Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Birds (1963) Performance September 19, 2012

Thanks to Fathom Events and TCM, Carlos and I went to go see The Birds (1963) last night at our local AMC theater. 

I hate to admit it but I've been avoiding watching The Birds for years. None of Alfred Hitchcock's post Psycho (1960) films appeal to me and I usually stay in the safe territory of his 1940s and 1950s masterpieces. The idea of a movie about flocks of birds attacking a pretty blonde woman just didn't entice me. However, in the past few years I've become more and more open-minded to watching things I've avoided in the past. In doing so, I have discovered new favorites. So when the opportunity to see The Birds (1963) on the big screen came along, I was pretty excited and jumped on the chance to see it.

The film started with some TCM promos and some trivia questions. I think these kind of screenings benefit everybody. It gets folks into theaters during the middle of the week, a dead time for most movie theaters. It gives TCM an opportunity to promote their brand and products. And it also gives classic movie fans, especially ones who don't have access to repertory houses which screen old movies, a chance to watch some of our favorite classics on the big screen. It's a win-win-win situation all around and I hope this continues.

Before the screening, we got to see an introduction to the film by Robert Osborne, an interview between Robert Osborne and Tippi Hedren from the last Turner Classic Movies Film Festival and archival interviews of Rod Taylor (from 1995) and Suzanne Pleshette (from 2003). We got to learn about how Alfred Hitchcock picked Tippi Hedren from an advertisement and had Universal court her for a movie. She became part of Hitchcock's entourage but it would be a couple years before he gave her a movie. Her very first one was The Birds. I love that she credits Jessica Tandy for inspiring her to play a more sympathetic character. And I thought it was very neat that Tippi wore the bird pin that Hitchcock gave her when he cast her in The Birds. Hitchcock seemed to be such an interesting but odd person. He tended to be possessive of his blonde starlets and collected them over the years. As Osborne said in the intro, each actor had a different experience with the director. Some good, some bad, some mixed. Hitchcock never treated one person the same as the next.

There is nothing new I can say about The Birds and I came to it with hardly any knowledge of the film. So I will just share my reactions. I wasn't too crazy about the movie but there were things I really enjoyed. The lack of music added a creepiness to the film which I thought was very effective. The bird noises were quite overwhelming. Carlos and I both found ourselves with our fingers in our ears at different points. You are supposed to be disturbed by the film so I found that to be effective as well. There is no musical soundtrack however Bernard Herrmann is listed as Sound Director. The only music really is the song you hear the girls singing in the Bodega Bay School.

The performances were so-so. I don't think anyone was spectacular and I thought Tippi Hedren's performance was just awful. I realize that she was a model and this was her first role so I give her some benefit of the doubt. It didn't help that I disliked her character Melanie Daniels and found no sympathy for her either.

The setting was amazing. Bodega Bay was quite a perfect choice. A big expansive space but still isolated and small. Edith Head was Tippi Hedren's costume designer but Tippi only wears one outfit the entire time.

The ending was very abrupt. All of a sudden we saw the Universal Pictures sign and that was it. We kept waiting for more. I knew that was Hitchcock's touch but we didn't even get to see the lights turn on because it's a satellite fed screening and there was no one there to oversee it.

Leaving the movie I kept asking myself lots of questions. Why did the birds attack the people of Bodega Bay? What was the purpose of them doing that? Was it an anti-feminist message? Was Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) and her romantic pursuit of Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) too much of a reversal of the sexes? Was she being punished for "acting like the man"? Was she being cursed? Was she a witch? Was it the ghost of Mr. Brenner who caused this? Was it a coincidence that she arrived at Bodega Bay right around the time the birds went crazy? How did they collect all those birds? Why did Melanie open that last door to the attic? Why did Fathom Events and TCM use a lot of blue in the promo image when the movie was clearly green? Why did my stomach keep making noises during the showing? WHY?!

Overall, it was a good experience. About 25 people showed up to the screening and no one laughed! And I'm looking forward to more Fathom Events and TCM screenings to come. 

