Thursday, November 20, 2014

Perfectly Frank

Richard Ford is one of the few authors that’ll I’ll buy any book he writes as soon as it is published in hardcover. I’m particularly fond of the Frank Bascombe novels, Ford’s protagonist from The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land, written in the first person by a “familiar old friend” from New Jersey.  I feel I know this person as I knew Updike’s Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom.  Frank is four years younger than I and Rabbit was ten years older.  But the times recounted by these characters are of my era.  No wonder I’m so familiar with the landscapes of their lives. And it is interesting that both Updike and Ford had declared the end of their Angstrom and Bascombe novels with the completion their trilogies, only to come out with one more, as if the character told the writer he had something else to say.  I certainly thought the Bascombe works had come to an end when he wrote Canada, a fine novel.

But primarily it is Frank’s voice, the way he thinks, that connects with me -- plaintive, sardonic, ironic, perplexed, now somewhat resigned, and with a wry wit. 

The hardcover edition of Let Me Be Frank With You is also a treasure to hold, a three piece binding, nicely designed  including the jacket, printed on an off white stock, with headbands and foot bands, but as with most hardcover editions nowadays, no longer smyth sewn – instead it’s a “perfect bound book” in a hard case.  In my book production days, this would be library-unacceptable, but I suppose we should be grateful that the hardcover book still hangs on, pre-digital-historical relic though it may be.

I confess I ordered this as soon as I heard about it without knowing the details.  It’s by Richard Ford and it’s another Frank Bascombe book.  That’s all I needed to know.  It turned out not be a novel but instead four lengthy short stories, loosely held together by Hurricane Sandy and the theme of aging. 

The leitmotiv of the Hurricane is actually central to the first story, “I’m Here.” At the request of an old real estate client, Arne Urguhart (Frank became a real estate agent after he was a sportswriter and an aspiring novelist), he goes to the Jersey shore to see what’s left of the house he sold Arne, actually the house that Frank lived in with his ex-wife Ann. 

In the second story, “Everything Could Be Worse,” he is visited in his present home in Haddam, the town where Frank began his journey in the The Sportswriter, by a Mrs. Pines, who has become displaced by the Hurricane, and injured as well, a cast on her arm, and has an unexpected urge to see the home in which she grew up and in which a terrible crime was committed.  Frank invites her to tour the house and her story unfolds.

From there we segue to “The New Normal” where Frank goes to visit his ex-wife who is now a resident of a high-end retirement community, with progressively deteriorating Parkinson’s disease, one she even blames on the Hurricane as a “super-real change agent.  It was in the air. 

The concluding story says much about the underlying theme of the entire collection, “Death of Others.”  Here he goes to visit a friend who is literally at death’s door, living in a home he’s occupied for scores of years, being attended to by hospice.  Frank was once his neighbor.  The dying man, Eddie Medley, makes a startling confession to Frank. The Hurricane in this story hangs in the background on Eddie’s silent TV, a program surveying the damage.

I was prepared to be disappointed by this book as it is not another FB novel.  Independence Day, the second FB novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is probably his best.  Just the opening sentence of that one expresses his love of the geographic territory: In Haddam, summer floats over tree-softened streets like a sweet lotion balm from a careless, languorous god, and the world falls in tune with its own mysterious anthems.  In his new short story collection, such a sentence would seem to be impossible.  Why?  Because FB has aged.  He sees life and Haddam differently now.

So, while being disappointed that this was not another novel, if one concentrates on “the voice” and the themes, perhaps it actually works better as a number of loosely connected short stories.  I think that genre feels so natural for what Ford has to say.  What Frank says about “love” could be said about his life — Love isn’t a thing, after all, but an endless series of single acts.  And so these stories represent single acts, making up Frank as he enters old age.

When you grow old, as I am, you pretty much live in the accumulations of life anyway.  Not that much is happening, except on the medical front.  Better to strip things down.  And where better to start stripping than the words we choose to express our increasingly rare, increasingly vagrant thoughts.

