Monday, 3 February 2014

The Birds (1963)

Fig 1
The Birds is, put simply, a fascinating blend of Hitchcock-ian experimentation and visual effects galore, which culminates into a survival-horror story about love, family and overall, misogyny. After meeting the suspiciously suave Mitch Brenner in a California pet shot, Melanie Daniels takes a trip to Bodega Bay in pursuit of his home address in order to flirtatiously deliver a pair of Love Birds he had requested for his sister’s birthday. With the first convoluted act now over, the story follows Melanie and the Brenner family fighting for survival against seemingly random bird attacks, which miraculously brings them all closer together with scant concern for the intruding presence of Miss Daniels in their small town mentality.

A surprisingly well-regimented aspect of the film came from its use of special effects. “Al Whitlock’s matte painting of an aerial view of Bodega Bay was composited with live action footage of a gasoline fire filmed on a newly asphalted parking lot at Universal. To add gulls swooping into the frame, Whitlock had gulls filmed from atop the cliffs of Santa Cruz Island, then rotoscoped them one by one into the shot.” (Counts/Rubin, 1980) The mastery of layering particular shots over matte paintings truly served the film well, with most of the attack scenes looking polished and convincing for such an era unbeknown to grand cinematic visuals. A clear amount of focus was placed on creating both a realistic and violent atmosphere (see Fig 2), whether the Aves were animatronic, puppets or trained from birth, everything seems to roll without a ‘Hitch’.
Fig 2
The Birds shares more similarities with modern horror than it does with other Hitchcock classics, which on one hand shows the directors’ diversity and artistic integrity, but on the other shows just how important the story must be. “Where the scenario and picture slip is in the sphere of the human element. An unnecessary elaborate romantic plot has been cooked up and then left suspended.” (Staff, 1962) The story is arguably one that, had it been released under a different name, might not have reached the heights of its status today. Though the characters are perfectly well-rounded for the most part, the audience is given little or no reason to care about their fate, particularly with Mitch Brenner present as the dominant male of Bodega Bay (see Fig 3).

Fig 3
One of the most impressive feats that The Birds has to offer is its ability to captivate an audience without the aid of a musical score. “The croaks and cries of the birds that punctuate the latter part of the film were created on a machine under the supervision of Hitchcock, who, together with Herrmann, spent a month in West Berlin working on the picture’s unique soundscape.” (Kaplan, 2011) The sense of immersion in the film is somewhat heightened by its lack of music, particularly within the opening titles, in which we are placed directly within a swarm of manic crows, with only their cries to fill the silence. The only scene underneath which there is even a hint of melody includes our leading lady sat unknowingly outside a school of singing children as crows gradually hoard the playground behind her, one of the greatest uses of tension building in the film (see Fig 4).

Fig 4

Though The Birds has little to offer in the way of storytelling, it makes up for its lack of focus with memorable characters and dramatic effects, making the film exceptionally unique among the generic horror films that preceded  it.



Kaplan, G. (2011) The Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann (Accessed on 03/02/14)

Staff, V. (1962) Review: 'The Birds' (Accessed on 03/02/14)

Counts, K. B. & Rubin, S. (1980) The Making of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (Accessed on 03/02/14)


Fig 1. The Birds Poster (1963) From: The Birds - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock (Accessed on 03/02/14)

Fig 2. The Birds Screenshot (1963) From: The Birds - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock (Accessed on 03/02/14)

Fig 3. The Birds Screenshot (1963) From: The Birds - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock (Accessed on 03/02/14)

Fig 4. The Birds Screenshot (1963) From: The Birds - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock (Accessed on 03/02/14)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Josh,
    Again, a well-considered review :) Particularly enjoyed your thoughts on the use of the special effects.
    Just remember to organise your bibliography alphabetically next time, by author's surname...