Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds

Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock | Source
Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) and Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren)
Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) and Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) | Source


Alfred Hitchcock has long been considered one of the great innovators of cinema. His attention to detail, his use of misdirection, his unapologetic love of suspense and his cutting edge (at the time) technology and special effects are all reasons why many of his films endure today, even though the man himself has been dead for over thirty years now. Having started in the film industry in silent films, it is no big surprise to see how he puts vast import on every detail and on every image the eyes will see during his films.

The Birds is a tremendous cinematic achievement and my favorite Hitchcock film.

Viewed through the lens of modern technology and film making, the Birds could be viewed as cheesy and not too scary. The birds are obviously fake as is the blood. At times the horror of the victims in the Birds is more comical than horrific. At the time of its release, however if must have been utterly horrifying for the viewers. My dad confirms this as he says the film terrified him as a child and he has never viewed seagulls the same way again.

During this early scene in the film, showing a confident Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy)
During this early scene in the film, showing a confident Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy)
Notice Lydia Brenner's terror, as she's trapped in the frame between claustrophobic walls.
Notice Lydia Brenner's terror, as she's trapped in the frame between claustrophobic walls.

So why has the film endured?


Alfred Hitchcock. The way he commands a camera, the way he controls the eye of the viewers of his films is masterful and really attests to his brilliance as a filmmaker.

In this film in particular, there are many scenes where the camera focuses on certain images that seemingly have little to do with the plot. The most notable of these close-ups is the image of the bloody glove of Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), which, like the Extreme Close Up in Psycho , is perhaps the most enduring non bird image in the film.

Rather than focusing on the on one particular image, because that’s been overdone with this and all Hitchock films, I want to focus on the way one character in particular is filmed: Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy).

In the first third of the film, Brenner is an imposing character. She is filmed generally from low angles or at the front the frame, so she dominates the screen. We learn through many characters, and particularly through Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Plechette) that she is indeed a dominant figure in the lives of Cathy (Veronica Cartwright)and Mitch (Rod Taylor). She is consistently filmed like this until she visits the the chicken farmer. Here, upon entering the house we see her vulnerable for the first time.

While she is filmed from a low angle, she is also shown framed by a dark hallway on either side. The camera has trapped her and shown us, the viewer, that there is no escape. The darkness of course adds to the tension but allows us, the viewers, to know that the character doesn’t know what’s going to happen next—she’s in the dark as we are. The vulnerability of the framed character is also powerful and symbolic because after this scene where she discovers the dead body of the chicken farmer, she is filmed from high angles, generally, to show her loss of power and her vulnerability. The camera shots directly reflect the character arc for Lydia Brenner, whom is weak and powerless through the rest of the film.

Source

When Birds Attack:


The Bird attacks in The Birds are a wonder of filmmaking. I would like to focus one attack in particular and that is the attack at the Brenner household towards the end of the film. I would like to focus on this one because it is the most unique of all the attacks in the film. For the other attacks, from the party to the school, Htchcock alternates between wide and hide angles to show the massive amounts of birds attacking and, in turn, the great odds against his characters to close ups showing the birds attacking from the different angles and the horrified looks on the faces of the victims.

In the attack on the Brenner home, Hitchcock uses a totally different mode of, pardon the pun, attack. In this scene, the Birds are not seen en masse, only heard. The attack is shown through the sounds of the birds, through holes being punched through doors and windows and through the looks of terror on the faces of Daniels and the Brenner family. I found this scene to be the most interesting and scary of the attacks because the attackers could not be seen. It’s easier to suspend reality and believe that these birds are attacking this family because they are not scene and I think Hitchcock broke the monotony of the attack scenes and surprised the filmgoers by changing his modus operandi for this scene and I think it worked to spectacular effect. The only bird seen in this scene is the bird that attacks Mitch when he breaks in through the window. All the others are scene only by the effects they cause. Much like the wind, they are invisible, but their effects are not and this is only one more example of Hitchcock’s brilliance.


But Why?