It's not true that as you get older things slide away like molasses off a table top. What is true is I don't remember some things that well, owing to the fact that I don't care all that much. I now wear a cheap Swatch watch, but I do sometimes lose the handle on the day of the month, especially near the end and the beginning, when I get off-track about "thirty days hath September ... " This, I believe, is normal and doesn't worry me. It's not as if I put my trousers on backwards every morning, tie my shoelaces together, and can't find my way to the mailbox.

And I was also amused by Frank’s description of the dangers of falling as a senior citizen.  I’ve been warned as well because one of my so-called “necessary” medications has the side effect of thinning bones. They even wanted to give me other medication to combat those side effects, but that one has its own likely side effects (I refused). Pick your poison I’m told, although as one doctor empathetically told me, “it’s not your bones that’s gonna get you, it’s something else.”  I could not have said it any better than Frank, though, and reading this book should be required as one enters the final stage of one’s life.  As Bette Davis said, “growing old is not for sissies.”

Here’s Frank’s take on it: I'm also concerned about stepping on a nail, myself And because of something Sally said, I feel a need to more consciously pick my feet up when I walk-"the gramps shuffle" being the unmaskable, final-journey approach signal. It'll also keep me from falling down and busting my ass. What is it about falling? "He died of a fall." "The poor thing never recovered after his fall." "He broke his hip in a fall and was never the same." "Death came relatively quickly after a fall in the back yard." How fucking far do these people fall? Off of buildings? Over spuming cataracts? Down manholes? Is it farther to the ground than it used to be? In years gone by I'd fall on the ice, hop back up, and never think a thought. Now it's a death sentence. What Sally said to me was "Be careful when you go down those front steps, sweetheart. The surface isn't regular, so pick your feet up." Why am I now a walking accident waiting to happen? Why am I more worried about that than whether there's an afterlife?

He somewhat reluctantly, but obligingly, goes once a month to visit his ex-wife (his present wife, Sally, is fine with this) Ann who now lives in cutting edge senior care center, one in which there is progressive health care, right to the grave. At Ann’s new home, Carnage Hill (love the name of the place), being sick to death is like a passage on a cruise ship where you’re up on the captain’s deck, eating with him and possibly Engelbert Humperdinck, and no one’s getting Legionnaires’ or being cross about anything.  And you never set sail or arrive anywhere, so there’re no bad surprises or disappointments about the ports of call being shabby and alienating.  There aren’t any ports of call. This is it.

Ann get’s under Frank’s skin. And she has a knack of getting me under her magnifying glass for the sun to bake me a while before I can exit back home to second-marriage deniability.

He handles his visits by displaying his “default self.” The Default Self, my answer to all her true-thing issues, is an expedient that comes along with nothing more than being sixty-eight - the Default Period of life. Being an essentialist, Ann believes we all have selves, characters we can't do anything about (but lie). Old Emerson believed the same. " ... A man should give us a sense of mass ... ," etc. My mass has simply been deemed deficient. But I believe nothing of the sort. Character, to me, is one more lie of history and the dramatic arts. In my view, we have only what we did yesterday, what we do today, and what we might still do. Plus, whatever we think about all of that. But nothing else - nothing hard or kernel-like. I've never seen evidence of anything resembling it. In fact I've seen the opposite: life as teeming and befuddling, followed by the end.

His move back to Haddam -- where he originally began as a sportswriter aka aspiring novelist – gives him both a sense of place and an opportunity to express his sense of change.   Wallace Stevens commented “we have lived too shallowly in too many places.”  Not Frank Bascombe. 

Our move to Haddam, a return to streets, housing stocks and turbid memories I thought I'd forever parted with, was like many decisions people my age make: conservative, reflexive, unadventurous, and comfort-hungry - all posing as their opposite: novel, spirited, enlightened, a stride into the mystery of life, a bold move only a reckless few would ever chance. As if I'd decided to move to Nairobi and open a Gino's. Sadly, we only know well what we've already done.

