One Long Tracking Shot
Cinephiles sure do love their tracking shots. Google "tracking shot" and you'll get more top ten lists than you can reasonably sort through in one afternoon—or maybe even two.
These kinds of extended takes are difficult to pull off: you can head to our Best of the Web section to hear the actors tell you all about the strict timings and what it feels like to mess up five or more minutes of acting at the very end of the scene (we're looking at you Emma).
Wait, five minutes of acting? Surely we mean two hours of acting because the camera never seemed to turn off until Riggan shoots himself.
Well, the gig is up. It's not all one shot, it's just a lot of short (okay, actually really long) shots strung together with some clever editing. Every time you see a pan or other camera movement from one place or person to another, there's probably some fancy editorial tricks happening that makes it appear seamless.
Still: what's important for our purposes isn't the execution but the intention. Everyone told Iñárritu that making a film that was one long tracking shot was nigh impossible, so why did he still try it?
We keep returning to the idea of the movie as a play (which hopefully makes a lot of sense, it takes place entirely in a theater and is about people doing a play) and the tracking shot plays into this idea.
Theater actors don't get to take a break every few seconds to rehearse their next lines or grab a Capri Sun. We don't want to be like Mike and get all pretentious about actors, but there is a commitment to character that they must maintain that Hollywood actors don't, and it's something we get at least a taste of in Birdman.