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Saturday November 17th 2018

Birdman | 2014

Birdman location: St James Theatre, West 43rd Street, New York
Birdman location: the theatre: St James Theatre, West 43rd Street, New York

Alejandro González Iñárritu takes a simple premise – one-time screen superhero actor Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) makes a bid to revive his career and gain artistic credibility by adapting, mounting and starring in a serious New York Broadway stage production – and spins it into a piece of dazzling magical realism.

Apart from the excellent performances, Iñárritu’s film is a cinematic tour-de-force, like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, seemingly filmed in one continuous take and backed by a relentlessly jittery drum track that perfectly captures the the nervy energy of Manhattan.

The theatre in which Riggan stages his adaptation of Raymond Carver’s stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, is the St James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, in the Theatre District.

The St James, which opened in 1927 as Erlanger's Theatre, has its fair share of theatrical history – among the shows having their Broadway premieres here are Pal Joey, Oklahoma, The King And I and Hello Dolly! (which ran for nearly seven years).

Raymond Carver, incidentally, is the author of the stories on which Robert Altman’s Short Cuts is based.

Birdman filming location: West 43rd Street, New York
Birdman location: Riggan gets drunk and falls asleep on the steps: West 43rd Street, New York

It’s a tribute to the movie’s technical ingenuity that it’s impossible to tell that, although the stage and auditorium are the real St James, the dressing rooms and corridors are sets built at the Kaufman Astoria Studios across the East River in Queens.

Likewise, if you trust the film’s geography, you’ll have a problem finding the bar in which Riggan crosses swords with antagonistic critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan) – which seems to be a couple of doors away.

Birdman filming location: Rum House, 48th Street, New York
Birdman location: Riggan crosses swords with the theatre critic: Rum House, 48th Street, New York

It’s is the Rum House on 48th Street, part of the Hotel Edison, 228 West 47th Street. The Edison, of course, is famously featured in The Godfather, as well as in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway.

Accidentally locking himself out of the theatre, Riggan is obliged to scuttle round the block, to 7th Avenue and through a crowded Times Square, in his pants (the alternative route via 8th Avenue would have been shorter but less cinematic). The sequence was filmed in the famed square after midnight, with extras immediately surrounding Keaton but still plenty of flummoxed bystanders in the background.

Stressed and depressed, Riggan drinks himself to sleep on the steps of 324 West 43rd Street. Woken and pursued by his nagging alter ego, Birdman, he levitates to the rooftop of Holy Cross School, 332 West 43rd Street, before swooping off gracefully along West 43rd Street.