doesn’t like that his film is constantly being compared to Rope. Because, well, he hates Hitchcock’s film.
"There’s always this comparison with Rope, which I think is a terrible film. I don’t like it. I think it’s a very bad film of Hitchcock’s. It’s a very mediocre film. Obviously, he shot with that intention and it didn’t work — because of the film itself! It has nothing to do with the technique, it’s just a mediocre film."
To be fair to Inarritu, it’s not as though he has a problem with Hitchcock’s attempt to shoot the long scenes - it’s just that he clearly has an issue with its plot and attempts to create suspense. Reviews at the time of the film’s release echoed these sentiments too, with Variety magazine declaring, "Hitchcock could have chosen a more entertaining subject with which to use the arresting camera and staging technique displayed in Rope."
However it would also be very harsh to try and genuinely compare Birdman and Rope’s technical achievements too. Hitchcock’s film was created during an era when the cameras were so cumbersome and large that it was impossible to move or pan the device without laborious effort - and there wasn’t any CGI or special effects to assist his attempt either. Instead, he had to either pan against or track into an object, which included zooming into a jacket that blocked the entire screen, in order to hide his edits. He also had to contend with the fact that the length of a film camera magazine back in 1948 was only ten minutes long, which meant that he needed to cut at that point wherever the camera was. This means that rather than being one long continuous take, Rope is actually made up of 10 segments.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu had no such issues with Birdman, as he was able to seamlessly track through a variety of locations, allow day to turn into night, and to even deploy expensive special effects that meant he could make it look as if a giant bird had just destroyed a car on a New York street. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. Both films have their merits, but while Rope was almost condescendingly appreciated rather than adored, Birdman has so far been met with near universal acclaim ahead of its release on Friday. Hitchcock would probably beat Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu in a pie-eating contest, though.