Monday, November 24, 2014

Birdman - A Few Days Later

Don't worry, no real spoilers here.

OK, so I went to see Birdman on Saturday.  Overall, it was a very enjoyable film.  The performances were very good by nearly everyone, but one thing has bothered me ever since: it's this naive belief that in order for art to be real, it has to be dangerous.  The more dangerous, the more real and vice-versa.  Michael Keaton is trying to redeem himself for years of hackery by doing something difficult.  First off, there's an assumption that since what he's doing is outside the mainstream (he's adapted Raymond Carver stories) it is automatically art.  Add the fact that Carver was deeply flawed and you have something worthy of everyone's notice, right?  Well, not really.  And that seems to be incorporated into the film on some level, because from what you see (all of two scenes), it doesn't look that great.  But if you add in the whole art-must-be-dangerous ethos, that seems to give the film a real kick in the shorts.  The only problem is that it's complete malarkey.

Acting, music, visual art, etc. don't require danger.  They need a certain focus on the craft.  And craft doesn't trash dressing rooms, have spectacular meltdowns or go into rehab.  Those things happen when (for the most part) when there's a lack of craft and a full-on belief in art-danger.  The problem is that art-danger makes for a better show, while craft is process-oriented and dull to watch.  Art-danger is quick, exciting and has a limited shelf life.  But here's the thing, very generally speaking, those works that involve heavy doses of craft tend to be the most complete.  In my case, say, if I want a snappy horn arrangement for one of my tunes, what do I do?  I write it myself, using knowledge that I've gathered from years of writing and arranging.  In the studio, I run the players till they get it right.  This is always a very calm and fun thing.  Everything goes smoothly and we're onto the next tune.  My experience is that a musician who believes in art-danger will hire horn players, go into the studio with nothing and then expect something to happen, which it doesn't.  But boy, is there a lot of shouting and drama.  And they usually emerge with a terrible arrangement.  My whole point is that the one way is unfeasible while the other is just unentertaining.  And once you've embraced art-danger, it only escalates.  If you've almost killed yourself over some project, what's next?  Killing yourself for real.  Of course, I'm an adherent of the craft, because it's a way of being good.  But in this world, it's advisable not to be too good, because you'll write stuff that looks/sounds/seems weird when run against mainstream faves.

But seriously, listening to opinions about art is a pretty dry socket.  It's just that there was something about that film that was really bugging me.  And I figured out what.  And it still bugs me, but I can live with it.          

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