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Monday, March 1, 2010

The Birds

    So I hadn't watched "The Birds" in a while.  Now granted, I've seen it way too many times to count, as it's one of my favorite movies.  But the mood struck me so hard recently that I decided to blow the dust off and pop the DVD in the other day.  I don't think I can even begin to explain my love for "The Birds".  Really.  This movie works on so many levels it's hard to know where to start.  First of all, I guess, is the premise.  Thousands of birds inexplicably turn against man.  Sound silly?  In a way, yes it is.  But therein lies the horror of it.  We have co-existed peacefully with birds for millions of years, and the chance of it ever happening is slim.   We take birds for granted in our everyday lives- when they suddenly become malicious towards us, it's quite a shock.  Even more disturbing is the fact that we're never given any sort of reason for the birds attacking- nothing.

     When Melanie Daniels (memorably played by Tippi Hedren), arrives in the small, sleepy town of Bodega Bay, California, the birds just suddenly and without warning attack.  Does it have something to do with her arrival?  Or more chillingly, did the birds just decide to attack?  It's a fascinating theory, and not a very comforting one.  Hitchcock wisely leaves it up to us and our imagination...  As mentioned in the movie, if this were to ever take place, we honestly wouldn't stand a chance.  Earth supposedly contains over 100 billion birds.  I've owned a bird, and trust me, they can inflict damage- just one little bird.  Imagine hundreds of birds attacking you... That's some scary shit.

     "The Birds" starts off almost as if you're watching a Doris Day movie.  Tippi Hedren's banter with Rod Taylor in a pet shop is something straight out of "Pillow Talk". This goes on for about 45 minutes, then Hitchcock suddenly sweeps the rug out from underneath us.  When the first bird attack finally does occur, it's an impressively scary left turn into uncharted territory.  By then, all we can do is sit back and watch in horror as the bird attacks get larger and more terrifying.  What's so chilling about "The Birds" is that from the opening scene, we actually see the birds amassing in the background, getting ready to strike- we just don't know when.  And this goes on for quite a while.

     There's a reason why Alfred Hitchcock is called "The Master of Suspense".  Hitchcock builds almost excruciating suspense because unlike the characters, we know the birds are getting ready to attack.  There are many stand-out scenes of horror in "The Birds"- the "jungle gym" scene pictured above, and the "flashlight" scene with Tippi near the end come to mind. The last 30 minutes of the movie is pure and unparalled terror- Hitchcock really outdoes himself in that last attack on the farmhouse- there's an amazing and terrifying sense of madness unleashed as thousands of birds mercilessly attack the boarded up house.

     It's been said that this movie inspired George A. Romero to create "Night of the Living Dead", and it's easy to see how.  A group of people trapped in a farmhouse against a nightmarish freak of nature...  Perhaps the most disturbing thing about "The Birds" is the score- there is none.  Instead of music, Hitchcock opts for the chilling sound of silence to create atmosphere.  Mixed with the bird noises, it makes for a super creepy effect and actually heightens the suspense.  It's a brilliantly done movie, and actually hard to believe that it was released in 1963.  It holds up remarkably well today.  The special effects are still impressive- today it would be CGI overload.  This is probably the greatest of all "nature run amok" movies- perhaps only "JAWS" equals it for sheer impact.  "The Birds" is a fabulous study in film-making- the directing, editing, sound are all top notch.

     "The Birds" is still as fresh and inventive as some movies today- in fact, I shudder to think of the remake.  It would be challenging to pull off the claustrophobia, the fear of the unknown, the slow and sure building of suspense that Alfred Hitchcock accomplished so well with the original.  "The Birds", along with "Psycho" and "Frenzy", are definitely Hitchcock's darkest hours on celluloid.   They certainly don't make movies like this anymore, which is what makes "The Birds" so enjoyable.  It's one of Alfred Hitchcock's last masterpieces.   Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor make a memorable duo, and we're also treated to three fabulous supporting actors- Susanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy, and Veronica Cartwright in her first role.  This is classic stuff all the way.

Below is a fabulous modernized trailer for this classic film.

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