the birds

I first saw Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller The Birds when I was a kid, maybe ten or eleven. It scared the piss out of me. Granted, this one isn't all that frightening... but if I'm a wuss nowadays when it comes to scary movies (and I am), I was a bonafide fraidy-cat at the tender age of eleven. Of course, back then I couldn't really articulate what was so terrifying; I just knew that Hitchcock turned me into a quivering pile of gelatinous goo. Thankfully, it did get easier (and even a bit funny) after repeat viewings.

I had the chance to see this classic again last night, thanks to the magic of TCM, and I took the opportunity to try to figure out what's so dang freaky about The Birds. My thoughts:

  1. There's no music.
    Alfred Hitchcock's movies (notably Psycho) are famous for their terrifying scores. The grating, dischordant strains of music are a huge element of the fear we experience during these movies. The Birds, by contrast, is shockingly silent. I first noticed this in the scene where we first see a man pecked to death... It's totally quiet, and Hitchcock just uses a triple-zoom-in to make it super-scary. Even during the attack scenes, all we hear are the otherwordly squawks of the birds-gone-wild. I may have missed some opening bits of score... but the only music I heard was the creepy song the kids in the schoolhouse sing as the birds amass on the jungle gym.

  2. It's not just about the attacks; it's also about the reactions.
    Hitchcock was always really good at exploring the creepy psychological motivations of his characters. That's really evident in Vertigo, Marnie (which I just saw last night for the first time), and of course Psycho. Even in The Birds, where the menace is more tangible, the really freaky thing is peoples' reactions to the crisis. One woman in a cafe screeches, "You're eeeevillll!!!" at Tippi Hedren; Jessica Tandy rushes home and takes to her bed without saying a word after seeing a friend's eyes pecked out; Tippi Hedren screams and claws at imaginary winged assailants after a particularly bad attack is over. The reactions of the characters are almost as scary as thousands of crazed sparrows coming down the chimney. I said almost.

  3. Everyone looks right into the camera.
    In the really intense scenes, whenever someone's screaming, it seems like they're making direct eye contact with the camera. And everyone seems to have really piercing blue eyes. (I saw the color version.) The bloody guy outside the phone booth, the lady who thinks Tippi's evil, and of course Tippi herself, all look directly into the camera in the midst of their terror. Even the birds fly directly into the camera in the final attack scene, when Tippi gets mauled in the upstairs bedroom.

So maybe now I understand it a bit better... and of course I love Alfred Hitchcock. He's a master. But I have to admit I still squirmed a bit last night.

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6 Response to "the birds"

  1. Chris Phoenix says:
    April 2, 2008 at 4:40 PM

    The scariest part of the movie was that song the school children sing. It stays with you and haunts you mercilessly.

  2. Nayana Anthony says:
    April 3, 2008 at 10:51 AM

    Yeah... it's actually going through my head right now, now, now. Ick.

  3. Dad Says:
    April 5, 2008 at 9:31 AM

    Four year old Nayana snuggles tight and whimpers "daddy, this movie is very strange to me"

  4. Nayana Anthony says:
    April 7, 2008 at 11:07 AM

    Dad, you're funny. But...

    (1) I was five.
    (2) That was Enemy Mine.
    (3) Monsters coming out of the ground are strange, I don't care how old you are.

    I love you!

  5. Lee says:
    April 7, 2008 at 11:31 AM

    Being a Hitchcock fan, have you seen this?

    Pretty cool and frustrating when you think about what could have been.


  6. Evan Derrick says:
    April 9, 2008 at 10:53 AM

    Every time I'm outside and there is an enormous flock of birds sitting in the trees or on the powerlines, I think to myself, "Hitchcock sure was onto something." Masses of swirling black avians are just creepy.

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