LATE ARRIVALS: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”

Late Arrivals

This is a project that I’m going to loosely term a “section” in which I (and Nina, if she so pleases) can approach pop culture corner stones that’s that we haven’t gotten around to or just plum forgot. It is inspired by the AV Club’s “Better Late Than Never?” Section and really forces me to watch all the wonderful films that I’ve just been too lazy to watch.

The Birds

What Little I know about it: Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Birds menace Melanie Griffith’s Mom.

A Truly terrified Tippie Hedren

After Hitchcock’s Psycho everyone talks about The Birds as being a masterpiece. Of course, I prefer Psycho with its chilling black and white ambiance, superb execution, and chilling portrayals (and its bird motif!) But I ultimately feel that The Birds embraces camp more and ultimately is Hitchcock’s answer to the trope of the monster movie (I’m sure somebody has written a thesis, or something profound about this, but I haven’t even bothered to wiki the film so I’m just giving you my impressions).

The only thing I like about birds is that they’re occasionally tasty, occasionally pretty and can be transformed into dinosaurs through the scientific whim of man! So the fact that they’re a menace doesn’t really surprised me. Oh, I was galled when the lady ornithologist was going on about how about the birds would never attack and they aren’t aggressive. Bull, I cried at my netflix! She’s obviously never dealt with pigeons or seagulls or those little cute sparrows at the UofT St. George Campus who act like beggar children when you’re eating your hotdog. But I digress. Lets examine the cast of characters. I thought it was interesting that Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) was a pathological liar – established by her poor attempt of bsing at the beginning of the film – and that Mitchell Brenner (Rod Taylor) was a criminal lawyer, which is usually depicted as a job for liars. I wondered to myself, like the hysterical mother from later on in the dinner, if Melanie was not to blame for the birds’ unholy wrath, because she was a liar, but that didn’t add up. The whole point of the story was that you didn’t know why, it’s the antithesis of the monster movie. In the monster we know how the monster was made (normally radiation is to blame) and the hero and his bedraggled, but lovely heroine, ultimately defeat the monster and peace is restored. Not so in the Birds! There’s no magic or gamma rays, there’s no electric lines to stop them, there’s no mad scientist to blame. It’s just a bunch of pissed of birds and everybody in the film is utterly useless.

This brings me back to the characters. Of course, the whole film is an outlet for Hitchcock to terrorize a pretty blonde woman and he does that in spades. Melanie Daniels, I feel is an interesting woman trying to break out of the sexist traps of early sixties characterizations. She’s a bit of a wild child, she is manipulative, a liar and she tries her best to get what she wants. But, she is also self-possessed enough to realize that she doesn’t know what she wants. Does she or doesn’t she want to be Mitch’s main squeeze? Does she or doesn’t she care if his mom likes him? Does she or doesn’t she want to go to Cathy’s party? She flitters about, she screams, she’s bad at saving herself. But, I feel that’s for more real than the “contemporized” heroines of films like the Mummy or King Arthur, where suddenly the Victorian Era is pumped full of GIRL POWER! Melanie grows as a character – and then becomes catatonic – and then grows some more. As she reveals her mommy issues, and bonds with Annie the no-nonsense school teacher and distantly polite Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy), I begin to hope that she’s not really in pursuit of Mitch Brenner, but of a guiding female figure. There’s a moment at the end of the movie when the Brenner clan plus catatonic Daniels head for the car, Lydia Brenner holds her and they look at each other as if they’ve found what they truly wanted. Lydia wants someone to talk to and give a shit about her, and Melanie realizes that she doesn’t want a lover, but rather a mother.

Douchebag pictured on the left...

Or at least this is my wishful thinking because I hated, HATED, Mitch. Considering he was the hero of this outfit, he was a smarmy jerk. I didn’t find him charming, I found him bossy and ultimately, unfeeling towards any of the women in his life, accept maybe Melanie (and that’s because she was putting out). He even reminded me of a less hairy, swarthier Robin Williams, which did not win him any brownie points in my book. While Mitch doesn’t reveal anything about himself as a character – it is the women in his life who do, Annie reveals him to be a player and an oblivious heartbreaker, and his own mother says to Melanie “Mitch has always done exactly as he pleases.” This is mom speak for “my son is a dick.” So, with my disdain toward Mitch, when Lydia and Melanie, both fragile and traumatize gaze at eachother, I will interpret that they have found something in each other  that they couldn’t get from the emotionally detached males in their life.

Menacing, very menacing.

For the most part I like The Birds, the execution of the effects appear somewhat campy through the rust of time, but I must say there is nothing like actually having a real murder of crows waiting behind you. The menace is real, and isn’t that the whole point?

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One response

  1. Oh and I always felt that the birds was an incredible movie. Terrifying, Melanie enters into a relationship with a man who is still adhering to the matriarchal system of his childhood. (He is a Mamas-boy) The birds are a physical representation of the mothers apprehension towards Melanie, a rival to compete for Mitch’s attention. And how a weak man, Mitch, cannot protect Melanie from the onslaught. The mother tries to keep everyone in her life a “child” so that she is still in charge, in control. Melanie is sophisticated, educated, confidant, beautiful, very threatening to the mother. Its not until Melanie has been completely beaten down, attacked by the birds in the house, near death defeated, that she connects with the mother, as savior and “mother”. Melanie must or the mother will get rid of Melanie, like she did the others.

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