Indeed, neighborhoods change and new neighbors are remote….  

In the eight years since Sally and I arrived back from Sea Clift, we haven't much become acquainted with our neighbors. Very little gabbing over the fence to share a humorous "W" story. Few if any spontaneous invitations in for a Heineken. No Super Bowl parties, potlucks, or housewarmings. Next door might be a Manhattan Project pioneer, Tolstoy's grand-daughter, or John Wayne Gacy. But you'd hardly know it, and no one seems interested. Neighbors are another vestige of a bygone time. All of which I'm fine with”

Code variances have led to such unpredictable changes, especially for Frank’s neighborhood which has been recodified as a “mixed use” neighborhood, the end of life as we know it.  Though my bet is I’ll be in my resting place before that bad day dawns.  If there’s a spirit of one-ness in my b. ’45 generation, it’s that we all plan to be dead before the big shit train finds the station…..How these occurrences foretell changes that’ll eventuate in a Vietnamese massage becoming my new neighbor is far from clear.  But it happens – like tectonic plates, whose movement you don’t feel ‘til it’s the big one and your QOL goes away in an afternoon.  From my own experience, Amen to that.

The last story seems to tie everything together.  It carries the ironic title of “Death of Others” as if it can’t happen to us, something we all secretly believe, even knowing intellectually it will.  If we didn’t hold on to that fantasy, perhaps we’d go crazy.  In this regard, I envy religious people who actually look forward to the “afterlife.”

In the mornings as he has his breakfast Frank listens to the local call in radio station, a program called Yeah?  What’s It To You?  Most of the discussion lately has been about the “killer storm.” He enjoys listening to his fellow Haddam citizens, their views and personal life evaluations…as nutty as they sometimes are.  For a man in retirement, those brief immersions offer a fairly satisfying substitute to what was once plausible, fully lived life.

He also reads the local obits to honor the deceased, but also quietly to take cognizance of how much any life can actually contain (a lot!), while acknowledging that for any of us a point comes when most of life’s been lived and there’s much less of it than there used to be, and yet what’s there is not to be missed or pissed away in a blur.”

On that radio program he hears the labored voice of Eddie Medley, ex neighbor, and a Michigan Wolverine alumnus as Frank.  An old friend.  A dying friend.  Eddie also leaves a message on Frank’s answering machine.  Something in his voice…frail, but revealing of an inward-tendingness that spoke of pathos and solitude, irreverence and unexpected wonder. More the tryer than I'd first thought, but caked over by illness and time. Even in a depleted state, he seemed to radiate what most modern friendships never do, in spite of all the time we waste on them: the chance that something interesting could be imparted, before-the-curtain-sways-shut-and-all-becomes-darkness. Something about living with just your same ole self all these years, and how enough was really enough. I didn't know anyone else who thought that. Only me. And what's more interesting in the world than being agreed with?

Frank really doesn’t want to see him, a dying man.  He tells him on the phone he’s too busy.  Eddie replies: I’m busy too.  Busy getting dead.  If you want to catch me live, you better get over here.  Maybe you don’t want to.  Maybe you’re that kind of chickenshit.  Pancreatic cancer’s gone to my lungs and belly…It is goddamn efficient.  I’ll say that.  They knew how to make cancer when they made this shit.

At his advancing age Frank has also been trying to jettison as many friends as I can, and am frankly surprised more people don’t do it as a simple and practical means of achieving well-earned, late-in-the-game clarity. Lived life, especially once you hit adulthood, is always a matter of superfluity leading on to less-ness  Only (in my view) it’s a less-ness that’s as good as anything that happened before – plus it’s a lot easier. 

Although Frank does volunteer work, reading for the blind and welcoming veterans back home, he leaves 60 percent of available hours for the unexpected – a galvanizing call to beneficent action, in this case.  But what I mostly want to do is nothing I don’t want to do.  Nonetheless, as he has the time for the “unexpected” and he goes to see his old friend.

