Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Indie Elements of "Birdman"

The drum beat for "Birdman" has been steady and, I expect, it will increase in intensity as we get closer to the nominations for the Oscars. I'm not a film critic, but I do like films and I watched a screener of this flick tonight. It seemed like a good way to end one year and begin another.

Has anyone said that it's like an indie with enough surreal elements to keep you wondering if it's real in a fantasy way or if it's insanity that you are witness to this time? Films are supposed to depend on that oh-so-important suspension of disbelief. Remember the line in "Basic Instinct" where the detective asks Sharon Stone what her book is based on and she says it uses the film technique called suspension of disbelief. Well, I think "Birdman" expects that you will immerse yourself in that particular distortion of reality and just enjoy the experience.

The psychologist in me sees it differently, however, and it causes a bit of conflict because I want to analyze what's happening and make sense of it. Ah, but, that is not in keeping with the premise that is at work here and I find myself going from really knowing (and accurately predicting what will happen) to being fooled and feeling like I'm in a Disney film. Nope, can't go into it because I don't want to spoil any of it for you. See for yourself.

Watching the film, however, brought back a memory of being in a Broadway theatre in a place other than house seats. Tony Randall was working on a project for one of our public relations clients and, at the end of a tiring five hours of sitting and shooting a little 15 (or was it 30?) second clip for a PSA, he offered something grand.

That evening, even though he'd been working in this cavernous studio for hours, he had to do a show on Broadway. It was "M Butterfly."  I loved the show. The client and I had tickets to go to the show that evening and Randall turned and asked if we'd like to come back stage afterward. Who wouldn't accept that offer?

We had dinner at Joe Allen, went to the theatre and afterward met someone at the stage door where we were escorted down one of those rickety sets of stairs and I'd never had the misfortune to be on like this before. This inauspicious beginning got weirder as we carefully threaded our way through a series of curving corridors with peeling paint, dirty overhead pipes, unswept floors and garbage pails. I felt as though I were in some tenement's basement in a really rundown part of the city. It had to be a mistake, right? Or it was a secret passageway?

Who would have thought that after the plush seats, the thick carpeting and the attempt at elegance in the theatre that this would be the cavernous pit where the actors and the orchestra musicians were kept? It was, I thought,  a horrible statement about what the owners thought of entertainers. "Upstairs/Downstairs" had nicer digs. It was a throwback to those days when the theatre was for women of ill repute.

After too many turns around corridors and up stairs we were finally at our destination. I felt like we were going far too far into the bowels of this building to end up anywhere worthwhile. But there we were. Randall stood at the doorway to his small dressing room and welcomed us. "Would you like to go out onto the stage," he asked. No question.

A few more turns in the tunnels and we were standing on the tilted wooden floor of the stage looking out at the empty seats of the theatre itself. How odd. I had never given a thought to the floor being pitched so that actors could easily be seen when they weren't right up front. Odd, too, to walk across it and to get the view of the house from this vantage point. There was almost a momentary lapse into wanting to sing something or recite a bit of a poem. After all, when would I ever get this opportunity again? It was to be savored in some way other than just walking across it. But that's all I did. A few more pleasantries (I told him I had always enjoyed "Love Sidney" his short-lived TV series) and Randall asked if he could drop us somewhere. A limo was taking him home and he'd gladly drop us off.

No, we weren't going in his direction, so he led us to the door where he slid into a waiting limo and we proceeded on our separate ways. It was a great moment and they must have used some of that same theatre underground passageways in "Birdman" because it sure looked familiar.

The limo left, the evening chill cued us to utter our pleasantries and we were off into the darkness leaving that huge beast of a theatre standing there as it always had.