One of the most anticipated events of this year’s Sydney Festival was the special screening of the film Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), with a live, mostly improvised score from Mexico’s Antonio Sanchez – the acclaimed jazz drummer who delivered us the original and unique soundtrack from the Oscar winning movie. So what is there to say about a show like this, when its premise is so black and white? Well, not much; Sanchez delivered exactly what was promised.
The show began with Sanchez sharing the backstory of how he met director Iñárritu and came to score the film. He spoke of the unique composing process, which helped set the tone as they filmed, to the final recording we experience when watching the film. He promised to deliver us a one-of-a-kind performance and from there, Sanchez sat stage left, in relative darkness, and began to score the film live. The film itself was presented in its entirety in Sydney’s beautiful State Theatre, minus the drum track.
Having not seen the film in a while, it was still clear from the first beats that in spite of the improvisational tone, Sanchez was going to deliver the most memorable moments as they were intended. And it’s striking just how engrained into the very tone and “beat” of the film Sanchez’s work is. Though other music does appear, it’s that unique rythym that sticks with you – and in the live setting it’s no different. At times, you would forget he was there. At others, you couldn’t ignore the fact – Sanchez unable to restrain the power of the drums. It’s hard to say just how much of his work at the show was unplanned or on the spot, but it worked as well as I ever remember it working in the original print. Where he definitely got creative was during the credits – which led the crowd to leap to their feet at the end.
This wasn’t a show that was supposed to blow your mind or deliver anything you hadn’t seen, or weren’t expecting. This was a night to embrace what is without question one of the most daring soundtracks ever put on film, and celebrate the man behind it. And for that, this very special screening of Birdman delivered everything you could have hoped for.