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Will Oscar presenters go the distance with 'Birdman' title?

New York: And the winner is ... a mouthful. Though the full wingspan of the best-picture favorite at the Academy Awards is usually clipped down to simply "Birdman," the movie that many think is destined

India TV News Desk Updated on: February 05, 2015 10:27 IST
will oscar presenters go the distance with birdman title
will oscar presenters go the distance with birdman title

New York: And the winner is ... a mouthful. Though the full wingspan of the best-picture favorite at the Academy Awards is usually clipped down to simply "Birdman," the movie that many think is destined to fly highest at the Oscars is officially titled "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)." If it were to win, it would be the longest-titled best-picture winner, as well as the most grammatically dubious.

Oscar night may come down to not only what name is read from the night's final envelope, but also how the winning film is said. Should either name be called, writer-director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu isn't quibbling.

"Better the full title, but honestly I understand we have to be practical," said Inarritu of his preference in a recent interview. "It's more practical to say 'Birdman.' That's fine by me."

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences recognizes the film's full title in all its colorful plumage, even if most multiplex marquees don't. The film's distributor, Fox Searchlight, has regularly fostered the natural shorthand while still honoring the artistic intentions of its filmmaker.

Since lengthy, oddly punctuated dual titles aren't exactly what marketers dream of, "Birdman" is how it's generally been promoted. But Fox Searchlight also presents the complete title on movie posters (albeit with the second title in much smaller type) and it urged critics reviewing the film to use the full title on first reference. (Inarritu acknowledges Searchlight has been "very cool" about his title.)

With its redundant parentheses, the grammatical inaccuracy of the title has annoyed more grammatically sensitive moviegoers. The phrasing, of course, has a tradition; it takes after Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," a best-picture nominee in 1965.

Speaking by phone during a day off from shooting "The Revenant," an early 1800s frontier thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Inarritu said he loved "Dr. Strangelove," but that the title of "Birdman" isn't a direct ode to it. Instead, he called the title "a wink to the audience" that suggests the playfulness of his film, a comedy about an actor in paranoid crisis.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a Hollywood star famed for playing a feathered superhero trying to shed his public image by mounting a serious play on Broadway.

"The title itself should reflect how conflicted his mind is," said Inarritu. "I wanted to express that this is the moment this character goes into a territory that is not his, basically that he surrenders to himself."

Though beset by all manner of paranoia — from a hotshot young actor to an embittered critic — Riggan eventually finds a Zen peace; the subtitle is uttered late in the film.

Just as Riggan is attempting a transition, Inarritu was, too, in making his first comedy, and one stitched together seamlessly by lengthy, flowing shots. It's another dimension of the movie's "meta-reality" to Inarritu, who compares his own foolhardiness — his virtuous ignorance — to Riggan's.

"For me, it was jumping into an unknown territory, which is the comedy and shooting it in an unprecedented way," says Inarritu.

It's not the first film title Inarritu has played around with. His last movie, the much more somber drama, "Biutiful," was named from a scene in which Javier Bardem's Uxbal instructs his daughter while she does her homework that "beautiful" is spelled "just the way it sounds."

But by any name, "Birdman" has resounded with critics and moviegoers. After taking the top honors from the acting and producing guilds, the film is now seen as the most likely best-picture winner, just ahead of Richard Linklater's "Boyhood."

Inarritu has said his own out-of-control ego helped inspire "Birdman." An effect of all of the acclaim and Oscar love for his film could ironically be the swelling of his own Birdman, his own ego.

"Yes, the temptation for the ego is great," he says, adding he's been happily removed from much of it, working on "The Revenant." ''I haven't been able to really be able to read those things, and that's mostly kept my ego very good."

If "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" does triumph at the Feb. 22 Oscars, it will usurp "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" as the lengthiest titled best picture winner. ("Argo" and "Gigi" tie for the shortest.) But "Birdman..." still falls short of the longest title ever: "Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2: In Shocking 2-D."

That 1991 film, you'll be shocked to learn, didn't make it to the Academy Awards.


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