Monday, January 7, 2008

The Birds: Watching with New Eyes

Monday, January 7, 2008

Last night Julie and I watched the last half of The Birds, the legendary Alfred Hitchcock movie set in Bodega Bay, California. This movie came out in 1963, when I was 1 year old. And yet, I know that I saw it several times (and was terrified by it) before I was 10.

The Birds was a revolutionary film in terms of concept, special effects, and story. And yet, viewed from our thoroughly modern viewpoint of 2008, the special EFX are downright laughable. Same with the patrician accents in which all the actors speak.

But The Birds also, unintentionally, set bird watching back as a socially acceptable behavior by at least two decades. This happened on two levels. First, by elevating birds to Potential Monster Status (there are billions of them and they could attack at any moment). And secondly by placing, smack in the middle of a riveting horror film, a memorable stereotypical characterization of a dowdy bird watcher: Mrs Bundy—complete with beret, long face, ├╝ber-serious mien, and tact-free know-it-allness. She even mentions the Christmas Count!

Also starring in Hitchcock's avifaunal classic were Jessica Tandy, Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, and the ever blond and perky Tippi Hedren.

We were enthralled once more by The Birds. And we were amazed that we could recall each scene in great detail—almost like watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show! where you scream things at the characters on screen. "No Tippi! You DITZ! DO NOT take the convertible into town! The birds are attacking! They will SERIOUSLY mess up your bouffant!"

I momentarily came out of my flashback to grab a digital camera and snap off a few shots of the TV screen. Here's YOUR flashback, my friends.

Perched outside the Bodega Bay School waiting for the kids to come out to play,
a flock of common ravens hangs around like a gang of juvenile delinquents.

Long before the Bob Newhart Show, Suzanne Pleshette was an early 60s hottie. Her eyes were pecked out by California gulls moments later.

Fire drill gone very wrong. Everyone knows that if you run, it just makes the bird madder and more hungry for eyeball juice. No kids were harmed (much) in the filming of this scene.

Last one down the hill into town has to go to the hospital! Don't forget your homework!

Wearing your corn necklace to school in Bodega Bay is sure to attract ravens.

Tippi Hedren. Wide-spaced eyes. Hair perfect. Mascara perfect, Skin perfect. Lips perfect. All the things that birds HATE!

Not only is Mrs Bundy the bird watcher a blow-hard, she also smokes
and does not know the proper Latin names of the members of the Corvidae family.

Mrs Bundy says: "I have never known birds of different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable.
Why, if that happened, we wouldn't stand a chance! How could we possibly hope to fight them?"

Rod Taylor had trouble keeping the birds out of his mom's house. Clearly these California gulls has interbred with some Campephilus woodpeckers to acquire the ability to peck though thick wooden doors.

Tippi's nightmare. She'd been told by Hitchcock that the birds would all be stuffed and dead. When stagehands threw live birds at her, her horror was positively cinematic!

Foreshadowing the Ralph Macchio role in The Karate Kid, Tippi survived the worst the birds could deal her.

I couldn't help wondering if these species were new for their Yard List.

The sun's glory rays shining down on Bodega Bay as the survivors drive to San Francisco in a tiny convertible. Later on they caught the very first Grateful Dead show in Golden Gate Park and it totally changed their lives.
They returned to Bodega Bay to found the Point Reyes Bird Observatory.

You know, the irony is that Bodega Bay is one of the very best birding spots in the West. You've GOT to go birding there. Just don't take the convertible.


On January 7, 2008 at 9:03 PM Julie Zickefoose said...




And I was there!

Tidbit: Veronica Cartwright, who plays Cathy, Mitch's little sister, is the sister of Angela Cartwright, "Penny" from Lost in Space. Looks just like her, acts just as badly. Googled her on a hunch.

FYI I fully expect to grow up to be an obnoxious ornithological know-it-all like Mrs. Bundy, minus the cigarette. Brace yourself. She is a fully mature, silverback Science Chimp.

On January 7, 2008 at 9:34 PM Mary said...

This is the funniest movie review I've read in a long time! LOL!

I saw the movie a few times in the sixties (why did my Mother let me watch it??). Scared the living daylights out of me. It made a lasting impression on someone I know - she's an assoc. dean at my college in her 40's. If there's a bird in the building, she goes into lock-down.

On January 7, 2008 at 10:02 PM Trixie said...

Heee heee heee heee

Too funny! So, did The Byrds catch the Dead? Or the folks in Bodega Bay? Hmmm....

And I think before the Point Reyes Bird Conservatory, a satellite farm of the People's Temple was in Bodega Bay (no kidding!).

Poor Bodega Bay.

On January 7, 2008 at 10:40 PM Dallas D said...

Visiting the current ginormous robin and starling roost near Pittsburgh reminded me of this movie big time, luckily the birds here aren't paying any attention to us birders. yet.

I think people of a certain age saw the movie at a young age because when "Saturday Night at the Movies" first started - in seemingly ancient times - I think (remember) they only had about 8-10 movies to rotate among. Several were Hitchcock; several were M Monroe. IMDB says they had 31. (Unfortunately my sister is too much younger than I am and my dear Grandma with whom we watched is gone so I can't ask her.)

On January 8, 2008 at 6:47 AM Jayne said...

ROFLMAO!! I remember this movie so well, though the attack of the killer bees was much worse! Those bees... so hard to train.

On January 8, 2008 at 8:27 AM Rondeau Ric said...

Have you seen Rare Bird?

On January 8, 2008 at 9:49 AM Patrick Belardo said...

BT3, I think you need to rent Kaw:

Ric, I just heard about that movie from a fellow blogger. I added it to my Netflix queue.

On January 8, 2008 at 10:58 AM possumlady said...

I, too, was horrified by The Birds when I was young. The scene when Jessica Tandy goes to check on a fellow farmer and they have this jerky close up of him with his eyes pecked out--I was NOT ready for that.

The funniest scene was when Tippi drives to Bodega Bay with the love birds and she is driving fast along these hairpin curves and they show the love birds in a cage on the floor of the car leaning right, then left.

On January 8, 2008 at 11:25 AM dguzman said...

I've watched The Birds since becoming a birder, and it cracks me up now even more. (Of course I too was scared out of my tiny mind as a child, especially when the lovely Suzanne Pleshette bit it.)

Your summary is fabulous!

I love how butch Mrs. Bundy is--you can just feel that man-hating, bra-burning, hairy-legged feminist oozing out of her! Mrs., indeed. Probably poisoned her hubby.

On January 8, 2008 at 1:28 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

Bundy Power! This is distinct from Bunny Power.

After this post, you could change your name to Bill of "The Birds."

On January 8, 2008 at 4:59 PM beth said...

This is great - had me laughing out loud in my office! It's going to be sent to all of my birding and classic film buddies. I, too, watched this when I was much younger (we loved the 4:30 movie in the metro NY area - a whole week of Hitchcock!)

Julie, I just saw Veronica Cartwright in ALIEN last night. From killer birdies to killer creatures with acidic blood. Bummer for her...

On January 8, 2008 at 7:45 PM KatDoc said...

Hysterical post, Bill!

I wonder, has anyone ever done a "Trip List" of all the species of birds in "The Birds?" And, are they are appropriate for the location, or are there birds which don't belong there?

Enquiring minds want to know.

~Kathi, waiting eagerly for the next time "The BIrds" is on satellite TV

On January 8, 2008 at 9:10 PM egretsnest said...

Adding The Birds to my Netflix list as I type! Hilarious!

On January 8, 2008 at 10:35 PM The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Great post! It is amazing that 45 years later, people still refer to "The Birds" whenever they're "creeped out" by large gatherings of birds.
We have an Alfred Hitchcock tribute in our WBU store featuring 3 Wild Republic Audubon Crows perched up high looking over the shoulders of customers at our counter.

On January 9, 2008 at 12:30 AM Bill of the Birds said...

Thanks All for your comments and recollections of your childhood emotional scars from watching "The Birds."

In the 70s it was "Jaws" that scared me spitless. We saw it in the theatre in Pittsburgh, just before going to the beach in NJ. Thanks Mom!

Hey Zen! Nice bird pix on your ZBF website! Wish we had redpolls here. Luckeeee!

On January 10, 2008 at 10:26 PM Janeyms said...

Well, after reading this blog it is only too obvious how you managed to land "The Zick"...your sense of humor and good looks is a winning ticket in any lottery!