Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Birds (1963) Film Review

Fig 1: 'The Birds' (1963) poster
The film 'The Birds' (1963) is a disaster movie focused upon man versus environment, with the native birds of america becoming carnivorous and hungry for human flesh. The story begins with a independent and headstrong female protagonist, Melanie Daniels, who pursues a male lawyer from San Francisco to a small rural town after he plays a trick on her. Determined to get her own back she decides to purchase a present for his little sister, which was mentioned in passing, and surprise him, approaching and delivering the gift unseen with use of a boat. This all goes according to plan until a seagull ambushes her as she docks and acts as a clear prelude to the horrific scenes to follow.

"Though it lacks the psychological depth of Hitchcock's greatest works, it's characterised by a nightmarish simplicity." (Glasby 2013)

The films plot is in itself relatively simple, playing host to the core idea of something mundane or unrecognised taking revenge against the human populace, killing men, women and children indiscriminately. The comment above from Glasby points out this simplicity but does not punish the film for it, instead celebrating this "nightmarish simplicity" and in some form applauding Hitchcock's use of horrific elements as an overall base for the film, features that would have been ghastly to a 1960s audience with scenes of corpses, death and terror quite prominent, as well as the town's complete transformation into a hell hole, marked by the exploding cars and descent of masses of winged flesh eaters, among the most memorable.

Fig 2: Bird's eye view of Bodega Bay in 'Birds' (1963).
Hitchcock playfully experiments with new and established cinematic techniques throughout 'The Birds'.

"Genuinely disturbing thriller classic from the master of suspense." ( Newman 2007)

The camera techniques throughout this terrifying ordeal make use of and even create the frightening energy placed around the flying flesh eaters, using classic Hitchcock suspense techniques and then current film techniques, such as the bird's eye view of the town above, to establish these emotions of fear. One of the films most prominent shots features crows gathering slowly onto a climbing frame behind the main protagonist, Hitchcock heightens his audiences emotions by simply teasing the climbing frame but three times with long intervals of watching Melanie elongating the moment. The emotional reaction from these shots creates a feeling of anguish with the audience, wanting the protagonist to see the silent but very real terror massing before our eyes but unable to warn her of it. The sequence is of a traditional Hitchcock cinematic shot lineage but the simple experimentation with timing and teasing the frame creates a new and incredibly successful cinematic technique that pulls the audience to the very edges of their seats. Other shots within the film mirror this experimental nature, all stemming from original and established techniques but played with in order to create an altogether improved nail biting experience.

Fig 3: Crow climbing frame in 'The Birds'

The film is a very opaque and grisly visual representation of Hitchcock's cinematic style. 

"vicious unpredictability and moral and emotional disorder on the one hand, and rigorous stylistic control and formal organization, on the other." (Goldsmith 2012)

This signature cinematic style, unique to Hitchcock's films, is very much explained simply by Goldsmith above. His "vicious unpredictability" is represented in 'The Birds' by his character's sometimes melodramatic and overly grandiose actions and emotions, vicious in their own right by leaving the audience confused but attached to the story. This can be seen very quickly with the first scene, contained within the pet shop. The actions of Melanie and Mitch are so very loud and opaquely highlights these two as protagonist's for the tale, with the trick Mitch plays on Melanie both very quick and uncalled for in the eyes of the audience; sentiments echoed in hers as well, with Melanie pursuing Mitch to his home town to give a pair of birds as presents to his sister. These exaggerated actions may be over the top and completely strange, but they do not distract you from the story and instead strengthen it and the audiences expectation of a budding relationship between the two. His style's "rigorous stylistic control" is then illustrated through the films prelude to the bird threat. Mitch's mother, Lydia, discovers a man dead in his own bedroom when making a house call and Hitchcock's visually narrative style plays perfectly throughout the exploration of the quiet house, providing tension and foreboding with each shot; emotions which peak during a long one point perspective hallway shot and bursting upon the body's revelation. These, and many other scenes within the film allow the audience to see Hitchcock's experience and mastery of cinematic expression at play and almost perfect harmony with the simplistic storyline and equally simple character's.

List of Illustrations

Fig 1: 'The Birds' (1963) poster [Poster] At: http://www.brightsideofnews.com/Data/2011_6_2/Angry-Birds-to-Fly-Into-Your-TV/Alfred_Hitchcock_The%20Birds%20Poster_450.jpg

Fig 2: Bird's eye view of Bodega Bay in 'The Birds' (1963). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. [Film Still] America: Universal Pictures. At: http://www.freewebs.com/roho911/The%20Birds%2010.jpg (Accessed 04/02/2014)

Fig 3: Crow climbing frame in 'The Birds' (1963). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. [Film Still] America: Universal Pictures. At: http://americanfilm.afi.com/cms_uploads/AF_Mar_exclusive_bg1.jpg
(Accessed 04/02/2014)


Glasby, Matt (2013) At: http://www.totalfilm.com/reviews/blu-ray/the-birds-50th-anniversary-edition [Online Review] (Accessed 04/02/2014)

Goldsmith, Leo (2012) At: http://www.notcoming.com/reviews/the-birds/ [Online Review] (Accessed 04/02/2014)

Newman, Kim (2007) At: http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/review.asp?FID=16934 [Online Review] (Accessed 04/02/2014)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kyle,

    Just a couple of points here - I'm not sure what you are meaning by your use of 'opaque' here - 'The actions of Melanie and Mitch are so very loud and opaquely highlights these two as protagonist's for the tale' ?
    Also, similiarly to the 'Jaws' review, the use of sound (or lack of it in this case) would have been worthy of a little discussion; whereas 'Jaws' uses the musical score to create atmosphere and fear, Hitchcock in 'The Birds' uses naturalistic sounds to immerse the viewer....