“We all reflect ourself in an eternal mirror.”
~Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Birdman was one of my favorite films of the year, and I rightly think it won best picture. Some films surpass the standard Hollywood structure and style, and push the boundaries of what film can do - I think Birdman was one such film.
Birdman was originally imagined as a single-shot film, and though it did attempt that outright, the end result is even more superb. Director Alejandro Iñárritu wanted to present the film in a manner reminiscent of the human experience of life - a continuous flood of movement, emotion, and interaction - and through subtle CGI and the genius maneuvering of DP Emmanuel Lubezki, this ambitious project came to fruition. With every single movement in the film planned out - as Iñárritu mentioned during an interview - the extremely meticulous approach to the film created shots which seemed to flow naturally without pause from the beginning to the end. This gave the brief cutaways - to the beach, or the meteor in the off-blue sky - a deep impact which helped represent the transition into awakening that the main character (played by Michael Keaton) was experiencing, as well as provide a reflective moment for the audience, breaking up (or into) the action at the most important points in the film. The lighting of the scenes was incredibly difficult as well. As Lubezki stated in an interview, no less than eight people were constantly moving with him during every shot. Shooting an entire film using almost nothing but the internally available lighting is a magnificent feat, which added tremendously to the “feel” and “tone” of each scene - especially given the quality of continuous movement Iñárritu was going for.
The largest contention people seem to have with the film is its ambiguity - the way it plays with time, space, and narrative form itself. Birdman doesn’t stick to the conventional system most people have grown up with and are comfortable with - it forces the watcher to either leave, or confront their own issues - which have been mirrored for them in the characters on the screen. One could argue that many films attempt something the same, but Birdman seems to have actually caught that ideal position - partially no-doubt because that’s exactly what Iñárritu wanted to achieve.
“That's basically the story of every human being, including me. It's hard to deal with our mediocrity, I think.” ~Alejandro Iñárritu
The question here isn’t so much “what is the meaning of the film”, or “what are the hidden truths of the ending”, but rather “how do I [the viewer] relate to this film, and why.”
The ending sequence came to Iñárritu in a dream after all, but that dream created a poignant ending which will easily live on as something iconic in and of itself - a radical shift from the perspective of one character into the perspective of another. One could argue that this represents with a subtle hint the fact that each human being is living just as Keaton’s character Riggan did - enamored with themselves and their place in the universe. Whatever happened to Riggan in the end is immaterial to the point that, in the end, the audience is watching something utterly focused on the concept of perception.
It’s easy to dislike something, or relax into an admission of confusion, without giving that work itself room to maneuver. The greatest pieces of art don’t offer up easy answers for the audience - but the average viewer has become accustomed to the easy answer; Hollywood loves providing easy answers, because they don’t upset the audience, or force them to think beyond the framework of the film. Avengers (for one example) is a masterful piece of filmmaking, and is, in many ways, art - however it is directed at the innocent and juvenile side of the heart, and focused less on the exploration of life beyond its borders. Birdman is concerned very deeply with perspective and borders, and it forces its audience to journey with the characters into the unknown - no easy answers to be found.
In this, Iñárritu has managed to capture the essence of life perfectly - for humans are all self-centered creatures doing the best they can with their limited perceptions of the world. In Birdman all the characters are alive for themselves; they all feel like “real people”, but seen through the perspective of Riggan, he is the Sun, “and all the other characters [are] the planets going around him.” Who has not experience life in this fashion? Of course many do not experience life like this continuously, maybe Birdman is hinting at why it’s a good idea to think beyond the self more often.
So in two days we could forever lose the concept of free internet to companies whose sole goal is money-grubbing. Granted, it's not like the internet is free from the capitalistic model right now (take a look at the history of Tumblr to learn all you need to about how the internet functions on an economic model - hint: we're the commodities), however for all intents and purposes, the internet is still largely unrestricted, and arguably the greatest achievement in human history - the modern equivalent to the library of Alexandria. Well, the cable companies want to reenact history and burn the fucker down.
