Broadway’s iconic St. James Theatre in Birdman

Riggan (Michael Keaton) and Mike (Edward Norton) in fron of St James Theatre in Birdman 2014 (Broadway, New York)

Birdman by Alejandro González Iñárritu is one of those weird and wonderful films that will polarise audiences for years. Fans consider the movie to be a masterpiece and breath of fresh air in Hollywood, while others call it pretentious and boring. Following the tradition of magic realism, Birdman blends fantasy and reality, forcing us to decide on our own what is true and what is imagined.
Incredibly layered and shot in long takes, Birdman is a dark and unnerving comedy about one man’s quest for “life as a work of art” in the 21st-century’s world of instant likes and selfies. The film tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) – a jaded actor famous for his superhero role as a Birdman, but now struggling to gain relevance and recognition. In a bid to reinvent his career, Thomson decides to direct a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s play “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”.
Starring Keaton who played Batman and hasn’t been a lead actor for at least 5 years, Birdman is undoubtedly a satire of contemporary Hollywood and its mass-produced superhero ventures, but also the critics, the theatre, the audiences and each one of us on a mission for self-actualisation in the era of digital fame. In the poignant scenes between Riggan Thomson and New York Times’ critic Tabitha Dickinson, and also between Thomson and his daughter Sam, we are compelled to look within ourselves and question what art and creativity really mean.
Birdman was almost entirely shot inside Broadway’s St. James Theatre on 44th street – one of the most prestigious Broadway establishments that launched many renowned plays, such as “The Producers” and “Hello Dolly!”. Iñárritu asked actors to shoot in a single take, requiring them to perform pages and pages of dialogue to create a natural, stream-of-consciousness like flow.
The film depicts the production of Thomson’s Broadway show from preview nights to premiere, using St. James lobby, stage, backstage and orchestra seats. Most of the film’s $16 million budget went to renting the theatre out for one month, so the crew and cast had to work almost for nothing.
In the film, the theatre is a living organism where actors spend most of their days inside, only taking an occasional break on the roof (with glorious views of New York’s Theatre District) or in a nearby bar. The Rum House featured in the film is actually located on 47th street, in a historic Hotel Edison building, constructed in New York in 1931 (it is said Thomas Edison himself turned on the lights in the hotel when it opened).
The scene where Riggan runs through Times Square naked was filmed after midnight, so that the amount of bystanders is limited.
The lovers of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining will be delighted to see a cameo by the same iconic hexagonal carpet of the Overlook hotel, featured in backstage corridor scenes in Birdman.
St. James Theatre
St. James Theatre at night Broadway New York Copyright flickr4jazz
© flickr4jazz
St. James Theatre during the day Broadway New York
© Wikipedia
Rum House
Rum House New York City Piano Bar Birdman filming location
Michael Keaton as Riggan in Birdman (2014)
Riggan (Michael Keaton) in Birdman film 2014

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