Lame Adventure 437: Back to the Birds

The New York Film Festival’s closing night feature hit another high note, Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), is a pitch black comedy directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Michael Keaton plays a Hollywood has-been best known as the comic book hero, Birdman, a character that brought him fame and fortune. He is determined to resurrect his sagging career and gain relevancy by adapting a Raymond Carver story for the Broadway stage, even though he is losing his mind to Birdman who has a stranglehold on his identity.

Milton and I doubt that Birdman will come anywhere near the crowd pleasing popularity of Gone Girl, which opened the festival, at the US box office. But Birdman is a beautifully shot and edited film with a great jazz drum score. Michael Keaton, whose own career hit its high mark when he started playing Batman twenty-five years ago (a role he quit before acting in the third film of the series), is terrific as a man who is losing his grip on reality as he directs and stars in a play that is hemorrhaging his life savings. It nails the New York theatrical community with falling props, insecure, egotistical actors and nasty, snobby critics. Adding to the authenticity, much of it is shot at the Saint James theater, where Milton and I have seen many Broadway plays through the years. It’s very entertaining with an ending that’s open to interpretation.

Birdman played eight times on closing night at the festival. Milton and I could not afford to pay the king’s ransom to attend the star-studded gala screening. Our screening at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade theater did not rate an appearance by any of the stars. It was a venue with first come, first serve seating so loitering outside the press tent was not an option. Therefore, the closest we got to rubbernecking the likes of Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts or Zach Galifianakis was this guy vacuuming the red carpet in anticipation of their arrival.

Vacuum-man.

Vacuum-man.

So, how does one follow up sixteen days of intensive film going in Lincoln Center? The first option is to enter withdrawal. The second it to head downtown, specifically to Greenwich Village to indulge in street theater.

Birdboy.

Birdboy.

As a longtime fan of pigeons, I was very excited to read last week in The New Yorker, that Tina Trachtenburg, also known as Mother Pigeon, an animal activist and artist, was conducting a pigeon “flashflock outstallation” in Washington Square Park on Saturday with a rain date on Sunday. Milton and I had tickets to two screenings on Saturday, so I was elated to see rain.

I was even more elated to see Mother Pigeon’s acrylic felt flock on Sunday.

Mother Pigeon's pigeon outstellation.

Mother Pigeon’s pigeon outstallation.

"Why aren't we in MoMA, Mother Pigeon?"

“Why aren’t we in MoMA, Mother Pigeon?”

Flock of feathered felt.

Flock of feathered felt.

She creates these whimsical creatures and gives each unique markings. She explains on her web site, “I like to make them all different because all pigeons are different.” As someone who is quite familiar with the many pigeons in my own midst, that is very true.

Mother Pigeon.

Mother Pigeon with the pigeons in her midst.

Yes, she even created one pecking at a slice of felt pizza.

Mother Pigeon pigeon pecking at pizza.

Mother Pigeon pigeon pecking at pizza.

As I was heading back uptown, I encountered life imitating art.

Mother Nature pigeon enjoying lunch.

Mother Nature pigeon pecking at pizza crust.

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55 responses to “Lame Adventure 437: Back to the Birds

  1. We were going to Gone Girl on Friday, but I ended up sick with a god-awful cold. Maybe this week. And you know me. Like you, I’m a pigeon fan, so the “outstallation” is a hoot to me. At our new place, we have wild parrots. Have a great week, my friend.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

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  2. Fantastic! Love the pigeon lady. Now you are all warmed to watch Halloween fright fest on TV!

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  3. A fun reminder of some of the things I miss most about living in NYC! Thanks for the memories.

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    • I thought the timing of this outstallation was perfect, Jeremy, since Milton and I scored zip in the Birdman screening gawking-like-fools picture-taking department … But I cannot complain much, we got great seats in the theater for the film.

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  4. Love the felt pigeons, V. My mind was on the films and your diversion to Mother Pigeon took me in a totally different direction. So, I wonder if any of the film makers saw her installation? Maybe they inspired an idea for a remake of “The Birds” where the felt pigeons came to life and attacked the Big Apple.

    Anyway, it’s Monday morning – that’s the best I’ve got. Just curious: what was your favorite film from the festival?

