The Birds (1963) Terrifying or Humorous

 

The Birds was voted seventh scariest film of all time according to a public poll carried out by Channel 5 and The Times (2005). Alfred Hitchcock directed the Birds after he had made Psycho (1960), Vertigo (1958), Rear Window (1954) and North by Northwest (1959), these are seen as Hitch’s most famous works. The Birds takes on a Horror like genre, with a blonde female wondering into a small, unknown town. A typical start to a horror film, however the story also takes on a comedic value, by the birds being the danger, it seems unlikely, thus humorous.

The film begins with a meet-cute of Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) they meet at a pet shop, that includes a cameo of Hitchcock at the start of this scene walking two of his dogs out of the pet shop. Their meeting is how the narrative unfolds as it is based on Mitch’s family at Bodega Bay. Mitch is a lawyer and Melanie is a wealthy San Francisco socialite who pursues Mitch to small town in California in Bodega Bay. The film starts out normal and quiet in a small town, the film however takes a bizarre turn when birds of all breeds begin to attack people, they slowly increase in numbers becoming more vicious. A seagull even attacks Melanie, foreboding to the future disaster. The attacks slowly increase as Lydia, Mitch’s mother finds her neighbour dead, attacked by birds.

The most famous scene in the film is when the birds attack the town in hundred and thousands causing mass panic. The main panic and scare to the film is that there is no explanation for why the birds are attacking, no way to stop them from continuing their vicious attack on children at schools and people out of houses. Survival becomes the films main narrative motivation for the characters. While filming these vicious scenes, Tippi was actually cut on the face by a bird; Hitchcock used real birds for many of the shots. He had many techniques for getting the birds to perform such as whisky. The first scene where the birds truly ‘attack’ is at Mitch’s sister’s birthday party. The birds swoop down and attack. Hitchcock uses medium shots with the birds flying in and out of shot to create the feeling of being stuck in place, attacked by birds.

Tippi and Rod give a convincing performance, selling the idea of being attacked by birds. The only thing that gives it away is the bird’s overlay on the footage. The special effects to make the film appear to have more birds appear on the screen makes the birds seem less realistic, however when this was filmed I’m sure it was more believable. CGI now is far more advanced then it used to be. The single shots with only a few birds attacking such as at the birthday party or Melanie’s attack scenes are more believable then the swallows coming down the chimney. The films performance though impressive with Tippi and Rod, the mother Lydia Brenner played by Jessica Tandy, is less impressive. The scene where she finds her neighbour attacked, mutilated and killed by birds. She runs and drives away, her performance in this scene is less then convincing, it is almost over dramatic making it seem more melodramatic then cinematic. This occurs numerous times in the film such as the school and towns. The actor’s movements and reactions are more melodramatic, given the nature of birds attacking, being slightly unbelievable, the acting needed to be more realistic to pull off the concept.

The scene were the children get attacked by birds at the school is a montage of long shots showing them all running into town, low angle showing the birds flying and close ups of the birds attacking the children’s faces. The violence, and action scenes are contrasted by moments between them with quiet conversation trying to understand the idiocy of birds attacking, the realisation that the birds overpopulate the people. A scene in the local café shows different towns people discussing the possibility of a bird war, conspiracy theory’s, nature specialists, religious and drunks all trying to understand what is happening.

My favourite shot in the film, is a high angle shot from the point of view of a seagull, flying to attack, rallying their forces, overlooking the town and all the people they try to injure. The scene allows for a re-establishing shot of the town when under attack, allowing what to happen to sink in, ‘why are they doing this?’ this is another theme that motivates the film, the uncertainty of what is happening. This works to make the film more realistic, having a reason would make it less understandable. The air of mystery helps to make the film more engaging for the audience.

There is no musical score in the film, although Hitchcock did have Bernard Herrmann consult on the diegetic sounds that were present. It was Bernard Herrmann’s idea to not have music, possibly to make the film more realistic. However the lack of music makes the audience more sensitive to the sounds they do hear, making the birds shrieks more severe. Robert Burks did the films cinematography with Hitch’s input. The movement of the birds was a struggle to film because the wings caused excessive fringing; this could be why they look unrealistic in the film. The movie uses 370 feature effect shots, the final scene is a composite 32 separately filmed shots that are edited together. It is the scene where Tippi Hedren is attacked by birds in the attic. To get the effect of the birds attacking Melanie, Hitchcock had them attached to her clothed by long nylon threads so they could not get away. This level of acting the Tippi preforms in this scene is truly convincing it is a touching scene where she sacrifices her self, truly believing she is the cause of the birds attacking.

This is an important scene in the film however the most interested aspect of the film is its ending. Hitchcock did not want the film to end with the usual style, ‘the end’, he wanted to give the impression of unending terror, this is why the film was left on a cliff-hanger, allowing the audience to make up their own ending. This is a vital theme of the film; the terror and unknown motifs explored throughout, with the attacks, the number of birds and the concluded ending. Overall I find the film to be unrealistic and goofy however the performances help pull the film off. I suggest the film is definitely worth watching because of the techniques and acting as well as it being a Hitchcock film.
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