From a technical standpoint we’d wager that there hasn’t been a film as beautiful as Birdman in quite a long time. The 119 minutes of cinematic art that director Alejandro Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki gave us is simply astonishing.
The film was constructed to appear as one single take. As the plot revolves around Riggan Thomson (Keaton) making a last-ditch effort to be taken seriously as an actor, the film being served up as a single take lends itself to the stress of the character’s eventual breakdown. We’re rarely allowed to take a break or reset in our minds so we’re very much along for the ride as a part of the theater itself. As marvelous as the movie is, it is of course not a single shot but the cuts are so well hidden that most people would never notice them.
In the video, The Film Theorists explain how this was done and use Alfred Hitchcock‘s Rope as a more clear (and rudimentary) example of the technique. Using quick camera pans, similar backgrounds, and clever lighting, the filmmakers are allowed to bury cuts within shadows or blurs that we barely notice. Implementing this technique, they were able to complete scenes that would have otherwise been a logistical nightmare.
This is not to say that a single-take movie hasn’t been done before. The 2002 Russian Ark is a single, 96-minute Steadicam take involving about 2000 extras. It’s on Netflix if you feel so inclined to wrap your head around a historical drama being orchestrated in and out of dozens of rooms with that many people. To be honest, the film is a bit dull, but from a filmmaking POV, it might be just as impressive if you just skip around knowing it’s a single shot.
Did you catch any of Birdman’s cuts the first time around? Are there any other one-shot films worth watching? Are you as excited as we are for the Iñárritu/Lubezki team-up for The Revenant? Let us know in the comments below.
Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures