Continuing with the Halloween Hitchcock theme, this week I decided to show my boyfriend, Finn, the 1963 creepy classic The Birds. Due to his lukewarm reaction to last week’s film, I was more than a little nervous to show him this film. There were some signs however that he would enjoy this film more. For a start, he loves animals and secondly, this film has less of a pop culture lexicon around it. For example, Finn knew only of this film that in one scene, there is a random fish instead of a bird.
As we viewed the film, I found that Finn commented less often. Was this merely because my parents were in the room? They like to talk, by the way. So tempted at one point to just say, ‘shh I’m trying to gauge my gorgeous boyfriend’s opinion on classic cinema!’ Or was it because he was genuinely enjoying it?
He wondered why there was no music in the film and, despite his frustration in regards to the acting abilities of the cast and the occasionally lopsided effects, he seemed to be more engaged with the film.
For example, he whispered ‘Oh God’ as the birds start massing near a primary school and made the keen observation that “whenever kids sing in tune, something bad is gonna happen.” When we got to the scene where an ornithologist tries to dismiss what is happening, he even came up with a nickname for her; “the bird bitch.” Later, when the birds start attacking a door by pecking their way through it, he and I giggled as we imagined the bird peeking through and shouting, “Here’s birdy!” The joyousness of this cannot be overestimated.
Hilariously, Finn couldn’t find the fish. When the film concludes, I turn to Finn and ask him his opinion.
“I actually liked that,” he says. “Unlike Psycho, I didn’t predict what was going on because it doesn’t explain the events.”
“That’s interesting, because I’ve viewed this film with dad and he hates that it doesn’t offer any kind of explanation or conclusive ending. But you didn’t mind that?” I ask.
“I’m not fussed that it didn’t give all the answers. This may just be my gaming side, but it’s better to let the ‘player’ decide the story, to leave it to their own interpretation, their own imagination. This makes them more engaged with the story.”
“Did you find the film scary?” I ask nervously. This film is one of the most unsettling things I’ve ever seen and has gifted me a strong phobia of birds.
“I found it a little bit unsettling, but not really scary. Part of this was because of the use of the green-screen, but when real birds were used, I found that to be more effective. A CGI remake probably wouldn’t work,” he argued, “but one of the Resident Evil films had a scene with birds. But that’s regarded as one of the worse ones, because of script and acting and stuff.”
I nodded before asking; “At the start of the film, we noted that there was no scare and I found this worrying, because one of your key highlights from Psycho was the score. Do you think The Birds works without music?”
“It didn’t need a score, because it’s more of a documentary film. The woman, [Melanie played by ‘Tippi’ Hedren] is in every scene. It is purely her movie.”
“So, what was your favourite scene?” I ask, telling him that mine is when the birds silently gather outside the schoolhouse just waiting to attack.
“My favourite scene was the bird woman. Her refusal to believe what was going on around her provided a strong contrast to the rest of the film and reaffirmed that the bird’s attacking was not normal. This film was taking place in our world. It was a very tense film.”
“Unlike Psycho, do you think the film is still effective to a modern audience?”
“The Birds has more of a relevance to a modern day audience, definitely.”
“Any final thoughts?”
“It wasn’t a perfect film. The era of the film and the intended effect weren’t as gripping, but the concept is solid and the techniques are good for the time. And in closing, I will find that fish!”
And indeed he did. Midnight that night, he sent me a text message to say that “Aha!! Found the fish!! Though it wasn’t actually in The Birds, it’s in a movie called Core. A scene where tons of birds go crazy and slam into windows, some are fish… See I’m not crazy, just got the wrong movie lol.” Needless to say, my boyfriend’s persistence is perfectly adorable and I never thought he was crazy (much). Also, I now also have to see Core.
Finn’s opinion of this film has again proved fascinating for me, as I would’ve thought his verdict would be switched. I thought The Birds’ reliance on effects would have proved to be less effective than Psycho’s use of thrilling, more realistic elements. That the film’s open-nature would’ve made it less palatable to an audience founded on films with easy answers. More questions have been raised here. Is it story itself that is more important than what we see? Is a strong concept and clear love for the crafted work enough for it to retain its relevance? Are slightly more obscure classics like The Birds more likely to live on because they haven’t been referenced in a hundred other things? These ideas have thrown my world into turmoil. I love it.
Anyway, the next film I’m planning on showing Finn is Brian De Palma’s 1976 horror masterpiece, Carrie. How will he react to this haunting tale of high school terror? Join Finn and I next time on Dial M For Movies to find out!