Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Cutting Edge - Film Review - The Birds, 1963.

Fig. 1

The 1963 film 'The Birds' is a classic Hitchcock production, packing numerable filmic devices into what is essentially a very basic plot, creating a timeless piece that is still enjoyable for audiences today. Fundamentally, The Birds is the story of the small town of Bodega Bay being attacked for some reason, that is never truly explained, by a large number of many species of birds, predominantly crows and gulls, resulting in an almost apocalyptic outcome. 

 Fig. 2

Fig. 3

However, what makes the film such a success, besides it's bizarre plot, are of course the many unmistakeable Hitchcock tropes that occur within the film, many echoing ones also used in his ever classic 1960 film "Psycho", although arguably the film is not as successful as the former in popularity. An instance of this is the disorienting and anxious effect created in the viewer through the sudden change in what appears to be the films initially established genre, in the case of both films taking an abrupt and unexpected dark turn a significant part of the way though the runtime. The Birds starts out appearing as a love story between the Another is the dramatic score, despite in this case being unlike Psycho in the sense that music was not used, Hitchcock however opting to use real bird sounds to create an immersive-if-eerie sound scape to accompany the unsettling scenes. Adam Scovell corroborates this with "Instead of relying on Herrmann’s music to heighten and embellish the drama and the horror, he uses Herrmann’s sense of dynamics to program in a constant gushing of strangely affecting diegetic sound." in his essay "Sounds of the Birds". (Scovell, 2014.)

Other devices employed by Hitchcock in "The Birds", which are also found commonly in his films, are motivated shots and filmic dramatic irony, where the viewer is shown something the character at that time is not aware of, creating tension in the viewer awaiting the all important moment of the big reveal/realisation. Arguably, if not the most iconic, but at least most suspenseful scene of "The Birds"  employs the aforementioned device of dramatic irony, when the main protagonist, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), is waiting outside the school, while the climbing frame behind her, unbeknown to her, is slowly filling with a large number of birds. (Figs 4 and 5). This sequence, coupled with the calm chanting of the school children from within the schoolhouse creates the bizarre and engagingly suspenseful scene, with the viewer almost wishing to scream out the Panto classic "they're behind you!" to warn her of the impending danger. 

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

Further, the unexplained plot line and conclusion to the film leave it very open to interpretation, spreading interest and discussion of the meaning within the film, most common theories being the film is a comment on the irrational and jealous nature of the human female, drawing parallels between women and the spontaneously attacking birds throughout, most obviously through the attention to the leading character Melanie Daniels' hands with their perfectly manicured and pointed fingernails grasping at a multitude of items throughout the film (fig. 6) and even the peculiar way Tippi Hedren holds her hands in certain scenes, in particular when holding the cotton swab to a cut from one of the first bird attacks of the film (fig. 7)

Fig. 6

Fig. 7

Additionally, Dave Kehr describes Hitchcock's birds as "emblems of sexual tension, divine retribution, meaningless chaos, metaphysical inversion, and aching human guilt, his (Hitchcock's) attacking birds acquire a metaphorical complexity and slipperiness." (Kehr, unknown). However, as Bosley Crowther states in his 1963 review of the production "whether or not it is intended that you should find significance in this film, it is sufficiently equipped with other elements to make the senses reel. Mr. Hitchcock, as is his fashion, has constructed it beautifully, so that the emotions are carefully worked up to the point where they can be slugged." (Crowther, 1963). I believe these quotes summarise the basic reason behind the successfulness of the film over such a time period; it can be seen to have a deeper meaning and to some this can be engaging, but for those who simply want to enjoy an odd horror film about a random attack on a town by large flocks of birds, it can be enjoyed this way too, giving the production a large viewer catchment area, so to speak. 


Fig 1 - The Birds Original Film Poster
Fig 2 -
Figs 3, 4 & 5 -
Fig 6 - Screenshot from
Fig 7 -


Crowther, B. 1963. Hitchcock's Feathered Friends Are Chilling [online] Available via:
Kehr, D. Unknown. The Birds [online] chicago Available via:
Scovell, A. 2014. Sounds of The Birds [online] Available via:

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