He finally gets to Eddie’s house and is admitted by the hospice worker to the bedroom. Eddie looks like a skeleton, has trouble even talking, breathing, but he is trying to tell him something. Frank bends down to listen ’That’s what I’m here for.’ Not literally true.  Eddie may mistake me for the angel of death, and this moment his last try at coherence.  Death makes of everything in life a dream.  Eddie reveals an old, dark secret, one impacting Frank.  No spoilers here.

The take away of this splendid collection of FB stories is if you are planning to grow old, or if you have already joined our group, this is a primer of what is in store.  But it’s more than the content, it’s the unique voice of Frank Bascombe, and hopefully there will be other such works from Ford in the future.  And remember, there’s something to be said for the good no-nonsense hurricane, to bully life back into perspective.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Stay at Brookner’s Hotel Du Lac

That’s the way I felt reading this deliciously elegant novel by Anita Brookner:  I too in the late fall, out of season, was ensconced in the Hotel Du Lac, observing the eccentricities of the characters staying there and, in particular, those of our protagonist, Edith Hope.  She is a writer of romance novels and she has come to the hotel from her home in England more as banishment than a vacation.  But for what reprehensible indiscretion?  We have to wait until about midway through the novel to find that out and while it’s a surprise, it is totally understandable in context.  Meanwhile, Edith who is determined to finish her next novel while staying at the hotel becomes more tangled with the few other people staying there at the end of the season, each with reasons for their own for self-exile.  In fact if anything stands out in the novel, particularly for Edith, it is a sense of estrangement.  But as her own life becomes involved with the lives of the others there on the increasingly frigid misty shores of Lake Geneva, Edith is changed, seeing herself in a different light.

If one had asked Edith before, she would have prided herself on her independence, but, now, she is no longer sure how independent a woman should or can be.  After all, one returning visitor there, Mrs. Pusey, and her middle aged daughter, Jennifer, come every time of this year with the singular purpose to shop.  “And she was enabled to do this by virtue of the fact that her late husband had prudently deposited certain sums of money in an account in her name in a Swiss bank.”

Edith is a writer, so Mrs. Pusey “presented her with the opportunity to examine and to enjoy, contact with an alien species.  For in this charming woman, so entirely estimable in her happy to desire to capture hearts, so completely preoccupied with the femininity which had always provided her with life’s chief delights, Edith perceived avidity, grossness, ardour.”

As these brief quotes attest, there is a 19th century quality to the writing, even 18th century.  Consider what Edith remarks in a letter to her lover, David (married, unlike Edith), back home when imagining the kind of man Mrs. Pusey’s daughter, Jennifer, would ever marry: 

I wonder if Jennifer is ever to marry. On which outsider will descend the supreme accolade of becoming an insider? How will he be recognized? He will have to present impeccable credentials: wealth equal to theirs, or, if possible, superior, a suitably elevated style of living, an ideally situated residence, and what Mrs. Pusey refers to as "position". All these attributes will come before his physical appearance, for Jennifer might be led astray by that into making a hasty judgment. My feeling is that the chosen one will be agreeably but perhaps not emphatically masculine; he will be courtly and not too young and very patient and totally indulgent. He will have to be all of these things because if he is to be a match for Mrs. Pusey's vigilance he will have to spend a great deal of time with her. With them both. In fact I see Jennifer's married life as being an extension of her present one; simply, there will be three of them instead of two. The only rite of passage will be the wedding, and as this will be seen primarily as the pretext for buying more clothes its ultimate significance will be occluded. This man, Jennifer's husband, will occupy a position equidistant between the two of them, on call in both directions. He will perforce be the man of the family, but he will not be a Pusey. And in any event, were they not perfectly happy before he came along? Were not their standards of excellence confined to themselves? How could he possibly justify any suggestion of change?

