November 27, 2014
Bald Eagle immature (basic 4)

On April 26, 2009, as keynote speaker for the Verde Valley Birding Festival, I opened my address with a short story--someone earlier in the day had asked why, after a lifelong and reasonably successful career in an entirely unrelated field, I had begun photographing and writing about birds.  I answered with an old aphorism:  when a man is young, his priority in life is sex; as a man reaches middle age, his priority changes to money; when a man approaches old age, his priority becomes relevancy.  Approaching the third stage and still fascinated by birds, I wanted some environmental relevancy.

This summer, when I first read an announcement about an upcoming movie called Birdman, I assumed it had something to do with birds and we would probably see it.  This past weekend we did and discovered it didn’t.  Other than the fact that the title of Birdman and its underlying theme play to our species’ eternal fascination with birds and our association of freedom with their flight, the movie has very little to do with birds, but for every birder of a certain age Birdman is must see.  It’s not about birds.  It’s all about relevancy as we age.

The small theater was about half full.  The first thing Deva and I noticed when we sat down was that we were probably the youngest people there.  The second thing was the din of conversation precluding any chance of actually hearing the pre-feature ads and promos or the possibility of taking a little nap.  And yes, we assumed there was a correlation between that first and second thing.  I’ve heard less crowd noise at a Suns’ game.  Cell phones were off and apparently so too were all hearing aids.

Birdman, in a nutshell, is about an aging actor’s inner and external struggles seeking theatrical relevancy after a career highlighted by a turn as a popular action/fantasy hero--Birdman.  I loved this movie and will be gobsmacked if Michael Keaton does not get an Oscar nomination for it, this despite being a bit put off by the occasional special effects and the Hollywooded ending.  In fairness, the former were used to advance the plot by getting the audience inside Keaton’s character’s psyche, and the latter left the denouement open to both dark and light interpretations of the movie.

I’m guessing the several people around us who kept looking at their watches and the handful of people who actually left before the end didn’t understand or appreciate Birdman or had badly misjudged what they were going to see.  (Maybe they were birders.)  This is a movie about stages of life and generational disparities, and all those younger people who weren’t there probably did not misjudge what they weren’t going to see.  It reminds me of that other old aphorism.  The young don’t know what it’s like to be old, but the old know what it’s like to be young.

Birdman will not appeal to a younger audience because it demands patience and it goes to emotional places younger generations don’t yet know exist.  In one memorable scene from a movie full of them, this one fraught with sexual tension, two of the three leading characters play a game of Truth Or Dare.  Let’s do that right now.  Truth:  In my lifetime I’ve only watched a handful of movies twice, but Birdman might be the next one.  Dare:  I dare you to take your child or grandchild birding.  Rip them from their social media support and introduce them to the real world, the world of nature.  It’s probably your best shot at environmental relevancy.