Flocking back to movie theaters nationwide on Wednesday, September 19, Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS is the latest in a seriously impressive series of classic films being re-released for one night only in gloriously restored HD picture with special attendant interviews and behind-the-scenes features, hosted by noted film historian Robert Osborne, as part of an unprecedented, ongoing Turner Classic Movies Event Series presented in partnership with Fathom-equipped cinemas across the country. Additionally, this special presentation of THE BIRDS will begin with an introduction, mini-documentary and interview with film star Tippi Hedren prior to the presentation of the film itself. So, today let us take a look back at one of the most influential and terrifying films of the 1960s, as well as the formidable filmmaking icon who made it, Alfred Hitchcock.
Ingrid Bergman once made the observation, "Alfred Hitchcock is a gentlemanly farmer who raises gooseflesh," and, in discussing THE BIRDS in particular, no more of an apt quotation could be applied or supplied. Still, to this day, revered as one of the most significant American filmmakers of all time, Alfred Hitchcock reached a creative peak and a career high with his foursome of stunning, provocative, daring and unforgettable films starting in 1958 with VERTIGO and continuing on with NORTH BY NORTHWEST the following year and PSYCHO the year after that, bringing in the new decade with a decidedly big bang, and then capping it all off in 1963 by way of THE BIRDS. With the remarkable triptych of successes all coming in such quick succession - VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST and PSYCHO being a terror trio released right in a row - it would be three years more before Hitch unleashed the black swarms of birds that would go on to become one of the most horrifying and haunting, bone-chilling nightmare-inspirers in all of film fandom - but, as is gob-smackingly, glaringly apparent, it was more than merely worth the three-year wait. While PSYCHO may have changed all the rules, that milestone movie along with VERTIGO and NORTH BY NORTHWEST made major leaps in exploring the power of film, and, perhaps even more importantly, the actual culture surrounding them, as well - due in no small part to the ubiquity of Hitchcock's personage in introducing his films (THE BIRDS and PSYCHO being foremost examples) and in the marketing and promotion of them, besides, of course, his place as a entertainment figure in his own right, famously making many personal TV appearances (such as his caustic turn on WHAT'S MY LINE in our clip consideration further below) to the worldwide audience's amused delight. Few directors before or since have been the household names and well-known personalities in their own right quite like Hitch was, so to see his witty cameos in most of his major feature films is a film lover's joy and just a piece of the gigantic, addictive and alluring puzzle of the cinematic legacy left by one of Hollywood's best. No matter what the property, his films are endlessly enjoyable - all. How many directors have a resume that pristine - and, with as many films as him?! Few, if any. Yet, more than many of the dozen or so masterpieces in his oeuvre, THE BIRDS stands out. Why?
In adapting Daphne Du Maurier's REBECCA to the silver screen in 1940, Hitchcock may have found the transition from one format to another a somewhat less arduous task to take on given the great lengths that he, along with frequent collaborator Evan Hunter, took in creating an almost new property out of Du Maurier's short story "The Birds" - three years of revisions, to be exact - but, in the end, the retrofitting works in favor of the film and the film is better for it. Of significant historical note and altogether quite unique in all of Hitchcock films is the fact that in THE BIRDS four of the five leads of the film are female - Tippi Hedren as socialite Melanie Daniels, as well as Jessica Tandy as Lydia Brenner, Veronica Cartwright as Cathy Brenner and Suzanne Pleshette as Annie Hayworth; with the film therefore making a progressive subtle statement in so doing, intentional or not. While Rod Taylor as Mitch Brenner makes a mark, too, it is the ladies who take on the major dramatic duties in THE BIRDS and do the heavy lifting - that is, of course, besides the eponymous feathered foes and their flights of fancy (and the fear that they induce in those below, quite rightly). On that aural topic, never before had an audience quite seen, and, more to the point, heard a film in quite this way before THE BIRDS - Hitchcock employed the use of the electronic synthesizer called the Trautonium and employed near-constant musical collaborator Bernard Herrmann to supervise Sala and Remi Gassmann on composing a new, sound effects-based score for the film, which was altogether revolutionary at the time. Never before had the audience felt the flutter of wings and pitter-patter of scattering flocks outside of actual nature as it did in the correctly outfitted theaters showing THE BIRDS in its original presentation - in so doing, Hitchcock brought out the horror by utilizing the most true, most honest and most basic of methods, as he was wont to do.
THE BIRDS is a genre masterpiece - whether you classify it as a mystery, suspense, thriller or horror film (and, as we shall soon find out, there are big differences between each, particularly as far as the man who made the movie was concerned) and the influence the film has had is incalculable. And, with this film, Hitchcock once again broke all the accepted rules of story and audience expectation by presenting an antagonist with no known motive: the birds merely decide one day to descend on us. Why? Well, maybe a repeat viewing will give us another clue to figure out the natural phenomena - which, incidentally, was loosely inspired by a real incident in the 1950s in California - and we all will have our chance on Wednesday to see it in the most vivid manner imaginable thanks to this new digitally-restored print not yet available on DVD or Blu-ray.
More information on the Fathom and TCM presentation of THE BIRDS on September 19 is available here.
So, as we begin to prepare take flight on Wednesday, first, enjoy the trailer for this Wednesday's one night only special TCM Special Event HD re-release of THE BIRDS in Fathom-equipped movie theaters nationwide.
Now, experience the original theatrical trailer for THE BIRDS, as introduced by the director himself - a practice that had become customary by the premiere of Hitchcock's latest thriller by this time in 1963.
THE BIRDS was the filmic follow-up to PSYCHO and there was a three year gap between the two legendary movie masterpieces. In this illuminating mini-documentary, Hitch takes us on a tour of the revolutionary marketing plan for that film and how it ultimately played out to help make the horror film a worldwide hit. Yet, the audience wowed by PSYCHO could not have conceivably been completely prepared for the shocking spectacle that would soon come with THE BIRDS.
Now, witness every Hitchcock cameo ever - 1927 to 1976 - taken from each and every one of his films in which he appears in any capacity by viewing this painstakingly assembled clip collection. Which walk-on is the subtlest? The funniest? The most wickedly shrewd and Hitchcockian? There are so many fine examples of each and every persuasion!
See Hitch's characteristically coy appearance on the celebrity panel game show WHAT'S MY LINE in this classic clip from the golden age of TV.
Pat Cerasaro is a playwright and screenwriter currently in pre-production on his first feature film.|