(1963) director Alfred Hitchcock
Admonished as I was for showing the kids Poltergeist (1982), I wound up watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds by myself. I guess that it should be said that while I don’t think that the kids were traumatized by Poltergeist, they haven’t been all that keen on seeing another horror film since then. And maybe Hitchcock’s apocalyptic vision of doom wouldn’t have been the next best thing.
Funny thing. Almost 10 years into writing this movie blog/diary of every film I see that I finally watch an Alfred Hitchcock film. Does that mean that I haven’t seen a Hitchcock film in all that time? I guess so.
The Birds may well have been the first Hitchcock film that I saw as a kid. I recall seeing it on television more than once. I don’t recall it being exactly frightening, but I do think that it caused me to look at birds a little suspiciously, especially when there were many of them congregating somewhere.
I also recall reading a book about Hitchcock back when I was an undergrad, it might have been Truffaut’s book. I recall very little other than the author saying that birds symbolized chaos for Hitchcock, citing the stuffed birds in Psycho (1960) and the kind of ultimate chaos of that The Birds would seem to suggest. It truly is an end of the world scenario, an example of Nature taking its revenge on Man.
I had also recently read the short story by Daphne du Maurier upon which it was based, which added some flavor to this viewing.
Coming to The Birds this time, now in 2011, the first striking thing was the local location. The image of San Francisco’s Union Square that zips by as Tippi Hedren crosses the street always clung in my mind. Of course, that is about all you see of San Francisco in the film. Though it’s so nearby, I don’t know if I have ever been to Bodega Bay, though some of the long shots show the rolling California hills, greener than they usually are.
Much of the rest of the film was varying levels of deja vu. I really don’t know how many times I had seen the film as a kid, but a lot of it I felt I knew almost shot by shot. That can be the case with a Hitchcock film, I’ve found. Especially the most iconic of them. There were only little moments that I had forgotten, such as the car explosion at the gas station, the long shot of the flames in Bodega Bay. But from the scene of the attack at the school, probably the film’s best to the eerie ending with birds over everything, a great familiarity struck me throughout.
I was struck by the use of sound (sounds of birds often in lieu of music) and long non-speaking sequences, while not “silent”, play out visually as in Silent Film. I was also struck how this film felt like a precursor to the types of summer blockbuster fare that would come. While the effects of the birds attacking sometimes looks better than others, in many ways, this is a special effects film. As it is sort of a horror/fantasy/science fiction event not easily done without effects. And in thinking about this, I was brought to mind of North by Northwest (1959) which in some ways is also a precursor of action films to come, including James Bond. While most of Hitchcock’s films fall more solidly into the Thriller or Crime category, these two, relatively late career films, have bigger expanses and vision, and while certainly of a more late 1950’s-early 1960’s era, feel much more modern as well.
Is it frightening? Is it thrilling? I don’t know anymore. It’s almost like seeing a long lost relative after many years. The images are striking, especially the crows on the climbing structure. I’ve got a feeling that the kids wouldn’t find it half as scary as Poltergeist. But maybe Poltergeist made them a bit more leery of scary movies for a while.