The concept of net neutrality is simple enough to grasp: the internet should have no restrictions on who can access it, and aside from the most basic service fees it should never be a costly thing to access - it should certainly never be split into multiple "lanes" of speed, restricted by pay. I'm simplifying here, so if you want to read further you can check out the articles I'm linking at the bottom of this post.
One of the somewhat terrifying things I've noticed lately is the support against net neutrality, primarily from a libertarian base. They say that the internet is a prime example of a working free market - I say it's much, much more than that. They say that the FCC and government in general shouldn't have their hands on it - I'd rather have the government (a publicly accountable institution) in charge than a private company (whose only accountability is to profit). However there are some larger issues to address as well - some of which we mutually agree on, though I think the good folks of the libertarian base are missing some crucial points.
Now I don't trust the FCC's Tom Wheeler as far as I could throw him, but they are doing some pretty great things lately - from fighting to maintain internet transparency and neutrality, to fighting for the rights of local governments to implement their own local ISPs (something which the big corporations really don't want to happen. For me, the anti-FCC libertarian base is missing a large part of the picture - namely, they seem to be willing to exchange public control through government, for complete control of autonomous corporate entities. While the government is very far from perfect, I'll happily take its clunky system over the private sector monopolists any day.
If you agree with me, go ahead and call your local representative now to fight for Net Neutrality - Tumblr is making it easy for you, just click that little yellow button at the top right of your page.
New Yorker on Tom Wheeler
Excellent National Journal article on the issue
While CommonDreams is pretty damn dubious as a good news source, this article is pretty concise and legitimate.
The "lowdown" on the subject, courtesy of Obama
Good, seemingly neutral article that literally explains the entirety of the current situation.
Boyhood captured so well the essence of growing up for me, I feel exactly like the nineteen year old kid in the fourth row of the Sundance Film Festival - this movie captured my life. Obviously the set dressings were different, but the rolling, languid quality of each moment striding into the next drew me into my own memories of growing up perfectly. It spoke on some primal, unintelligible level, as if made solely for me; providing me with the clear message that I am not alone in the experience of life - and that message is one I’ve noticed other people commenting on, in various forms.
But it goes beyond capturing the essence of growing out of childhood - there are dozens of excellent films which focus on that theme; there is something more to Boyhood than the effigy of budding maturity. Boyhood, for all that it’s a narrative construction, feels more like a sample of real life than most documentaries, in part I think, because real life does have a quality of the fantastical and the unreal to it. A documentary attempts to capture the world as it is, but in so doing acquires a note of “flatness”. Boyhood, as a fictional narrative, married, through its actors, to reality, has managed to recreate the actual “feeling” of existence. Not merely growing up, but life in general. A series of moments collapsing behind us as each new one arrives. “Always Now” would have been a overbearing title (Boyhood was, I think, just right), but it does fit the essence of the film.
The New Yorker piece by Nath Heller was a really excellent accompaniment to the film, as it dealt less with attempting to directly critique the material, and more with the surrounding elements that went into its construction. A mini-biography of the director, and the twelve-year life of the film. It helped me collect my thoughts for this little opinion piece.
My life has been smoothed over, slicked down with oil. This is what I’m thinking, absorbed in the tan muddy patches that are sprinkled all around my ankles, placed there as I awkwardly hop to avoid the larger puddles of muck.
While hiking back along one of the local wilderness trails this morning I was struck by the realization of how difficult it’s become to enjoy things. I don’t remember it being this hard when I was a little kid. Back then there were no experiences not worth having, and life seemed to be this eternal entity which defied description. It was not something other than myself; other than the moment in which it was experienced - it simply was. And now, the adult me is having difficulty distinguishing anything from anything else - it all still seems to be... but I am somehow not a part of that whole process. I feel excluded, diminished in some way.
