shall we discuss this !
here are a few spurs:
1 Freud (Slavoy Zizek’s position: “Melanie wants to fuck Mitch but she can’t because of the mother’s presence; therefore the birds attack”)
2 a book, ‘Motu-iti, island of seagulls’ (by R. Piumini, don’t know if translated) > edited as youth literature, telling a man’s story, his hatred for the people who betrayed him, his wish to revenge, the sympathy seagulls grow for him, their attacks; everything on a bare cliff and on Rapa Nui (Easter Island).
Of course the book’s been written after Hitchcock shot “The Birds”
I can’t easily deal with the end of this movie
A quick “heads up” about this Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece: “The Birds” (1963) plays at the Grand Illusion cinema located in Seattle, October 8-14 (2010), daily from 6.30pm, followed by “Frenzy”. Additional screenings of “The Birds” Saturday and Sunday, 2pm. If you live in Seattle, please visit the Grand Illusion and support classic movies in the way they were originally experienced, on the big screen, the way their auteurs intended.
“The Birds” is a masterpiece. “Frenzy” is Hitch’s last true masterpiece.
The Fruedian reading of “The Birds” isn’t that interesting to me. I’m sure you oversimplified Zizek’s position. For me, the film is interesting as the horror of the Apocalypse and Hitch sparking the disaster genre. It’s also interesting as one long, elaborate montage.
Not that you’d have any way of knowing this, but the Grand Illusion is a “garage cinema” and hardly has a “big screen”. It has about 75 seats. I’ve gone there because it was the only place I could experience, for instance, a double bill of Leos Carax’s first two feature films. That was before these were available on Region 1 DVDs.
Now that I’m thinking of it, however, neither of these Hitchcock films is available on blu-ray yet. My home theatre set-up, while comfortable, capacious and convenient, doesn’t boast a larger screen than the Grand Illusion offers. Provided the print is exemplary, film projection can’t be matched even by a blu-ray presentation. Their popcorn tastes better than mine.
OK, you’re right. Since the Grand Illusion is just a 15 minutes’ drive for me, I’ll go. I’ll them them Mark D Vanselow sent me.
Mapping Freud onto some movie doesn’t clear anything up and help us more “easily deal with” that movie. It just points back to Freud.
Zizek’s reading is fascinating, as theory, as academic virtuosity, but goes beyond just a mapping of Freud/Lacan and its theory/academic aspects and ultimately discusses the film as an emotional experience — at least that’s my memory of that article. I wish I had it in front of me.
Thing about The Birds is that it’s a great example of a mystery with no given explanation — and I’m not sure one is required. Norman Bates had a childhood trauma to explain his killing sprees. But think of Rear Window: why does that husband kill his wife — there are hints and suggestions and we assume a lot, but we don’t think about it too much and hardly question the film’s motives: it’s all about what happens BECAUSE of the mystery (of the killing) rather than the killing itself.
In the same way, The Birds is about the reactions to the attackers, and not so much the minutiae of why and how the birds did what they did.
If a scientists popped up in the penultimate scene (maybe he was hiding in the basement) and rambled off some statistics about birds losing brain cells in a genetic experiment gone horridly wrong and then going berserk and killing the other scientists and escaping and wrecking havoc …. would that make the movie any better? Or, to put it in your words, help us deal with the experience of watching all the expert technical cinematic greatness we just watched?
I’d bet: probably not.
Robin Wood talks about this movie in his book on Hitchcock and (nearly) satisfies with his analysis.
I think everything to understand about that movie is summed up in two scenes:
1. The mother discovering the farmer’s body — that shock and recoil and absolute terror (notice the soundtrack, the editing, the disordered set design paired with the racing truck’s dust cloud).
2. The birds attacking Melanie in the attic. Why this happened = ? How they got in (that whole in the roof?) and what compelled the birds to attack so specifically one person = ? That the camera literally tears her apart and we watch, grounded in our seats = ? It’s a powerful moment, and one that grows more scary and uncanny and wretched with analysis/thinking about it.
Okay, I lied:
3. The diner scene: the insecure mother, with the two kids, starting right at the camera, accusing “you did this — you brought them here!” and we realize how absurd that it, yet how much that makes sense to a town-insider. That an unnatural phenomenon of nature would tear people apart, make them seize upon strangers, stands for everything that unsettles us in that movie.
I’d go on, but I’d rather just watch the film. As you would, too, I’m sure. :)
“It’s the end of the world” said the man at the diner.
