Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Cutting Edges: "The Birds" (1963) Film Review


Fig 1: Film poster


Three years after the success of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) came his next gripping feature “The Birds” (1963), which was based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, released in 1952.

Much like “Psycho”, “The Birds” begins with a tale that leads the viewer to believe the plot is heading in direction, but halfway through, takes a twisted turn towards something completely different. Starting off as a screwball comedy, the audience is presented to Melanie Daniels (See Fig 3) who plays a practical joke on love interest, Mitch Brenner (Fig 2), within a pet shop. Bosley Crowther analyses Hitchcocks way of creating two divided storylines: “Notice how clear and naturalistic the narrative elements are: a plausible confrontation, beautiful scenery, a literal enactment of a playful intrigue – all very nicely arranged. Then, sneakily, Mr.Hitchcock tweaks us with a tentative touch of the bizarre [...] A seagull attacks the young woman. Flocks of angry gulls whirl in the air. A swarm of sparrows swoops down a chimney and whirrs madly through a living room.” (Crowther, 1963) 

Fig 2: In the shop

More notably, Melanie is portrayed as a very confident and independent woman at the beginning of the film. Dressed smartly, playing jokes on Mitch and making it her goal to give Cathy two love birds on her own. By the end, she is a skeleton of her former self; traumatized, in need of comfort, hurt and in a panicked state of mind after the heaving attacks of the birds. 

Fig 3: Mitch and Melanie

What can also be seen is that when Melanie and Mitch are in the pet shop, numerous birds are perched in small cages; imprisoned, watching the humans interact. The first display of panic is set with one bird escaping and frantically flying around the store. This single bird echoes the actions of the near future events, when flocks of birds will do the same thing, but attack humans at the same time. Hitchcock greatly takes a harmless animal and turns into something to be feared: “Making a terrifying menace out of what is assumed to be one of nature’s most innocent creatures and one of man’s most melodious friends”  (Crowther,  1963). In addition, the attacking birds took a generous amount of effort to pull off: “The bird-attack sequences are tremendously complex (the movie contains more than 370 trick shots” (Sooke, 2015). 

Fig 4: The birds attack the school

As well as the emerging fear of when the birds will attack, there is a strong presence of jealousy between the three female characters: Melanie, Annie (Mitch’s former love interest) and Mitch's mother, Lydia (Fig 6). Firstly as Lydia meets Melanie, straight away there is jealousy from the way she stares at her; Lydia becomes increasingly overprotective of her son. After meeting Annie, Melanie learns that she was once a love interest of Mitch’s, and jealousy silently spills out of Annie as she realises Melanie is now with him (Annie also admits that she purposely is living near Mitch to always in a way be close to him.) In the words of Alistair Sooke however, “What woman wouldn’t feel threatened if Melanie arrived in town?” (Sooke, 2015), as explored earlier, her beauty and confident demeanor would intimidate many. 

An interesting theory of the birds is explained by Sooke; “Hitchcock makes the malevolent birds seem like manifestations of his characters mental unease – especially that of Mitch’s mother and his former lover, Annie, now a local schoolteacher”. (Sooke,2015).

Fig 5: Resting crows

The scene in which a seagull flies into Melanie’s head while she rides a boat is the first way the characters sense something is off. Next, as Melanie stays at Annie's, they hear a thud on the door assuming its a person, but as they open the door, a dead seagull lays gruesomely on the floor, obvious it was killed by the impact. Next, a spine chilling scene of a tenant is shown with many open wounds and a haunting expression with his eyeballs missing and the holes a black bloody void of darkness  - Hitchcock throws this shocking scene into the viewers sights to remind them this is not a screwball comedic film after all. Afterwards, swarms of sparrows pour into Lydia's home and they all escape. Strangely, as Melanie visits Cathy at school, a herd of crows perch in the playground, seemingly calm, not attacking her, almost ignoring her. There is no explanation as to why the birds take, what seems to be a moment of rest and no worries of the humans around them, but then turn into aggressive killing machines. 

Fig 6: A shell of who she was

Undoubtedly another distinctively suspenseful film with the route of the plot taking two directions, "The Birds" pulls the viewer into a bizarre realm that will make you fear birds after the credits roll. 

Bibliography 

Crowther, B. (1963) nytimes.com (Accessed on 26/01/2016) http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9D05E7D9143CEF3BBC4953DFB2668388679EDE 
Tatara, P. (1998) cnn.com (Accessed on 26/01/2016) http://edition.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Movies/9808/18/review.the.birds/

Illustration List
 
Fig 2: " In the shop" (Accessed on 26/01/2016) http://91.207.61.14/m/uploads/v_p_images/1963/01/1002_0_screenshot.png
Fig 3: " Mitch and Melanie" (Accessed on 26/01/2016) http://derekwinnert.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/7.png
Fig 4: " The birds attack the school" (Accessed on 26/01/2016) http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-JXbQqicIEWo/TVliMLVKlMI/AAAAAAAAA58/e1npHwNHGEA/s1600/birds23.4.jpg
Fig 6: " A shell of who she was" (Accessed on 26/01/2016) http://images.static-bluray.com/reviews/6912_5.jpg

5 comments:

  1. Another quality review, Mannish :)

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    Replies
    1. sorry - *Manisha* - that's the bloody autocorrect on here! :(

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    2. No worries, & I quite like the nickname! ;)

      Delete
  2. Excellent! And a worthwhile choice of supporting quotes :)

    ReplyDelete