Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Birds - Film Review


Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 film, The Birds, is a piece that has left many a viewer with more than a few unanswered questions over the years, not only due to the thrilling and otherworldly plot featuring malevolent  feathered sky dwellers but also what lies at root of this Hitchcock creation. The Birds follows the story of Melanie Daniels (Tipp Hedren), a woman who sets out to Bodega Bay to deliver two pet love birds to Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor ), after their chance meeting in a San Francisco pet shop. Upon arriving at Bodega Bah, Melanie seems hugely out of place as she parades the area amongst shore workers and humble towns folk in her metropolitan dress and heels, some would say like a peacock amongst seagulls, showcasing a life only mere miles apart from their own. Upon delivering said love birds, Melanie is offered a seat at the Brenner family dinner table, consisting of Mitch himself, his sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) and overpowering mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy). All seems well in Bodega Bah until Melanie is subject and witness to a number of vicious aerial attacks from the Bay's resident bird population, including the iconic crow engulfed climbing frame school chase, each one leaving the area ever so slightly more in dishevel and panic. After a number of unexplained jousts with the hovering creatures, Melanie, along with Mitch and his family are forced to take refuge in the family home where they are forced to face an army of intruding gulls and crows, all seemingly attempting to harm or kill the unlucky quartet. After an evening of winged peril, the four manage to flee the home in a car, relatively unharmed apart from Melanie injuries she acquired whilst fighting off the intruders, bringing the film to a rather anticlimactic conclusion.

Fig 1: The Birds, Poster
 

Although The Birds may now look outdated due to the at times comic special effects, there is no doubt that Hitchcock was setting himself a project that was years ahead of its time, a project that would sit so comfortably amongst the disaster giants of modern cinema. The special effects may well look out of place through the eyes of a modern day cinema goer, but to an audience of its time it would of appeared as nothing less than extraordinary, showcasing shots of huge winged massacres and set pieces fuelled with explosions that could rival some of today's most treasured gems. It would seem that to remake The Birds would be the obvious first thought of any modern day first time viewer, to re vamp the production with top of the range special effects and CGI, but it is seriously questionable weather or not a remade version would be able to capture the sheer character that this Hitchcock piece has managed to hold on to, a character that rivals the legend of his earlier creation Psycho, and ultimately played a huge role in shaping the reputation of the iconic director himself.

Fig 2: The Birds, Screenshot
 

This character that runs consistently through The Birds is created through the means of Hitchcock's elegant and adventurous camera work, which strategically allows the audience to feel present in a number of the bird attacks, and through the extremely dull colour pallet that decorates the entirety of the film, filling rooms and open spaces with sombre tones that beautifully mirror the tone of the production, that and the way "Hitch's long-time composer Bernard Herrmann fashioned an eerie soundtrack from caws, strident screeches and rustling wings" (Sooke, 2015). One could argue that these sombre tones are there to really highlight how alien Melanie appears once she has entered Bodega Bay and how unusual she appears to the towns folk. This idea of the people of the Bay being curious of Melanie almost starts to point the viewer into the realm of hundreds of theories that have been jabbed The Birds, suggesting that it is in fact the love birds she is delivering that are in fact delivering her to the birds of the Bay, almost like the way a mother bird will return to her nest of hatchlings with a meal and then regurgitate to feed her young. This is serves as evidence as to why the birds of the bay attack in intervals, almost as if they've had their feed and are no longer hungry. 

Fan theories are no stranger to Hitchock's work, with films such as Psycho and Rope Included in his resume, that should not be a surprise. However amongst all these films, it is The Birds that seems to harbour the bulk of them,  being described as "a film that provides no answers and no escape" (Xan Brooks) and being fit with a rather anticlimactic ending and an array of unexplained occurrences, there's no wonder why. The ending of The Birds shows the courageous defendants of the Brenner residence simply fleeing the house in a car, something that seems to have left the audience feeling as if Hitchcock thought that should be enough for them, and that any level of confusion is down to them not understanding the explanations shown. In fact it seems as if there is no concrete conclusion and that Hitchcock wanted this piece to be one that served as a pop culture enigma set on leaving angry fans to argue against themselves. It appears that men's perception of women is something that gets touched upon frequently in the film, with Melanie leaving men to watch her walk away countless times throughout her journeys around the Bay. With this idea of perception in mind, parallels start to appear to suggest that these men left staring in fact become the malicious birds, determined to swoop down and pester the peacock amongst the flock, in turn causing chaos amongst the bay due to their lack of ability to contain themselves when a female is introduced into their environment.

Fig 3: The Birds, Screenshot
 

Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds is a film that could easily flutter amongst the screens of modern day cinema, showcasing its plumage to the current generation that seems obsessed with fan theories and ideas. Although the special effects seem dated and some of the acting may not be what a modern audience has become accustomed to, The Birds could easily migrate into current cinema and leave an audience baffled with its story. With others stating that "Mr. Hitchcock and his associates have constructed a horror film that should raise the hackles on the most courageous and put goose-pimples on the toughest hide" (Crowther, 63) there is no wonder that The Birds has gone on to be such an icon or horror. Much like Psycho, Hitchcock's The Birds  has become a staple of cinematic culture, leaving a legacy of welcomed confusion and fan theories galore, and it certainly seems set to stay that way for a long time.


Bibliography

Sooke, Alastair, 2015 The Birds, review; 'distrubing', http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/11334674/The-Birds-review-disturbing.html Accessed on 26/01/16

Brooks, Xan, 2012, My Favourite Hitchcock: The Birds, http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2012/jul/31/my-favourite-hitchcock-the-birds Accessed on 26/01/16

Crowther, Bosley, 1963, The Birds (1963), http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9D05E7D9143CEF3BBC4953DFB2668388679EDE Accessed on 26/01/16



Illustration List

Fig 1: Movie Poster, The Birds, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birds_(film) Accessed on: 26/01/16

Fig 2: Screenshot, The Birds, http://www.listal.com/viewimage/6062927 Accessed on: 26/01/16
 
Fig 3: Screenshot, The Birds, http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/The-Birds-Blu-ray/16760/ Accessed on: 26/01/16