“The Birds” is probably the film where the incredulity of people when facing of the incomprehensibility of the unknown is better explored. Hitchcock was right to leave the finale open-ended. That final shot (with them leaving in the car, the house and fences filled with birds and the sun rays glittering between the clouds) is one of the most bizarre, ominous and beautiful I’ve ever seen. It has been one of my favorite movies since childhood.
The mystery with no given explanation is the classic Hitchcock MacGuffin. All of his films are MacGuffins to throw you off-track with regards to what the film is really about. “The Birds” isn’t about the birds. “Rear Window” isn’t about a murder. “Shadow of a Doubt” isn’t about a serial killer. These are red herrings (no joke intended).
I think it’s absolute rubbish
Want to expand on that, @Allan?
Maybe my favorite Hitch (these days, at least). Maintains a baffling level of artifice (the little schoolgirl’s legs robotically kicking?) that makes even the most mundane moments mesmerizing. Nature’s not in it. An appropriate visual threat to accompany Herrmann’s electronic menace of a “score”: all synthesized bird sounds.
All my children and grandchildren as well as myself, were scared shitless when they first saw it and it impacted them, my kids saw this movie fairly young, I saw it as a teen, but the effect was the same, so you gotta admit Hitch latched onto some phobia that comes across to the majorityof the people who see this movie. that’s gotta be genius in my book.
The Birds is a magnificent film, and it works for both for a mass audience and for the more cerebral/analytical type.
Hitch was a ruthless filmmaker. Part of the reason the film was so effective and scary was that children are attacked repeatedly. And that final attack on Tippi Hedren ranks among his most horrific, even though she survives it (in a catatonic state). It’s a very dark film. As mentioned before, “It’s the end of the world.”
-neither of these Hitchcock films is available on blu-ray yet-
It’s been reported that The Birds is forthcoming from Universal on BD (no date yet).
At the end of the movie I had a sense that the danger was far from over. As I mentioned before about my kids they sensed that also, and that is what scared them, that while the movie ended the horror remained.
—Not that you’d have any way of knowing this, but the Grand Illusion is a “garage cinema” and hardly has a “big screen”.
The fact my brother lives in Seattle and tells me all about all things Seattle means I have an extremely good way of knowing this.
People can also travel, you know!
Admittedly, I was surprised to learn how few seats the Grand Illusion has (something I found from visiting their website, another “way I’d have of knowing this”) given the Astor Theatre in Melbourne has 1,100 (although the stalls are used rarely; normally it’s only the few hundred balcony seats that are open to the public). However, the G.I. is self-described as a “jewel box” cinema, which I think is rather cute and charming, certainly better than calling it a “garage cinema”. Also, you can’t beat those theatre rental prices. Here in Melbourne, you’d pay at least $550 for a room of 55 seats at one of the Palace Cinemas.
By the way, if you tell the ticket seller Mark D Vanselow sent you, you’ll get in for free along with complimentary popcorn (which as you said, Cineaste, tastes better than yours).
Okay, not really, you’ll actually just get an expression from the ticket seller that looks rather like this…
Unless of course it’s a dame, in which case, the mere mention of my name (wait a minute, the mention of my name is NEVER mere!) will get you this…
“At the end of the movie I had a sense that the danger was far from over. As I mentioned before about my kids they sensed that also, and that is what scared them, that while the movie ended the horror remained.”
In the DVD special edition Hitchcock mentions (in an interview led by Peter Bogdanovich, I think) that the film was suppose to end with the characters driving out of Bodega Bay and being attacked by birds on the road. The birds would eventually remove the canvas top of the car (it was a convertible) and then Mitch would manage to accelerate further and leave the flock of birds behind. As they arrive in San Francisco, we would see the Golden Gate bridge completely covered with birds. They didn’t hav enough budget to do these scenes and, though they seem nice, the enigmatic ending that appears in the film is more suitable.
@Carlos. Yeah. I’ve read that someplace. I think in one of the Hitchcock (maybe the Robin Wood one, but maybe another one…) there are story boards from the final sequence.
Even with that version though, it ends with all the birds sitting and staring — that same kind of enigmatic thing. But there’s just an extra chase scene, presumably because that’s what the audiences wanted.
I dunno if that’s true though: my dad saw it when he was little and The Birds was on television (in the 60s) and what scared him most were the kids being attacked — like @Bobby said. So would an audience want to be traumatized once more — especially after the Tipp attic-attack? Good move, Hitch.