Isn’t this something almost out of Jane Austen?  But of course, this is a 20th century novel, and men do figure differently in the equation, particularly for Edith, who has a long term dalliance home in England (is David the reason she has been banished to the Hotel we wonder?) and at the hotel she meets her match (intellectually), Mr. Neville, with whom she spars as the novel progresses.  He figures in a double surprise ending, one we sort of suspect and the other we do not.  Can’t say much more about the characters here or spoilers would be self evident.  But I will say one thing, the solitary women there at the hotel, Monica, Mme de Bonneuil, as well as Mrs. Pusey, are there, one way or another, because of men.  And so is Edith.

Brookner displays tightly woven prose, almost like a short story, each word carefully chosen and measured.  It is elegant and it glitters throughout her work.  I especially enjoy when writers write about writing.   And Edith Hope is ironically a writer of popular romance novels, one she herself recognizes is not about the real world.  She’s working on a new novel, Beneath the Visiting Moon, one she imagines she’ll make great progress on while at the hotel, trying to keep to a daily schedule of writing, “[bending] her head obediently to her daily task of fantasy and obfuscation.”

But she is mired now in the lives of the people at the hotel, and as determined as she is to keep up the daily grind, she has difficulty.  She imagines she’ll have to read fiction to restart her creative juices:

Embroiled in her fictional plot, the main purpose of which was to distance those all too real circumstances over which she could exert no control, she felt a weariness that seemed to preclude any enthusiasm, any initiative, any relaxation. Fiction, the time-honoured resource of the ill-at-ease, would have to come to her aid, but the choice of a book presented some difficulties, since when she was writing she could only read something she had read before, and in her exhausted state, a febrile agitation, invisible to the naked eye, tended to distance even the very familiar. Words became distorted: 'pear', for instance, would become 'fear’.  She dreaded making nonsense of something precious to her, and, regretfully, disqualified Henry James. Nothing too big would do, nothing too small would suffice. In any event, her attention was fragmented.

No small coincidence that Edith mentions Henry James as Brookner writes with a similar style and interest in the complexities of human psychology.  Hotel Du Lac deservedly won the Booker Prize in 1984.  I’m glad I visited the hotel!  I can also recommend Strangers, another Brookner novel I read a few years ago.  Among other topics, I wrote it up briefly here.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Specialization is for Insects

It’s an anniversary of sorts as it’s been seven years since I’ve been writing this blog, this memoir, this record of just one person’s views during that period.   I’ve been all over the place with content, mostly starting with some personal history, some postings about my former profession, publishing, on to politics, the economy, the market, lots of postings on our travels and boating, with photographs, my affair with the piano, including some videos, and, more lately, focusing on literature and theatre.  I’ve always considered myself a generalist, jack of all trades and master of, maybe, a few.  As such, blog traffic is less than specialist blogs written by “experts”, but that’s OK.  I write for my own pleasure.  Recently I updated my profile to include a Robert Heinlein quote which I think best explains my eclecticism:   A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

While I can and have done most of these things and could probably learn the rest (would like to pass on butchering a hog – I don’t eat hogs anyhow), I mean eclecticism on a more metaphoric basis.  My interests take me many places and these are reflected here.  I just don’t write about one subject.  I’m not an insect!

I see that I’ve mostly avoided politics lately.  It’s not that I lost interest, but the tide of campaign money had risen to such an extent that we, the voters, have been drowning in distorted advertising, appealing to emotion, twisting the facts, and little about the issues themselves.  I have long contended that political advertising should be banned and candidates should have rounds of public debates, but debates in the purist sense of the word where they cannot go to their well-rehearsed sound bites.  We learned more from the “debates” between Crist and Scott in the Florida Governor’s race about their families than anything else, not to mention whether a “fan” is an “electronic device.”  And the media was swamped by the endless political advertising and mailers.  The number of times I had to hear or see the words “Charlie Crist, Slick Politician, Lousy Governor” was sickening.  All this $$ spent across America to promote attack sound bites.  I say give it all to charity and make the politicians stick to the issues.

