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The Irrelevance of Birdman

A Review of the Movie Industry

By Alexis D. SmolenskPublished 6 years ago 4 min read

I watched the film Birdman last night. Two years late and after two previous attempts to get past the first ten, very pretentious minutes. I would never have watched it at all, except that in the last two weeks I have seen Michael Keaton, an actor who might as well have been dead to me, turn up in two good films: Spiderman: Homecoming and The Founder. And so, I felt I should give Birdman another chance.

I was in just the right mood to watch a bad film to the end. Sometimes, I'm more interested in deconstructing something than in being entertained. That's just the attitude that's needed for something like this. Understand, too—that for filmmakers and film workers, the Academy that actually votes for films, this is the only sort of attitude they're capable of having. Once an individual works on too many films (more than three), once the process of making the Frankenstein's monster that becomes film is viewed too intimately and too regularly, it is impossible to watch a film without deconstructing it second to second. All the movements of the actors, the placement of every glass and bottle as it is put down, the scattered set pieces in the background, the first word in every sentence that's spoken, every shadow, every background noise, everything, is a painfully obvious sensory annoyance. It is all they can see.

The reason why a movie like Birdman wins best picture has nothing to do with whether it is "good" or "entertaining." It has nothing to do with you, the common audience member, who knows almost nothing about film, having never been closer to a film set than being informed that the road is closed because a bunch of jackasses have parked trailers all over your neighborhood. It has everything to do with how it speaks to a very small community of jaded, indoctrinated, largely disenchanted union members who view film the same way you, in your job, view the processes of replacing toilet bowls or serving customers in your bakery on a rough Saturday morning or having to answer another call about a broken IT product in your miserable call center job. There is very little beauty, though there are always some that retain some innocence. What abounds, however, what is never in short supply, are grievances. Many, many grievances.

Grievances about the job, about how people talk now, about how the other film is doing at the box office, about new technology and how it is ruining everything and, most of all, whether or not we will have a job next year. Or, to put it another way, whether or not we'll have to work in some industry other than the film industry next year.

Birdman is about that. It is about the internal struggle of a single man to create something that he thinks is relevant, while conscious of the money that he could be making if he threw his moral convictions away. This is what every director in film is being pressured to do right now: to make films that will make huge amounts of money, like superhero films.

But understand, this isn't about superhero films. This is about CGI, and how it is changing the film industry. About how it is making the film makers feel. CGI has more power to grip an audience's attention than any leap in film technology since adding sound or color. CGI is saving the film industry, by giving a reason for people to watch something on a super-big screen instead of an ordinary big screen at home. It is making all film that is not CGI-driven irrelevant: just as talkies destroyed silent and color eroded away black-and-white.

It is being helped in this by the Internet. The Internet that helps me watch Birdman on a moment's notice and anything else I choose. The Internet that lets me watch everything on any device that is immediately at hand. The Internet that lets me compare my deconstruction of Birdman immediately to thousands of other deconstructions, without my needing to rely upon the director's interpretation.

The makers of film, the little people whose names we don't know, are scared for their jobs—unless they are part of the change. The increasingly irrelevant are watching billions of dollars flow into the pockets of the relevant. And they are bitter. Very bitter. Bitter enough that when a film like Birdman emerges, making its little protest about the terrible aspects of making blockbuster films, they all rush to vote for it. They have to. They are holding onto the shreds of an industry that is evaporating away.

It isn't just the cash that superhero and fantasy films are bringing just now. It is what the next decade promises: the unseen stunning, shattering thrills that will come, while old film-making is burned to the ground. A lot of people on the inside hate it. Speaking as someone who has been on the inside, who is now happily on the outside, I think it is wonderful.

I think change is good.


About the Creator

Alexis D. Smolensk

For more content, see The Tao of D&D: and my game wiki at Please support my Patreon:

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