Just as a personal curiosity, I first saw “The Birds” on TV during the 80’s and it was a B&W version. I actually saw it more than once that way. When some years later I saw the color (and original) version on VHS I thought it was one of those computer coloring projects and didn’t like it. The fact is that “The Birds” looked quite nice in B&W, so much so that I actually found it difficult to adapt to the color photography :)
@Carlos. That’s amazing. I’ve only seen the blood-red/sky-blue/teal-dress colour version but would be interested in B&W. Any copies you know of? What about the strongly composed use of certain colours throughout the film — does that come across in the shading in the B&W or do other elements catch your eye?
Have any of you read the BFI book on The Birds written by Camille Paglia? I have not read it in quite some time, but from what little I can recall, Paglia used Greek tragedy to compare the film with. The only example I can really think of is when I don’t know if it was Tippi Hendren or Jessica Tandy saw this man with his eyes pecked out by the birds and how that related to some particular Greek tragedy. Can anybody see some similarities between The Birds and Greek tragedy? I do not have much knowledge concerning Greek tragedy and how it would apply to The Birds, but can any of you see some?
I haven’t read the book and I don’t know much about Greek tragedy. I do know that it isn’t really interesting to read criticism on Hitchcock. It’s all been said already and people tend to over-analyze Hitch from too many strange angles.
@Bobby Wise Thanks for the response. Still, I would love to hear people’s thoughts about it.
Hal 9000 —
You read the book but can recall very little about it. One of the bits you remember, though, is the “man with his eyes pecked out by the birds and how that related to some particular Greek tragedy.”
Well, I can’t fathom how that shock effect in Hitchcock’s film could refer to Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King” in any meaningful way. Oedipus gouges out his own eyes. The play is all about him and his family. The man in “The Birds” is a bit part, really just an extra.
Do you still have Paglia’s 1998 book on “The Birds”? You could thumb through it again and see if anything you forgot jumps out and grabs you. If so, bring it back to this thread and a discussion could ensue.
Meanwhile, I still have 3 more nights to catch “The Birds” at that “jewel box” of a cinema, The Grand Illusion. I hope the ticket seller is a “dame”, MDV.
I only saw that B&W version on TV and it was around 20 years ago. I guess you can always try to remove the color by using the menu of your TV set. The thing I remember the most about that version was the frightening contrast between the birds’ silhouettes and the sky, specially in the school attack (being black crows that only added to that visual aspect).
A connection that comes to mind within Greek mythology is the image of Prometheus chained to a tree and being permanently eaten alive by birds (vultures, I guess). That’s more of a visual thing than a thematic or narrative influence and I doubt Hitchcock had anything like that on his mind.
Hooray, someone called me by my intials, MDV!
And dames who work at ticket boxes always hope the next customer is me.
@Carlos The contrast sounds exciting.
@Hal I’ll probably track that book down and read it. But like was pointed out, it sounds as if there are problems.
I found this online:
“The birds … soar up from behind the schoolhouse like a cloud of bats. Academe breeds nightmares.” And, “After the first flash of real horror, I generally settle down to laughing and applauding the crows, whom I regard as Coleridgean emissaries vandalizing sentimental Wordsworthian notions of childhood.”
Which is like clever and nattily written and so forth, but geez: did she watch the film? Scholars do this sometimes: they write about something they probably love, but talk about everything else BUT the thing they’re writing about. Or at least ANALYZE everything but the thing their book/paper is about.
Does she really believe that “vandalizing” is the right word there? I’m not one of those “won’t someone please think of the children!” types (that honour goes to Mrs. Lovejoy on The Simpsons) but it’s almost offensive how little she understands the trauma of this movie.
And I think, maybe when I read the whole thing, trauma might be a key word: Greek tragedy (and way too much modernism literature to catalogue) hinges on that word: trauma. The idea that a horrid thing will return to haunt you, whether in external or internal reality.
The guy having his eyes plucked out is an allusion, maybe, sure, whatever, to Oedipus. But what’s more interesting about it is that these are people (the farmer, the villagers, Tippi) who are being attacked, rather than self-inquiring, which was what led Oedipus to do all that gashing.
So: maybe the book is a good start-off for thinking about The Birds.
@Mark I’m sure sure SURE they do. :P Fun picture.
" I generally settle down to laughing and applauding the crows, whom I regard as Coleridgean emissaries vandalizing sentimental Wordsworthian notions of childhood.”
