Editor’s Notes: The following article is part of our coverage of Santikos Theatres’s ongoing Ciné Classics Series. For more information on the series visit http://www.santikos.com/ and follow Santikos Theatres on Twitter at @santikostheatre.
The journey into pieces of classic filmmaking can be quite dangerous. While I believe that a great film is a great film is a great film, it is more complicated than just slipping a disc into your player of choice (or more likely hitting play on Netflix) and expecting greatness. The sensibilities of society continue to change, and unfortunately the collective attention span of people forever dwindles. The overheard cries of boredom make the film geek deep within my soul weep. Not to say that all old films are of impressive caliber, but to be so dismissively ignorant of generations of cinema is offensive in a very special way. The people and technology may change, but deep seated emotions possess consistency. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of suspense and The Birds serves as a gentle reminder.
For those expecting The Birds to be wall-to-wall violence, you’re clearly not familiar with Mr. Hitchcock. The opening titles offer a glimpse into the madness that is to come, but Hitchcock is careful not to blow it all too soon.
Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is wealthy and bored. A socialite in San Francisco, she has money and time, a combination that often leads to mischief. While picking up some birds, she runs into Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) and is immediately captivated. After hearing that he is spending the weekend in the sleepy coastal town of Bodega Bay, she hatches a scheme to surprise him with the very birds he was looking for. As the two grow closer and romance begins to blossom, the local birds start behaving suspiciously. Seemingly without provocation all of the birds in Bodega Bay turn against the inhabitants, viciously attacking any and everyone.
For those expecting The Birds to be wall-to-wall violence, you’re clearly not familiar with Mr. Hitchcock. The opening titles offer a glimpse into the madness that is to come, but Hitchcock is careful not to blow it all too soon. The set-up is well done and the exposition slight. The audience is pushed directly into the story and left playing catch up to even identify the protagonist. Melanie Daniels is a mysterious woman of obvious wealth. Tippi Hedren shows complete comfort in the entitled role, often delivering her lines in a manner that is nearly derogatory to all audiences. Melanie is like a Paris Hilton (is that yet a dated reference?) or Kim Kardashian, possessing no clearly discernible skills, but an absolute belief that she is better than all. As we are taken to Bodega Bay, it serves to elevate the height with which she holds up her nose. Where she blended into the environment of San Francisco, she sticks out in the small town. The force with which she asserts her presence, from an overly inquisitive nature to aggressive driving habits, disturbs the lives of even the most casual passersby. In this establishment of character, Hitchcock quietly builds suspense before even introducing the birds as a major antagonist.
Hitchcock pays continuous attention to the increasing menace of the surrounding birds. He impressively juggles the Melanie-Mitch storyline, infusing it with complicated and mysterious back stories, with the growing avicular concern.
Hitchcock pays continuous attention to the increasing menace of the surrounding birds. He impressively juggles the Melanie-Mitch storyline, infusing it with complicated and mysterious back stories, with the growing avicular concern. Thus, it should come as no surprise that when he has the two collide, he does not lose sight of either’s importance. The town is thrown into chaos as the skies rain down with murderous beaks. The hysteria is palpable and it is difficult not to become stressed as you visually consume the proceedings. As difficult as it is to watch the attack scenes, the most stress-inducing involve little to no movement. The quiet shots of the ubiquitous nature of the birds are blindingly unsettling. Their bodies consume buildings and even the most innocent settings are mutated into symbols of terror. The moments when they are still, are like a pot on the brink of boiling, and the emotion is entirely immersive.
While the effects were certainly groundbreaking for their time, they have not all aged fantastically. The Birds suffers from the same struggles of many older films, the driving scenes are removed and clearly shot in a studio and many of the birds appear to be added in post. With that being said, there are a great many shots where the birds are entirely too close for comfort. Perhaps this is due to the use of the sodium vapor process, rather than the typical blue screen, allowing for the rapidly moving wings to not seem completely displaced. It could also be attributed to the number of practical effects used by Hitchcock, from models to actual birds that make the terror all the more real. Modern advances in technology do make some of the effects alienating; in the same way that a viewing of King Kong would undoubtedly inspire laughter in a young audience, but it never detracts from the immersive nature of the film itself.
The terror of the bird attacks and the encroaching danger as the birds creepily overtake the small town is enough to make The Birds worth seeing. Hitchcock, however, is not content in making a simple horror film about birds. He takes his time in developing an environment ripe for chaos. Melanie Daniels is established as a figure of agitation, a protagonist that the audience never fully trusts. The film is suspenseful because each scene is held on the edge of the cliff with the potential, at any moment, to go toppling over. The elusive nature of the birds and the absence of clear provocation open up the film to a discussion of the environment’s reaction to disturbance. The Birds succeeds because it is much more than its title, a suspenseful horror film with a message ripe for discussion. It’ll also leave you very distrustful of that parking lot full of gulls.
[notification type=”star”]84/100 ~ GREAT. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of suspense and The Birds serves as a gentle reminder. The film succeeds because it is much more than its title, a suspenseful horror film with a message ripe for discussion. It’ll also leave you very distrustful of that parking lot full of gulls.[/notification]