It reminds me of the Manchurian Candidate.  The queen of diamonds is beaten into one’s brain, and you pull the right (no pun intended) lever on command (oops, we mostly don’t pull levers anymore behind a curtain, but mark electronic ballots).  Corporations are people!   And that is the message of the mid-terms, money prevails and people vote against their best interests.  No doubt the Koch brothers are happy.  They paid enough, along with the so-called “dark money.”

Assault weapon control, immigration reform, and righting fiscal policy are the really big elephants in the legislative room.  No, these we avoid.  The only good news in the political arena is those endless robocalls, mailings, radio messages and TV ads, all little subliminal negative messages are over for the time being.  Good riddance.  They should be banned.

Our political system is broken, at the election level and on the legislative level.  The mid-term elections now turn over control of both the House and Senate to Republicans. OK, it’s your turn!

 © John Jonik

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Carver and Birdman

I don’t see many movies in the theater.  I’ll tape (well, DVR nowadays) an occasional classic on Turner Classic Movies, and see a Woody Allen film, or one of that genre, but I prefer live theatre and reading. However, I made an exception for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as central to its story is Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, a short story that resonated so much with me that I  decided several years ago to adapt it into play form along with a couple of other short stores, as part of a larger dramatic work, When We Talk About Carver. 

I had thought the time had come for this little known writer (to the general populace) to be acknowledged, celebrated as one of the finest short story writers of our time.  What better way to do it than by developing a dramatization of some of his works, centered on his masterpiece, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.   This was no small feat for me.  I love the theatre but adapting a short story to the structure of a drama is not for amateurs.  So I loaded up my bookshelves with guides to playwriting and installed some good software, Word.doc templates for dramatic structure and presentation.

Then, when it came to dramatizing the story, there was the conflict of deciding on which version to use, the one Carver originally wrote “The Beginners” and later edited by his editor at Esquire (and later Knopf), Gordon Lish, and then edited again by Lish, under the new title we now know the story. Lish’s version distills the story to the bare essentials, including the dialogue.  It was the better version to work with as part of the collection I envisioned.  The Carver estate had granted permission to do this but after a year of trying to place the work, and not having the right connections, it has languished.

So, given this background, I had to see Birdman as soon as it opened nearby.  Very little of the short story’s dialogue is actually used in the movie, but it anchors the film in many ways.  (It was nice to see the set though, a 1970’s kitchen, exactly the way I envisioned it.) The Carver short story is about love in all its manifestations, from spiritual love to obsessive, violent love, but is set in its time, alcoholism as the primary social lubricant, and in literary realism. Birdman is about love as well, updated for the 21st century, which now includes self-obsessive love strongly influenced by the power and effect of social media along with “magical surrealism” dominating the canvas of the story.

Fascinating for me, the film opens with a quote from Carver, one of the last poems he ever wrote as he was dying of cancer -- his epitaph -- “Late Fragment,” published in a collection A New Path to the Waterfall with an introduction by his wife, also a poet, Tess Gallagher.  .  One thinks of Carver only as a short story writer, but he wrote poetry as well.  As Gallagher put it “…Ray’s new poems blurred the boundaries between poem and story, just as his stories had often taken strength from dramatic and poetic strategies.”


And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

And that is the theme of this movie – wanting to be beloved on earth.  All the characters are struggling in their own way to find approbation and love. Aren't we all?

