Thoughts on a film soundtrack: Birdman

I went to see the new Michael Keaton movie, “Birdman,” last night and it was brilliant. In short, Keaton plays himself as he would have been in an alternate universe where he had no career after the early 90s Batman franchise. Riggan, his character, is obsessed with being admired and relevant, and he’s trying to keep it by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." 

The soundtrack for most of the movie was unhinged, unpredictable jazz drumming by Antonio Sanchez with just the right amount of reverb and rust to fool me into thinking that someone was constantly practicing in the theater, or taking a drum solo in the bar, or performing on the street – which in one scene, someone is, further blurring the line between what’s in the washed-up action star’s mind and what’s happening around him. 

(Spoilers to follow)

In scenes where Riggan is hallucinating the (Batman clone) voice of his old character Birdman, or he’s having a moment on stage, the drumming drops out to be replaced by the early 20th century’s lushest orchestral music, which frequently gets interrupted by reality breaking in. Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel all make appearances – also, unexpectedly, the Chorus of Exiled Palestinians from John Adams’s (relevant this week) The Death of Klinghoffer shows up when Birdman appears on screen for the first time. Contemporary opera-savvy music supervisor, perhaps.

I’m wondering if the use of those classical pieces in Riggan’s delusional scenes was intended to not only poke fun at his melodrama, but also indicate his being out of touch with the present day and his longing for when grandeur was grander.

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