The question I’m having the most trouble answering is the question of why the birds attack in the first place. It’s clear from the dialogue in the film that the attacks did not begin until Melanie Daniels makes her appearance in Bodega Bay which leads me to conclude that she is the conduit.

So, what do we know about her?

We know she is a wealthy socialite; the daughter of a newspaper mogul, we know she doesn’t do much in the way of work, we know that she likes to hang out in bird shops (and has no problem keeping them caged up) and, she wears green throughout the movie. I don’t believe that the green is an accident. Hitchcock filmed her in that color on purpose. Green makes me think of money and greed so perhaps she’s filmed in green because she is greedy and perhaps this greed plays a role in the attacks in the film.

The first attack occurs after Daniels has dropped off the lovebirds at the Brenner house when she is boating back to the dock and staring at Mitch Brenner. It’s a single bird attacking, but it strikes enough to draw blood, which Hitchcock shows in close-up. The next attack occurs at the birthday party, then through the fireplace at the Brenner house a few minutes later. Later, the biggest attack is the attack at the school when the children go outside which is followed by the unseen attack at the Brenner house before the final attack, again of Daniels alone, in the attic of the Brenner home.

The best outside source I can find for the bird attacks is from a site called Commonsense Media, which focuses on rating films for families. According to this site the Birds attack to remind humans to respect animals. I can certainly see this as a possibility, since the movie opens in a bird shop where allt he birds are caged up. Again, visiting Wiki Answers, the answerer of the question as to why the birds attack says that the bird attacks really don’t mean much and that the point of the story is the different relationships of the people involved in the story. This is the explanation I like best and the one I will go with!


Sources cited

The Birds. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Universal, 1963. FILM

Slaton, Joyce. “The Birds.” Commonsense Media.org. Common Sense Media Inc. No date Given. Web. October 9th, 2011

“Why did the Birds Attack in the Movie Birds?” Wikianswers.com. Answers Corporation. NO date given. Web. October 9th, 2011






all rights reserved. Copyright Justin W Price, October 2011

Thanks for Reading.

A FREELANCE WRITER, HONORS STUDENT AND GOVER PRIZE FINALIST, JUSTIN W. PRICE (AKA, PDXKARAOKEGUY)IS A POET, SHORT STORY, BIOGRAPHY AND HUMOR WRITER. HIS POETRY COLLECTION, DIGGING TO CHINA, WAS RELEASED FEBRUARY 2ND, 2013 BY SWEATSHOPPE PUBLICATIONS AND IS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON.COM, BARNES AND NOBLE AND THROUGH YOUR LOCAL BOOKSELLER.

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Comments 44 comments

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

My Minds Eye, that is a great story. Thank you so much for sharing it. You should write a hub about it and let me link to it :-) Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!


My Minds Eye53 profile image

My Minds Eye53 4 years ago from Tennessee

I have watched this movie many times and i have it on DVD. The time I remember watching this movie the most was on an October Sunday and I sister and I had to walk to school the next day. We lived lived on the fringe of town and had to walk up this road "tunneled" by over hanging trees. Being October (near Halloween I might add) the trees were full of hundreds of birds. Normally we were fascinated by this, but that day we raced up that hill as fast as we could to "safety" - lol.

I love this movie - voted up.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Mickey Sr, thanks for stopping by. I actually prefer black and white films. I think black and white is beautiful. Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub and the film!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

editor, lol. You shouldn't expect kids to appreciate greatness... if they did, the jonas brothers and justin bieber would not have careers! Your story had me laughing. Thank you!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

amber, I have not seen Rebecca, but I've heard of it, and heard mixed reviews about it. I will have to check it our though


MickeySr profile image

MickeySr 4 years ago from Hershey, Pa.

amberld ~ I love "Rebecca" - I should say, we love "Rebecca", it's a favorite at our house. It's an excellent film to show to young people to get them interested in classic B&W movies . . . my kids have all watched it (again and again) since they were 10ish.


