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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Birdman (or, the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

I had only seen this movie once, probably when it came out ten(!?) years ago, prior to tonight's viewing. It was an impulse buy because I saw it in the $5 bin, remembered enjoying it, and since starting this project I have come to appreciate how important physical media is. The only concrete thing I remembered from it, again having only seen it minutes into my theatrical costuming career, was how hard I laughed at the emotionally broken costume designer shouting, "WELL NOW I HAVE TO GO SHOPPING AGAIN." Friends, that line is even funnier ten years and countless shopping trips later.


I've discussed this previously, but I have few cultural weaknesses greater than my love of actors playing actors. Especially when they're playing bad actors. Extra especially when they're playing assholes. And this is two hours of all of it. I get a lot of schadenfreude from watching actors acknowledge what utter dicks actors can be, especially to crew. There's something deeply vindicating about it. It's a weird sort of glee, born of the Very Real pain I experienced at the hands of those types of actors. And truthfully, it doesn't solve any of those problems. The actors who mistreated me undoubtedly watch this movie and think, "Well that's not me." And they're half right. My memory has made them more monstrous, yes, but mostly, people who behave like that have no true sense of self. And I'll never get further vindication than the caricatures in this movie (and others like it).


Beyond my personal experiences, this tar black comedy is very much my jam. I cannot attempt to describe this film without imagine myself eating it with a spoon. Thick, sickly sweet but also bitter. I love it.


The most remarkable thing about Birdman is the direction. Those long shots. The masterful camera movements. Without cutting between actor reactions and dialogue, it feels more theatrical but also more dreamlike. I fundamentally understand the physical space they're inhabiting, but the awesome use of steadicam makes it feel impossible. And the lighting? UGH. The use of practical lighting sources is dazzling. Especially when you consider how much choreography this whole movie required.


I wish I could have found a gif of the drunk screaming Macbeth next to the cluster of ring lights. But this is a close second:



I appreciate that this movie can make the darker, sadder (honestly, more pathetic) parts of ourselves funny and worth investigating. I hope people revisit this movie for its actual message and artistic merits, and haven't memory holed it to the annuls of awards season history.


Paint and ink on paper.



Takeaways:

-As previously mentioned, I watch a lot of art tutorials on Instagram and even have a saved folder dedicated to different techniques I want to try. This is "gel plate printing." A "gelatin" (I don't think it's actually gelatin - it's just vaguely sticky rubber?) plate has paint applied and removed in layers and is then applied to a piece of paper that peels off everything that's been applied and keeps it on the paper. It's wild! And every single reel is about how difficult it is and naturally I wanted to try it. (It's cool. I'm in therapy. I'm working on whatever this gestures generally at self is.)

-Turns out, it is really difficult! I did a halfassed test run and it was fine so I thought, I'm golden. I was not, in fact, golden. Turns out that applying a magazine transfer is way more art than science and you ruin the bit of magazine you used so if it doesn't take...! Also, laser or copy printing is not the magic bullet it normally is in these situations (toner > ink) but for once, my lil inkjet got me through. Kind of. With a lot of very frustrating trial and error.

-The "final" print (I did one after this that sucked) was my "last" ditch effort before giving up on this project. It's not what I envisioned but it grew on me. The print layer of a dressing room mirror did not work but the Birdman printed beautifully (and in a way I could not replicate). So I thought, fuck it, and doodled on top of it and I really do like it.

-I don't know how I feel about doing this art technique again. I have the gel plate now so there's not a lot of additional cost required to doing more but I'm just, on a molecular level, uncomfortable with something over which I have so little control. (Again, therapy, but this is low priority.) I did somehow manage to permanently ink "I am you, asshole" on the plate though. Which is fun.

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