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    • I enjoyed most of them, but Gone Girl is my top favorite followed with (in order of screenings) Timbuktu, Saint Laurent (if you look for it, it’s the version directed by Bertrand Bonello, starring Gaspard Ulliel), Two Days, One Night (terrific script and Marion Cotillard is brilliant), Time Out of Mind (Richard Gere at the top of his game and Ben Vereen is wonderful as his friend), Tales of the Grim Sleeper (a disturbing documentary about a serial killer who lurked in plain sight that Milton thinks will play on HBO — look for it), Foxcatcher (Steven Carrell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo give stellar performances) and Birdman. I would also give honorable mentions to Maps to the Stars (Julianne Moore gives a performance worthy of an Academy Award nomination if this film gets released; it may not because that last third goes downhill), The Blue Room (nice film noir) and Clouds of Sils Maria (baked ham silly storytelling with spot-on performances by the three leads: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz; I also liked the clouds mentioned in the title).

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  5. i’m thinkin’ it’s time you start raising pigeons on your roof.
    thoughts?

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  6. I must be hungry, because that felt piece of pizza that those faux (& lovely) birds were pecking on looked appetizing. Just saw a preview for Birdman yesterday and it looked super intriguing – loved hearing your thoughts!

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    • Birdman is a film about a very American subject told through the eyes of a very talented Mexican filmmaker. The swooping camerawork makes you feel like you’re almost in flight while viewing it. I don’t think this film will have a wide American audience appeal, but I don’t think that it will bomb. It’s very creative, original and fresh storytelling. The NYFF ended on a grace note.

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  7. I love Birdboy..pure joy on his face. What’s the grand total of films viewed? I love the view of your city which you share with us.

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  8. I visited the Mother Pigeon web site. On the right of it are more pictures. This one caught my eye of the pizza eating pigeon. https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bzl0MAnCcAENJTM.jpg:large

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  9. I read about Keaton’s film, V, and wondered if it’d be worth seeing. Of couse I want to see Gone Girl. I love dark, twisty stories. Is it living up to the hype?

    Momma Pigeon looks creatively cool and NYC has lots of inspiration (and pigeons) to give one a nice nudge toward self expression.

    Thanks for sharing.

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    • I suppose it’s living up to the hype and I think it’s generating good word of mouth. It’s a well made film noir. If you have not read the book, try not to read reviews or Maureen Dowd’s column in Sunday’s Times were she does a boffo job spilling the beans on the plot.

      Mother Pigeon is one very creatively cool bird herself, Brig!

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  10. Interestingly, my wife told me tonight that several of her work friends saw Gone Girl this weekend … and enjoyed it! Meanwhile, cheers to Mother Pigeon! … and glad you had a wonderful festival!

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  11. Think I like the art more than the life… love those felt flocks, could sell them to pigeon pet owners, for warmth as the seasons change, like what people put on their dogs in winter. So are you feeling the NYFF withdrawal syndrome?

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  12. I heard great things about Birdman. I think it has some good reviews. What a cast! I’ve always enjoyed Michael Keaton. Once again, I’m super jealous, but thanks for bringing it home to us suburbanites. Mother Pigeon looks wild. Only in New York I guess. I imagine it would be hard to come down from that festival. You saw a good number of films.

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    • We saw twenty films, Amy, and could have easily seen twenty more. What can I say? We like to watch.

      Mother Pigeon blends in perfectly with New York. I think she rocks! But my old hometown, San Francisco, would surely welcome her, too.

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  13. Holy mother pigeon. She’s an odd bird. 🙂 and, no … your photos aren’t crappy!

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  14. I didn’t realize “Birdman” was a black comedy. Black comedies can be wickedly funny, but I have trouble watching them these days. The same is true for profoundly tragic stuff. Still, I like Michael Keaton, and I love super-heroes (and I think it’s neat that a quarter-century later, Keaton is playing a super-hero on the other side of the spectrum–not even a real super-hero), so I’ll probably Netflix it.

    I think the pigeon art installation is wonderful However, the reason for this (and this is probably the most awful thing you will hear me say) is that I delight in humiliating animals in non-painful ways. Sweaters on tiny dogs? Check! Tape on cat’s paws? Check. Little girls dressing their kitties up like babies? Check! Check! Check!

