ACF #6 The Birds

 

The American Cinema Foundation movie podcast is back. @stsalieriericcook and I are talking about Hitchock’s follow-up to Psycho, The Birds. We answer the basic questions about the bird attacks and we hope to persuade you that Hitchcock plotted his story not merely with a view to thrills, but from a serious moral perspective that should be of interest especially, but not exclusively, to conservatives. At the same time, our claim is that the moral perspective is as obvious as the images on the screen once you pay attention to the sequence of events, as well as the setting.

So we’ve taken to explaining both the shockingly obscure and the apparently throwaway, to put them together and show that they really do belong together.

Our previous Hitchcock conversation was very long, so there was much that we didn’t have to cover again in this case. The two are independent podcasts, but if you listen to both of them, you’ll get far more of what we think we have discovered and what we’re setting up to do in future.

We made some comparisons in this one, as they were required, and pointed out the similarities of theme and approach, but mostly skipped to the chase. Still, if you have an interest in the possibilities of the theme–how characters and circumstances from the one movie are taken into the other with certain modifications–there’s a lot to like about our discussion! As always, please share it if you like the podcast–we’re trying to spread the word.

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  1. BD1 Member
    BD1
    @

    Is this podcast available on iTunes?

    • #1
  2. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Not yet, BD1. I’m runnin’round America, editing & publishing in-between, well, sessions at the Publius Fellowship in Claremont.

    Some good’s coming of it–I’m gonna interview prof. John Marini, the best writer on John Ford, as well as the best American conservative constitutional critic of the administrative state!

    I’ll also be recording my lectures for film school kids & Catholic kids more broadly about film in two weeks. But dealing with the technical stuff–no time!

    I’ll get to it, though…

    • #2
  3. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    However, you can download the podcast already, any episode, or, indeed, all of’em…

    • #3
  4. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Titus,

    The pleasure of Hitchcock’s dry humor as he pulls all of our chains with this “Teaser Trailer” is just as funny today as it was then.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #4
  5. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Hello, Mr. Gawron! Glad you’re back–thanks for adding this. We talked about it during our podcast, but I was too exhausted to remember to append it to the post by the time I went to publish…

    Hitchcock’s drollery should be understood as a jab–not in harshness meant–at the people who are all about thrills & scares, but do not wish to see that which might be scary for wht it is. Take the moral seriousness out of the horror movie & it becomes another form of comedy–tight plotting turning accidents into necessity. The absurd presented as the inevitable-

    • #5
  6. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Titus,

    How much we have lost. A brilliant creative man, playfully presenting perfectly crafted and acted works of art. Delighting our minds as well as our senses. Of the moderns, perhaps only Ridley Scott can attain Hitch’s level of intellect. Yet, Ridley is no personality, he’s no showman. What fun it was to go to the movies then. How annoying it is now. Bad premises with bad acting and tons of special effects thrown in our face. The modern movie appeals to our inner 12-year-old. Gd forbid if you emotionally and intellectually mature past that age.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #6
  7. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Things are admittedly bad–the good stuff is usually unpopular now.

    Of course, then there’s the upcoming Dunkirk movie by Mr. Christopher Nolan! There’s a movie Britain & America can both get behind. More 4th of July than anything else in theaters, I believe…

    • #7
  8. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Of course, I also recommend, any chance I get, the movies of Mr. Jeff Nichols, who shows more understanding of the anguish of manliness in America than anyone else–usually, his native rural Arkansas. There’s a conservative rejection of sentimentalism & blindness to real human suffering combined in his work that deserves far more attention than he has received.

    • #8
  9. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    & another thing I recommend–of a year back or so–The finest hours–too Churchillian a title–but a true story of American heroism, done modestly, maybe even too modestly. But it suggests providence & miracles should be taken with some measure of modesty to be livable. It of course grips the heart in a way few movies now do.

    • #9
  10. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Hitchcock is generally regarded as viewing actors as more or less fungible, even though he certainly worked with some big stars. This, IMO, is particularly evident with the leads in The Birds, both of whom give pretty generic performances.

    Not having listened yet, I wonder if your discussion covers the lack of a macguffin in The Birds, or whether, like some (me), you regard the reason for the birds behavior as something of a macguffin.