The plot in a nutshell involves a has-been superhero (The Birdman) film actor, Riggan Thomson (played brilliantly by Michael Keaton), who seeks “legitimacy” on the Broadway stage by adapting Carver’s short story, and then producing, directing and starring in it.  He is haunted by his alter ego, Birdman (this is where the surrealistic element emerges), who declares him as still having superpowers (he is seen levitating in a yoga pose in the first frame).  His struggle with his past self and what he envisions as his future artistic self is what propels this frenetic film from its beginning to its end.  Also in the cast is his sympathetic former wife, Sylvia (Amy Ryan), their daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) a  recovering addict, and the co-stars in the play, one of which he was recently involved with, Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and Lesley (Naomi Watts) a girlfriend of a well-known Broadway method actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). Riggan’s only friend and business manager, Jake (Zach Galifianakis) persuades Riggan to hire Mike at the last minute for the other male character part in the play.  Mike and Riggan come to blows and yet the show goes on. All the ingredients are here for love relationships in all their variations, good and bad, not unlike the heart of the Carver story.  I’m trying to avoid spoilers here. 

I mentioned that the Carver quote is the central theme of the movie.  There is one exchange between Riggan and his daughter Sam where this resounds loudly.  I remember tapping my wife Ann on the shoulder as Sam was in the middle of delivering her monologue. After that climatic moment, Riggan is on track to shred his “unexpected virtue of ignorance”:

Riggan:  "This is my chance to finally do some work that actually means something."

Sam: "That means something to who? You had a career, Dad, before the third comic book movie, before people started to forget who was inside that bird costume. You are doing a play based on a book that was written 60 years ago for a thousand rich old white people whose only real concern is going to be where they have their cake and coffee when it's over. Nobody gives a shit but you! And let's face it, Dad; you are not doing this for the sake of art. You are doing this because you want to feel relevant again. Well guess what? There is an entire world out there where people fight to be relevant every single day and you act like it doesn't exist. This is happening in a place that you ignore, a place that, by the way, has already forgotten about you. I mean, who the fuck are you? You hate bloggers. You mock Twitter. You don't even have a Facebook page. You're the one who doesn't exist. You're doing this because you're scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don't matter and, you know what, you're right. You don't! It's not important, okay? You're not important! Get used to it."

Where did Riggan get the idea of adapting a Carver short story?  It’s revealed that when he was a young actor, Carver was in the audience and wrote a note to him on a cocktail napkin to say that he admired the performance.  Decades later he still carries the napkin, presents it as his trump card to the New York Times critic who says she’s going to pan the play as she doesn’t admire movie actors who try to cross the line into legitimate theatre. 

And so still another theme unfolds in the film.  Movie actors are celebrities, have fame but do they have the right stuff?  How does live theatre stack up against film? There is no contest as each art form functions on a different plane.  Carver’s short story could make great theatre, but Birdman needs to soar on film, and what a film it is.  Ironically, as Riggan is the writer, producer, and director of the Carver play in the film, Birdman was co-written, produced, and directed by one person as well, Alejandro González Iñárritu.  The only thing he did not do as the main character in the film, was to become a character. 

The movie has the feeling of being filmed as one long continuous take.  It is two hours of breathtaking cinematography perfectly accompanied by music selections, mostly the pulsating drums of Antonio Sánchez who even makes a brief passing appearance in the film.  One can imagine those beating in Riggan’s head.   Nothing is out of bounds for this film and only film could capture the gestalt, the play within the film, the character’s intense relationships, Riggan’s journey, and the alternative universe of the Birdman which, no pun intended, gives this film breathtaking wings. It is also a love poem to the New York City theatre district, something that reverberates with me.

This film is revolutionary and expect to hear it nominated for a host of Academy Awards, best picture, screenplay, directing, not to mention best actor as Michael Keaton gives a once-in-a-lifetime performance, best supporting actor (Edward Norton was outstanding as a foil to Riggan), best supporting actress, Emma Stone (who can forget her mesmerizing eyes as well), best cinematography, best original soundtrack, and I could go on and on.

Come to think of it, except for the protagonist, I’m the only person (to my knowledge) that has completed a dramatization of Carver’s story.  And it’s good.  Maybe it will take” wings” yet. Nonetheless, this is not a movie to be missed.  And if Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is never produced as a play, read the story, and then think about the movie.