‘Birdman’: a dark satire about the world of showbiz

HOLLYWOOD, United States - "Birdman," which won the best picture Oscar on Sunday, is a quirky black comedy about the dark side of fame in the entertainment industry, starring Michael Keaton in the performance of his career.

The film directed by Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was the big winner of the night, taking four Oscars out of nine nominations - including best director and best original screenplay.

"I don't have a career - I have a life. And today I'm living it fully and beautifully," Inarritu said backstage at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

"So I don't know what will happen in the future, but today is great." Infused with a touch of magic realism, "Birdman" tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Keaton), a faded superhero movie star desperate to revive his flagging career by directing and starring in his own Broadway show.

"How did we end up here?" says Thomson at the start of the film, seemingly levitating in his dressing room.

As he prepares for opening night, he grapples with a daughter fresh out of rehab (Emma Stone), his lover and co-star (Andrea Riseborough) and a hard-drinking, troublesome actor (Edward Norton).

Keaton, Stone and Norton all earned Oscar nods for their work.

Also along for the ride are Thomson's ex-wife (Amy Ryan) and his long-suffering agent (Zach Galifianakis).

The film offers a biting send-up of the entertainment world - self-absorbed Hollywood stars, embittered Broadway actors, neurotic leading ladies and the power of Twitter, all of it soaked in booze and set to a jazz soundtrack.

The basic storyline of course bears more than a passing resemblance to the actual life experience of Keaton, who tasted soaring Tinseltown success 25 years ago when he donned the Caped Crusader's suit in Tim Burton's "Batman" (1989) and "Batman Returns" (1992).

Keaton - perhaps the original superhero star in a genre that now dominates the Hollywood box office, and for many still the ultimate Batman - was the obvious choice to play Thomson in the movie.

Yet the 63-year-old actor, known for his subtlety and comic timing, has been out of the headlines for years and has tried to distance himself from too many comparisons between his real life and onscreen persona.

"In terms of the parallels, I've never related less to a character than Riggan but I did understand him on a lot of levels because he was so visceral and true and heartbreakingly human," he said.

Dizzying camera work

The movie was filmed in New York's St. James Theater where Keaton's character is putting on an adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." The cast spent most of the 30-day shoot doing complex unbroken shots that lasted as long as 10 minutes and - thanks to Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, also an Oscar winner on Sunday - make it seem as though the film was shot in one continuous take.

Naomi Watts, who plays actress Lesley on set, told reporters that it "created this high-level of intensity and pressure that felt emblematic of how it feels on the stage." The intensity of the cast paid off - the movie also won best screenplay and best actor for Keaton at last month's Golden Globes.

As a comedy, however black, "Birdman" is a departure for Inarritu, whose previous films have been almost unbearably tragic.

"I decided after so much spicy food I have had, I wanted dessert and some rest in my tummy," he joked.

There are some great lines, such as when Watts' character asks "Why don't I have any self-respect?" only for Riseborough's to reply: "You're an actress, honey." Keaton said the technically dazzling film was "as specific and meticulous and painstaking as any." "I can't imagine I'll do another film that was in as much detail as this one," he told Entertainment Weekly.