     

     

     

     

    • #10
  11. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Hoyacon (View Comment):
    Hitchcock is generally regarded as viewing actors as more or less fungible, even though he certainly worked with some big stars. This, IMO, is particularly evident with the leads in The Birds, both of whom give pretty generic performances.

    I do agree that great movies live by the knowledge that talent is irrelevant. I think the handsome actors are there to bring up the question–why isn’t this a romantic comedy? Why should horror befall the young & handsome…

    Directors like Carpenter learned from this kind of horror–Psycho, more than any other–but they may have taken contempt for talent too far…

    Not having listened yet, I wonder if your discussion covers the lack of a macguffin in The Birds, or whether, like some (me), you regard the reason for the birds behavior as something of a macguffin.

    I don’t like the whole talk about the maguffin. I don’t say it’s utterly unnecessary, but I do not have recourse to it. I believe I have explained reasonably what the horror & the plot are, both in Psycho & The birds, as well as the deadly danger in the planned discussions of The man who knew too much & Vertigo–my whole attempt is to think through the settings Hitchcock chooses & the expressed motives in characters to think through the plots. I hope to have shown, the thinking done by way of a plot is really serious.

    • #11
  12. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    This looks fun, guys, thank you. I hope to get to listen today! Maybe if the Lord sends me some rain to water the garden for me I’ll have the time… If not, tomorrow morning.

    • #12
  13. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Sombody else took out The Birds out of my library before I could. So, I haven’t recently watched the movie. Still, I trust my memory this much.

    Mitch wants only erotic experience. The last face to face conversation he has with Melanie, prior to his phone call to her, implies he’s interested in having that experience with her. The movie shows he has avoided having a wife or even a socially acknowledged girlfriend.

    Mitch and Melanie each have a moment in the movie when they each decide the other is worth a step outside a comfort zone. With Melanie, the moment is when she decides to take the lovebirds to where Mitch spends his weekends. The Mitch moment similar to that is his phone call to Melanie. Remember ? He calls Melanie during a heart to heart she’s having with the schoolteacher, Annie, a woman who tells Melanie, in so many words, that she was once Mitch’s lover even, for a while, after she realized she would not be his wife.

    Prior to the phone ringing, the conversation between Annie and Melanie makes it clear Annie, at least, doesn’t think Mitch is emotionally dependent upon his mother or that the mother is exactly possessive of Mitch.

    • #13
  14. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Ansonia (View Comment):
    Sombody else took out The Birds out of my library before I could. So, I haven’t recently watched the movie. Still, I trust my memory this much.

    Mitch wants only erotic experience. The last face to face conversation he has with Melanie, prior to his phone call to her, implies he’s interested in having that experience with her. The movie shows he has avoided having a wife or even a socially acknowledged girlfriend.

    He left his girl because of his mother, after his father’s death. He’s not said to have had any erotic experience since. The way he treats Melanie certainly does not suggest he’s looking for ‘only erotic experience’–they in fact act like a married couple, utterly skipping the erotic stage.

    Mitch and Melanie each have a moment in the movie when they each decide the other is worth a step outside a comfort zone. With Melanie, the moment is when she decides to take the lovebirds to where Mitch spends his weekends. The Mitch moment similar to that is his phone call to Melanie. Remember ? He calls Melanie during a heart to heart she’s having with the schoolteacher, Annie, a woman who tells Melanie, in so many words, that she was once Mitch’s lover even after she knew she had been rejected as a potential wife.

    I’m skeptical about what you say about Melanie; I’m fairly close to your opinion about Mitch, however…

    • #14
  15. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    “He left his girl because of his mother after his father’s death.”

    I’m not sure.

    The father’s death was some kind of litmus test for Mitch and Annie as husband and wife. Only that much is clear. It actually isn’t clear that Mitch rejected Annie for the role of his wife. The script leaves it possible to think Annie didn’t want that role (a role that would include helping to care for Mitch’s mother) when it came down to it.

    And the last scene of the movie certainly does seem to say that you do marry the family.