editorsupremo profile image

editorsupremo 4 years ago from London, England

I also watched this film as a youngester and remember being pretty scared. Recently I took my kids to Trafalgar Square and all of a sudden a flock of pigeons flew upwards, I imediately started gesticulating with my hands swishing them over my head, shouting' the birds, the birds'. Needless to say, my children thought I had gone crazy!! No appreciation of sheer film mastery!


amberld profile image

amberld 4 years ago from New Glarus, WI

I love this movie, thanks for the great hub on Hitchcock. Did you ever see Rebecca? that is a great early one of his that is not as well known.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

ya. it's pretty brilliant. I think it hold sup rather well too


InTuneWithCooking profile image

InTuneWithCooking 4 years ago from Australia

I remember watching this as a young boy, and it freaked me out...what a great movie!!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

daisy, that's your call. it's really actually kinda corny if you look at it now and, of course, Hitchcock is a cinematic genius!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

Justin,

I cannot watch "The Birds." It scares me too much. Even your very well-written review of the movie scares me.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

wd, it's on my list of books to read!


WD Curry 111 profile image

WD Curry 111 4 years ago from Space Coast

Read the book. It is scarier!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Mickey, Thanks for sharing that story. That's fantastic. Did you ever consider the irony that Tippi Heedren's character is named Melanie, and so is her daughter's (Melanie Griffith) and, now, apparently your sister. Too bad you didn't make it onto the film!


MickeySr profile image

MickeySr 4 years ago from Hershey, Pa.

PDXKaraokeGuy,

Here's a great (from my perspective) story concerning Hitchcock's 'The Birds'; getting right to the point, my sister and I were almost in that movie. I was born and raised, until about 10, in the bay area of California. My step-father was a disc jockey and knew people in the film industry. When they were filming 'The Birds' my sister and I were just the right age as the school children that ran from their classroom to escape the birds - we were all set to be among those school kids, and that's when we moved to Pennsylvania. Every time I watched it through the years I wold think how cool it would be to point and tell my kids "Look, there's your Aunt Melanie, and that's me".


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Billips I actually did this for school and got an A. One of my other hubs, "Sunset Boulevard" was also for school. you may enjoy that as well! Thanks for reading and commenting and stopping by!


billips profile image

billips 4 years ago from Central Texas

Very interesting hub - you put a lot of work into this one - it brought back some great memories - when we watched that film we had no idea of the technical aspects of his filming - he certainly was an innovator - B.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Cyndi, I agree. that's why we have to view it in the context! Not knowing why can make the movie even more scary!


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia

Great review. I love The Birds even though the techniques Hitchcock used are dated now. However, I will never stop being disturbed when watching because I can't figure out why they attacked. When I first watched the movie with my Mom, I asked multiple times why. She didn't have an answer either. I guess it's just to be enjoyed.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

It's true, Dah. So many innovators don't get appreciated now. The Beatles were one of the first groups to double track vocals. Now it's so commonplace, people don't think about it, but, at the time, it was amazing. Hitchcock was a true visionary. Thanks for your read and your comment


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I was impressed with this film when I saw it originally. I've always admired Hitchcock, especially his creative use of camera angles and such. By now others have picked up on what he has done so it seems tame now.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks twin. it5's a fun movie to write about and watch. Hitchcock in general is a fascinating figure. Sounds like a fun family tradition you had!


Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota

This was fun to read because this is one of my favorite horror movies to date. I was about seven when this came out and it became tradition in my family to watch it every year. Hitchcock was an amazing film maker. I too grew up with Dark Shadows, Twilight Zone and Outer Limits but there was something about "The Birds" that really freaked me out and I think it's because he used something we see everyday that usually causes no harm. That's what made it scary. Great review!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

@ Jacqui. Thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate your comments. I think Alfred Hitchcock was way ahead of his time. He basically birthed and perfected the horror/suspense/thriller drama. That's why his movies still hold up today.