As an artist, I so desperately want to be creative that I often feel like I am driving something of the creativity away. Fear has made me as soft as it’s made me hard, so that reconciliation with life and my seat of experiences seems impossible. And I find myself wondering if anyone else feels this way. Is this a constant among artists in general, or does it take the elastic quality of depression and mood swings to bring a personality to the edge of the cliff of apathy. Not apathy - I do care about things; I experience feelings and desires and drives - yet I also experience a profound disconnection from existence and the world. What am I? Who am I? Where am I going? If I knew these things would my life be complete? Probably not.
The sole constant for creating art appears to be, well, creating art. It seems that way to me, at any rate. The desire to create art is in itself an artistic process, even when the product of that process is all that anyone can ever truly see. The artist can make art about the process of making art, or even the desire to produce art - before the process comes alive - and yet these things are merely reflections of something else, something experienced solely within the individual; the solitary mind.
I find myself worrying a lot about being an artist.
Who is this silly person trying to create something?
What alarming egotism!
And I am obnoxiously egotistical, even as I am pervasively self-dissatisfied, and bitten by daily tremors of self-pity and over-analyzation. But I also want to make good art. I want to make art that other people will see and enjoy; learn from and explore. I want to make art worthy of art. I want to make art that makes me feel like me; brings me to the lip of life and lets me clearly see that it’s okay to jump. But what does that actually mean? Do I want it to be worthy of some critical ideal? Should my art be judged by a panel of my betters and/or peers? Perhaps good art is only good when nobody at first recognizes that it is good aside from the artist, who must diligently punish himself with the daily struggle to prove that his work means something. If that’s the case I can only hope that soon enough I find a degree of pleasure in my work that places me in that category. Then again, perhaps pleasure has nothing to do with it at all. Perhaps art is something you work at tirelessly not because it feels right, but rather because you’ve got nothing else to do to fill the void. Perhaps it is all of the above, and something else entirely depending on the day, the weather, the cycle of the moon, and how well breakfast happens to be sitting.
The only constant when it comes to art, it seems to me, is the desire to create it. If the desire remains, than the desiree is an artist, and the discussion can be at rest. I have to believe this, otherwise it doesn’t seem like there’s much point to anything at all. So for all I’m worth I’ll keep trying, and hoping, and secretly believing. And maybe I’ll even learn the daily motivation to work my fingers to the bone, even when - especially when - I feel nothing for anything at all.
I’ve been reading Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking lately, and it’s really been helping me evolve beyond the bonds of fear - fear that my work isn’t good enough, or that people simply won’t care about it; or that by even asking people to look at and maybe pay for it, I am somehow putting the wrong foot forward.
So here goes.
My chapbook of poetry was published in October, and since then I’ve sold several copies - a few to people I didn’t know, or didn’t know at the time. I’ve reached complete strangers with my work, and that feels really great.
I priced my chapbook purposefully as low as I could and still keep all the possible Amazon selling options open. I also included the gift of a free, DRM-less e-copy of my chapbook with the purchase of a hard copy. I did this because I know that people have limited funds, and spending twenty dollars on an unknown poets first chapbook just seemed unfair - besides, I don’t want to make a lot of money off of this, I just want people to read it.
You can help.
If you haven’t yet, feel free to check out the Amazon page for my book. You get to read the first poem for free as a sample! If you can chuck some money at a copy, do it! Let me know that you bought it by tweeting or blogging a picture of it to me and I’ll send you my personal thanks! Live near me and I’ll sign it for you! And if you can’t afford a copy, or simply don’t want to buy one, that’s okay too - just go ahead and share the link to it, or the link to my website.
If you do end up buying a copy feel free to share it with your friends, your writer’s group, your parents, your classroom. All I ask is that you continue to share it with people you know, and that you leave an honest opinion on its Amazon page.
I appreciate you all so much, and on the flip-side, if you have a project you’ve been hoping to spread the word on, tell me about it on Tumblr, Twitter, or email, and I’ll help you spread the message! Together we can keep making good art; great art, and inspiring others like us to do the same.
~Odin Hartshorn Halvorson
Public project updates, author information, and the like. For more of Odin's thoughts, follow him on Twitter.