When I first heard the buzz around Birdman, I thought my prayers had been answered. For what came to mind immediately was the character from the Birdman and the Galaxy Trio — the masked and winged member of the Hanna-Barbera pantheon with the trusty and dutiful giant blue hawk on his shoulder that went "KAAAAA! KAAAAA!" Birdman's cousins were the Space Ghost and the Herculoids (a He Man-like dude) And don't even get me started on the Adult Swim cable network’s re-imaginations — Space Ghost-Coast to Coast and Harvey Birdman, Attorney-at Law. Surely, I thought, some genius Hollywood comedian is going to bring this to life. No, instead, the credits flashed: Alejandro González Iñárritu.
While this year's Oscar gold is not the stuff of animated SFF, it does occupy one of the weirdest spaces in contemporary global culture, the mind of a Hollywood actor. Iñárritu's main enemy is the complete takeover of the global film making industry by Marvel comics. So, he sends a character out to reject this crass leotard-and-mask Happy Meal combo and buff up our literary salad by adding some wholesome veggies: the Stage (as in the place where plays are performed) and Raymond Carver.
Michael Keaton's career as a Hollywood A-lister was terminated when he refused to sign on the dotted line on the contract that was to be the third edition of the Batman franchise fronted by him. This meant that eventually the franchise drifted to a position where Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast as Mr. Freeze. A long way indeed from "the Joker" of either Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger; and even they cannot be high art because, you know its comic book-based.
Birdman explores an odd triptych: the novel, the theatre and the superhero film. We sit on Keaton's shoulder and follow him through cinematic single shots, explore the intersections, of family, colleagues and art, at a theatre just off New York's Times Square. Iñárritu takes us to what lies behind the stage in a theatre. Backstage is one of the strangest and most subliminal of places: long corridors and hundreds of doors, behind which lie cosy little rooms lit by naked bulbs. Where actors become ambitious or deranged, or maybe both.
Whatever this is, it is definitely not a film adaptation of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon.
(Shome is writer and blogs at www.zombiesandcomputers.blogspot.in)