    • #15
  16. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Marry the family is right–but notice how much of a veto power the mother has. That is what is tamed in the story-

    • #16
  17. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    I got the impression that Mitch chooses women without being influenced by his mother. However, he doesn’t want one who won’t make his people her people. Annie might be one such. She moves near Mitch, she tells Melanie, (1) for a more rewarding teaching job—a job to which she says she gives her all. It’s her students who give her a reason to want to live a long time.—and (2) to be near Mitch. I don’t recall Annie mentioning even Mitch’s kid sister, never mind his mother.

    If I remember correctly, Lydia (Mitch’s mother)  seems less dependent and helpless at the end of the movie.

    • #17
  18. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Annie’s job as a teacher is obviously a dead end. She’s playing mother to Mitch’s young sister. She obviously never gave up on him.

    As for Mitch–the question is not choosing, the question is keeping. Annie herself says the mother put the kibosh on her love affair.

    As for Melanie–Mitch did not choose her. Initially, he seems to have been somewhat put off by her irresponsibility, in part because of his respectable prejudices, to which his mother appeals-

    • #18
  19. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Titus, never mind what Annie’s job is to the viewer. Look at the script for what this character says the job is to her. (Script is online.)

    As for Melanie, Mitch deliberately initiates a conversation with her in the petshop, knowing, and pretending not to know, who she is.

    Twice in the movie Mitch appears to be a man almost angry with a woman because he’s attracted to her. The pet shop scene is one of those times.

    • #19
  20. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    I fail to see what the script will teach me that the movie won’t! After all, Hitchcock shot as he chose & the movie was not edited against his will. Anyone who sees that character & hears her conversation with Melanie can judge for himself. If you think the only thing that matters is what Annie herself says, I beg to differ. I will point you to my friend Eric, who noticed a recording of Tristan & Isolde, the Wagner opera, in her apartment, to say nothing of how she dresses. These things are choices Hitchcock made for characterization–but any viewer can pay much attention or none to them, or some, as he pleases…

     

    • #20
  21. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    “She’s a caricature of science. She sees the microscopic, she sees the macroscopic, but the human scale of events is utterly foreign to her.”

    Listening as I clean up kitchen and just wanted to comment that I love the insight of the two of you.

    • #21
  22. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    O.K., so someone watching the movie might think that Annie is lying to herself and/or Melanie when she says, in effect, that she moved near Mitch as much to take that teaching job as to be near him. How does that square with your theory that these two characters are leveling with each other ?

    Or is it the case that Hitchcock edited out Annie saying the teaching job was one of her reasons for moving or was very important to her?

    And, in the movie, isn’t it the case that Mitch initiates the conversation with Melanie in the pet shop just as it is in the script? (You know I’m right about that.)

     

    • #22
  23. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Thank you, Mama Toad. So sweet of you.

    What do you or Titus think the birds symbolize ?

    • #23
  24. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    “She’s a caricature of science. She sees the microscopic, she sees the macroscopic, but the human scale of events is utterly foreign to her.”

    Listening as I clean up kitchen and just wanted to comment that I love the insight of the two of you.

    Thanks, kindly! Glad you’re listening!

    • #24
  25. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Ansonia (View Comment):
    Thank you, Mama Toad. So sweet of you.

    What do you or Titus think the birds symbolize ?

    All I can say is, listen to the podcast! It’s gonna be good!

    • #25
  26. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Nosey question: where’d you get the music at your intro and exit? Is it you playing, Titus?

    • #26
  27. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Titus, will relisten to the podcast and again watch the movie after the holiday. The thing (the movie, I mean ) is sort of like some wierd retelling of the story of Pandora’s box.

    You’re right, I shouldn’t have just assumed Hitchcock followed the script in the scene of the talk about Mitch between Melanie and and Annie.

    • #27
  28. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    Nosey question: where’d you get the music at your intro and exit? Is it you playing, Titus?

    Yeah, that’s me & my old acoustic guitar. It’s a simple, bluesy hook, going through the pentatonic, with some additions. It sounded good, but I didn’t really know where to go with it. I figured it’s pretty good for the podcast.

    • #28
  29. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    I’m curious about this, if anyone has a moment to tell me. You know the attack-bird filled room the door of which Melanie opens toward the end of the movie  ? My question: does the movie tell us whose room it   is ?

    • #29
  30. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    There’s only one possibility within the movie: Lydia’s room, which Melanie enters, uninvited, if not entirely unexpected, once before-

    • #30

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