@ Till- it's funny how sometimes we don't give things a second thought and just enjoy them and other times, we have these nagging questions that we can't answer until we really think. I hope I dind't ruin the enjoyment of the film for you. Thanks for your read and your comment!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 5 years ago from New York

I've always been a Hitchcock fan and never stopped to reason why. Your hub makes me wonder. The first time I saw the movie I did wonder why the birds were attacking but the rest of the movie kept me hopping so I just let it go. I too thought Tippi Hedren had something to do with the attacks but thought it had something to do with the love birds -- I was young then. Great hub and movie review. Voted up and interesting.


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom

How spooky, I actually watched Birds a few nights ago. I love Hitchcock films. Birds was ahead of its time. I loved Marnie, Psycho and Rear Window. He was a wonderful producer and director and I still love watching his films. Well written and very enjoyable hub. Voted up and interesting.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

i AGREE. Hitchcock was ahead of his time. very visionary. He started in silent films, and it's obvious by the way he uses the camera to tell a story. he doesn't rely on audio, though he uses it effectively.


rai2722 profile image

rai2722 5 years ago

very good review on The Birds. I do think this movie is one of the best Hitchcock's movie, just like Psycho.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

That's Carrie! It's a good movie, both from an entertainment and an artistic standpoint! Let me know how u like it!


carriethomson profile image

carriethomson 5 years ago from United Kingdom

hey that an absolutely wonderful review!! just like a pro!! i haven't seen the movie but m sure going to see it after reading the review:))all ready to be scared!!

carrie


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

My dad said the same thing, Sue. You guys are probly peers, so it makes sense this movie scared you and him.


Sueswan 5 years ago

I saw "The Birds" growing up in the 60's. It scared the shit out of me.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

yep. that's what we're here for


North Wind profile image

North Wind 5 years ago from The World (for now)

Ha Ha! Poor thing, when she was five? Typical older brother...:)


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Ah, I like scaring her. I showed her IT when she was five and too this day she's terrified of clowns


North Wind profile image

North Wind 5 years ago from The World (for now)

I think he was onto something. As a kid, at certain times of the year we could not play in the park because the blackbirds would have their nests there. If we did they would constantly peck our heads for daring to get close to their heads. It wasn't pleasant and I have to say the pecks hurt quite a bit. I would not recommend your sister watching the movie as she probably will become even more spooked.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thank u for stopping by, North Wind. It's fun to be able to relate. Funny thing is, my little sister (20 yrs old) has never seen The Birds and yet she's terrified of Birds. Maybe Hitchcock was onto something...


North Wind profile image

North Wind 5 years ago from The World (for now)

To this day The Birds still scares me. It is probably because I feed wild birds and they have come to know and recognize me. The birds, though wild, are quite intelligent and call out, come inside, knock over items when there is no food left for them. They are quite demanding and I suppose I can see them all acting like this. The story is really not that far-fetched to me. I agree that Hitchcock was a genius and his films really are amazing to watch even now.

This was well written and I enjoyed it very much!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thank u all for stopping by. When I watch a film, I try to watch what the director wants me to watch and see what they're trying to say. Sometimes films have a deeper meaning, soetimes they don't, but they're still fun to watch and analyze :-)


dawnowens profile image

dawnowens 5 years ago from Jersey Girl

Great analysis. I've always loved this film (and Hitchcock)--especially the apparent random and meaningless attack of the birds. I've learned to appreciate the lack of any explanation or cause.


JadedLove 5 years ago

Awesome my friend. I remember watching that when I was a child and it scared the well you know. Thank you for the memories, Blessings your way.


jenubouka 5 years ago

Great insight of the meaning and reasoning about the film. I have an immense respect for old films, they did not have the luxury of technology like today, which some films are filmed in front of a green screen. That annoys me, so much I walked out of the first Star Wars, the new one.

And may I add, to this day if I see a large flock of birds, I still freak out due to this film.


Mama Told Me profile image

Mama Told Me 5 years ago from Anchorage AK

I watch a lot of horror movies, I grew up on them and horror TV (Dark Shadows, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits etc).

But The Birds freak me the heck out. It's the only film I'll refuse to watch after having seen part of it once when I was about 12 o3 13. *shudder*

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