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    • Smak, it’s a very dark comedy about a washed up film star whose losing his grip on reality. It’s such a fluid ride it’s easy to go with the flow of the story. I loved the swooping camerawork, smooth editing and the jazz drum music score (where the drummer even pops up from time to time; Milton pointed out that was a device Godard’s used) are all first rate. I’m a purist about how I watch movies. I try to see them in a theater on a big screen. It’s not the same watching them on TV, even on wide screen HD. But that’s pretty easy for me to indulge being a free agent. I’m not someone with much responsibility such as assisting little girls dress up their cats like babies. No wonder cats hiss.

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  15. Finally saw Gone Girl and it was great. Boy, did I pick the wrong movie to bring those 4-year olds and group of nuns to!

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  16. How is it that I’ve worked in the city for so long and never heard of Mother Pigeon? So clever and fun!
    Have you seen her outstallations before? Are they always in the same park?
    Glad that you and Milton really enjoyed this year’s festival.

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    • I’ve only been aware of her about a week longer than you. The New Yorker gave a shout out out her outstallation. She’s had them before in Central Park (near me) and in Brooklyn. Maybe near you? Hey, at least we know about her now.

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  17. Personally, I thought Beetlejuice was Michael Keaton’s crowning achievement. Every time I think of that movie I start singing “Day-O” (the banana boat song). Just thank your lucky stars that you aren’t sitting next to me right now.

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    • I’m old school, Russell: I prefer to hear Harry Belafonte calypso songs sung by Harry. I have almost no recall of Beetlejuice, other than what the character looked like and that Dick Cavett had a bit part. It was so disorienting seeing DC on a movie screen, that was seared into my memory, but not enough to prompt me into singing the Dick Cavett show theme song melody.

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  18. Normally, I just hum the theme from Jeopardy, but it doesn’t make one’s hips sway the way the Banana Boat song does.
    They use Harry’s recording in the movie rather than the “Russell” soundtrack.

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  19. It’s always nice to know there are more pigeon lovers out there. People look at me funny when I say I think they are beautiful creatures. And I haven’t heard of Birdman. Sounds like one I would like.

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    • I’m a fan of both the birds with attitude that perch outside my window and the Birdman character on the movie screen. The film is also very New York City: my favorite place in the world. It’s a film that I could easily watch twice, something I seldom do.

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  20. Someone said to me the other evening, “Why don’t you write books that people like?” It is comforting to see here, therefore, that anything will please someone, to wit, the pigeons. Pigeons are fine, but I’m not a connoisseur or avid fan; per Kathy McCullough’s comment, above, in Redondo Beach, Calif., we had a flock of wild green parrots — green Amazon parrots, I believe, that appeared when someone let a pair out of a pet store, I heard. They were very shy. You couldn’t see them in the trees, only in flight. Every afternoon at 4:00 they’d fly in and perch in our local trees.

    Re Inarritu, I would like to see his film. I like the films of all four of those Mexican friends; they are so imaginative.

    Thanks again, V., for these great and honest reviews.

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    • First, I must hit the brakes: I hope that whomever had the unmitigated gall to say to you “Why don’t you write books that people like?” is someone with a long line of credit with you or someone so elderly they’ve earned their Got No Filter Left card like my Dear Old Departed Dad (who never, ever insulted my writing; he was a lifelong member who supported Team V, a baton now carried by my siblings and bro-in-law). If not, sheesh! What a nasty thing to say to a writer!

      Second: I realize that liking pigeons is a taste that not everyone acquires and that these high flying feathered punks are not that far removed from their low-lying nocturnal counterparts: rats. I am not a cheerleader on that team, Samantha, even though I do find their scurrying on the subway tracks entertaining. But once they’re up on the platform, I recoil.

      As an Inarritu fan, you will definitely enjoy Birdman. There’s a lot going on in that film and Michael Keaton is at the top of his game. He might even score an Academy Award nomination. The cinematography and editing could be the front-runner for those awards.

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  21. To be on the doorstep of the NY Film Festival – what an incredible thing. Birdman sounds great – we’ll be looking out for it here. Enjoy the Fall: I’d love to see Central Park right now.

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    • It looks like Birdman played the London Film Festival three days ago and will play the Leeds festival on November 20th. According to IMDB it opens in the UK on January 2nd. Hey, a New Year’s gift for you, Kate!

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