The Birds – Previewed

Adam Scovell previews The Birds, one of Hitchcock’s most enigmatic offerings…

Alfred Hitchcock’s later films tipped the pendulum more into the genre of horror than the rest of his works.  The likes of Psycho (along with Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom) pre-empted the slasher genre while Frenzy took on the grisly murder mystery before the Giallo movement came a few years later in Italy.

His 1963 adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds was the closest he ever came to making a monster picture, though it seems typical of Hitchcock not to find his monster in something large and grotesque but in something every day, beautiful and metaphorical.

Melanie Daniels is a saleswoman in a San Francisco pet shop who has a reputation as a socialite, being the daughter of a wealthy newspaper man. On seeing boyfriend potential in a customer called Mitch Brenner, she follows him to his small town house with an ulterior motive: bringing him a pair of Lovebirds. The Birds isn’t as straightforward a film as it sounds.

In some ways it’s almost like a piece of absurdist cinema where a group of well rounded and believable characters stumble upon a set of increasingly odd, dangerous and unexplained events that happen more for metaphorical than narrative purposes. In this case, an ornithological apocalypse with no escape or solution.

On riding a boat over to Mitch’s house on a separate island, Melanie is attacked by a Gull, hinting at the chaos that is about to unfold. There’s something oddly paranormal about the events that follow. There’s no real explanation, no event such as a radiation leak, black magic or something crass to explain the increasingly violent attacks of the birds.

The only real connection seems to be a parallel between Melanie and Mitch’s increasingly close relationship, perhaps hinting that the rage of the birds actually represents Melanie’s (perceived or projected) guilt at her behaviour.

The imagery of attacking birds of all shapes and sizes have become some of the most iconic set pieces in the whole of cinema. In particular, the second attack where smaller and more colourful birds (said to be sparrows) flood out of a fireplace into a room attacking the viewer both visually and aurally, with the sounds of beating wings and bird call being far more unnerving than a traditional soundtrack.

The Crow’s attack on the school children is also a beautifully composed image, especially as they cheekily wait and gather, plotting, on the school’s climbing frames with unnerving, methodical intentions.

Tippi Hendren is splendid in her debut role, but her casting also presents an interesting side to Hitchcock that has only recently been addressed. His obsession with blonde women is well documented and Hendren has been quite public about how her relationship with Hitchcock was fraught with clashes and control.

It’s interesting to see the similarities between her, Janet Leigh and Kim Novak; actresses that not only look and sound quite similar but are made even to dress in a similar manner. Rod Taylor is also well cast as Mitch, adding further to his catalogue of heroic male characters, though seems atypical to Hitchcock’s usually flawed male characters.

After scenes of a final attack on Melanie, it seems that the mood is apprehensive, one of quiet dramatics and a place for sombre thought on what the viewer has just seen. Of course this preview won’t give away the ending but suffice to say, it’s one of Hitchcock’s bleakest and most ambiguous conclusions.

However, this is a film that makes the most of its potent visuals. No doubt the spectacle of being flooded with ravenous birds will be an immersive and exciting experience, as the screen drowns the viewer in a never ending flow of feathered fiends.

Adam Scovell

The Birds screens Sunday 6pm @ FACT

Posted on 28/09/2012 by thedoublenegative