Update: One of my giveaway winners Jena pointed out to me this trailer for an upcoming movie about the making of The Birds (1963). It focuses on the strange relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren. Tippi Hedren is played by Sienna Miller and Hitchcock by Toby Jones. I had seen some publicity photos online but wasn't sure what it was for. Watch the teaser trailer below:


  1. I'm so glad to know it wasn't just our screening where the lights didn't come on after the movie ended! I felt so badly for the older people in the audience who couldn't see to leave safely.

    Quite enjoyed reading your take from a first time viewer, particularly your questions. I think because I saw this movie first when I was young, I never really asked any questions. I always assumed it's a coincidence she appears in Bodega Bay right then, that the birds are attacking for no reason humans will ever understand. The movie is designed to spook, and I think the unknown and unexplainable is always creepier than something with a meaning. I'll post on my viewing later today!

  2. My wife and I attended the screening of The Birds last night in Destin, Florida. It was probably within twenty seats of being a full house, very respectable ticket sales for a Wednesday night. Everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy the movie, I certainly did.
    No lights at the end of the movie here either.

  3. No lights in Chicago either. It was the same with "Casablanca." However, I really enjoyed the film, as did the audience. I thought Hedren's performance was remarkable, especially considering it was her first film. Plenty of Hitchcock touches, including the great point of view shot: Melanie Daniels walking along the dock to the Brenner house is a fav.

  4. Almost full house in Milford CT also.

  5. I enjoyed reading about your experience! I would have loved to go -- THE BIRDS is on my list of "10 Classics" to finally catch up with this year! -- but I needed a bit more recovery time from my recent surgery before I get back to my movie-going routine, so instead I'll probably catch it on DVD later in the year.

    I did chance to see the first half hour of the film a couple years ago and was struck at that time that all that seemed to happen in the first half hour was people (mostly Tippi Hedren) walking, driving, and boating, LOL. It didn't grab me at the time but I'm hoping I'll get into it more when I sit down to watch the entire thing. I'll have to keep your questions in mind as I watch! :)

    On the plus side I like Rod Taylor and Veronica Cartwright, who plays the little sister and was in my childhood favorite TV series DANIEL BOONE, playing Fess Parker's daughter.

    Did the print look good at your theater? That's seemed to vary by theater at previous TCM screenings. I do hope the program of one-night screenings works out long term for the reasons you state.

    Best wishes,

  6. I remembered seeing The Birds for the first time when I was a young girl and it scared the daylights out of me, had nightmares that the birds were pecking my eyes out. So I avoided watching it again up until a couple of years ago when I caught it airing on TCM and decided it was time to rewatch it. There was nearly 40 years between my viewings and the second did not leave me scared like the first, only full of questions like yourself. That being said, I bet it was still amazing to experience it on the big screen.

  7. I really enjoyed reading your post. I have a dvd copy of The Birds but have only watched a couple of times as it is really creepy. I am currently reading "Spellbound by Beauty" which explores the relationships and interactions between Hitchcock and his leading ladies. It is very interesting. One thing with the Birds for me, is that Tippi is basically stalking Rod Taylor in a very aggressive way, which I found creepy. Especially breaking in the house to deliver the love birds which she thinks is a prank.

  8. the Birds was the first hitchcock film i ever saw. i couldnt have been more than 12 or so. so it has a special place in my classic film heart and i think holds up very well despite its shortcomings. Tippi is def "green" (no pun intended towards her awful main outfit, ugh) but i like her performance (but she does much better work in "marnie" imo). flaws aside i love it and it's still one creepy scary flick. love that eerie "score", musta been great in the theater! my thoughts on the ending and the questions that arise is that there is no answer and no reason for the birds sudden change in behavior, or at least mankind will never know nor have time to find out because it is about to embark on a massive battle with nature that it probably will not win. apparently Hitch had an idea for the final shot to be them driving towards San Francsico and showing the golden gate bridge covered with birds, but he opted for the more ambiguous ending and i think artistically made the right choice (he usually did, lol!) nice post Quele :D

  9. Great post. Love that film. Never get sick of watching. Tippi is captivating in it.


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