This is always the line I draw where the essay stops trying to communicate and discuss with an audience, and becomes a writer showing off. A reader should not have to have absorbed the texts AND the various criticisms of the texts of Coleridge and Wordsworth just to understand a single sentence (because “-ians” come from both a generalization of the wider ideas created by an author, and also are attributed to the author for very specific reasons by other critics, making every ‘-ian" a specified generalism, or more importantly, an author attempting to shortcut actual clarity while trying to draw attention to how literate he or she is), else the act of criticism becomes a gluttonous never-ending pile-up of intertextuality that may not support the document the essay is analyzing in the first place (in other words, what filmmaker sets a scene and thinks to himself, "I’m going to create Coleridgean emissaries vandalizing sentimental Wordsworthian notions of childhood! I only hope an essay writer out there gets it ?" Especially an auteur as flatly down-to-earth as Hitchcock?)
But enough of that, back to The Birds .
Definitely one of my favorite Hitchcocks, and one thing I do think sets the ball rolling on this one is that Hitchcock had previously used birds as symbols for growing insanity (see especially, Blackmail ). Hitchcock connected to an uncanny element that birdsong has over our psyches and though I do not believe he directs it to a specific end (I believe, as others have stated, that the birds are empty symbols easily justifiable to many audiences by “reading into” their own perspectives), I also think a psychoanalytic reading of the movie is not too problematic because the movie seems so subconsciously appealing in the first place. Hitchcock is infamous, after all, for making regular everyday things horrific for audiences at the time, such as a shower (an innocuous thing, and yet a point at which one is so vulnerable) or even a visiting uncle to a curious and shy little girl. However, Hitchcock also wears Freud on his sleeves sometimes ( Marnie , dear lord Marnie , and of course the end of Psycho , plus the homoerotic aspects of Strangers on a Train ), so he sort of invites those readings in the first place. I cannot say that Hitchcock meant for the birds to represent the suppression of sexual desire, but that reading does illuminate certain aspects of the movie for me.
@Bobby Wise: Why do you call this movie “elaborate montage”? I think we had a discussion about montage before and I believe you mentioned this movie in it, I think now would be a good time to bring that back up and more fully consider it.
For me, the whole weight of the brilliance of this movie is its ending, whether it was the one Hitchcock intended or no. Because we do not know if the situation is an isolated phenomenon, if it is caused or incentivized by the characters or their psyches, we do not know their intentions, and worst of all, we do not know how to defeat them, Hitchcock creates pretty much the most poetic single ending shot ever put on glorious Technicolor—and, it’s not all saccharine to look at, too! I’m a big fan of looking at Hitchcock from the perspective of a man self-conscious about the camera and the act of surveillance, and part of the horror of these birds is not just that they attack, but that they are watching you . My other favorite shot being when Tippi Hedren sees the birds in the birdcage, and their normally charming beady eyes with beak-grins are suddenly turned monstrous via a little bit of lighting and the audience’s own insecurity.
I had honestly never really thought about the aspect of children getting attacked, which surprises me, but on the other hand, the whole thing about children never getting attacked in cinema really surprises and bothers me. Children are victims of adult forces and themes too. However, on the flip side, it is really aggravating when a director tries to create sympathy for a group of victims by cutting in shots of children standing alone crying while the carnage occurs around them, (and usually some random person runs along and scoops them up). These are separate issues, though—what makes The Birds good in that respect, in my humble opinion, is that Hitchcock draws no more attention to the plight of the children than to the adults. All characters get attacked equally. This exascerbates readings of the movie on the one hand, but makes the movie all the more fun to question and analyze on the other.
Hitchcock consistently used birds as symbols of danger or death. Think back to “Sabotage” and the bird shop in that film, as well as the birdcage with the bomb planted on it (and the short cartoon sequence showing a comical bird death). Think of the petrified birds in “Psycho”. For a lighter symbol, think of the bird that bites Hannay in “The 39 Steps”.
I consider “The Birds” to be Hitchcock’s most elaborate extended montage — literally, a film as one long montage. I think there are more cuts in this film than any of his others. Plus at least two frenzied montage sequences: the attack on Melanie in the phone booth and the final attack on her in the attic. For me, this entire film is Hitchcock’s most intricate explication of what editing can do in a film (along with “Rear Window”).
Do any children die in the movie? I forget. (I know. That makes me a bad film-watcher…. :P)
This book gets into that issue, one that, like you say, Polaris, most people make sentimental: No Future