The Birds

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was one of those classic movies I felt like I’d seen, because I’d repeatedly seen all the iconic imagery — particularly the primitive, analog special effects.

But when I recently watched the whole thing from start to finish, I realized how little of it consists of fake-looking bird attacks — well, fake to my modern eye:

The use of standard blue screen techniques for doing matte shots of the birds proved to be unacceptable. The rapid movement of the birds, especially their wings, caused excessive blue fringing in the shots. It was determined that the sodium vapor process could be used to do the composites. The only studio in America that was equipped for this process was the Walt Disney studio. Ub Iwerks, who had become the world’s leading expert on the sodium vapor process, was assigned to this production.

By the way, not all of the bird attacks looked fake, not by a long shot:

The scene where Tippi Hedren is ravaged by birds near the end of the movie took a week to shoot. The birds were attached to her clothes by long nylon threads so they could not get away. [...] Hedren has been quoted as saying it was “the worst week of my life”. The physical and emotional tolls of filming this scene were so strong on her, production was shut down for a week afterward.

Anyway, the entire first act of the film contains no bird attacks. It consists almost entirely of witty repartee and the “threat” of romance, not horror. If I saw this as a kid — which I’m not sure I did — I am sure that I changed the channel or wandered off.

Even the second and third acts largely live up to Hitchcock’s adage that “There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it,” as our protagonists end up in a boarded-up house, waiting as their inhuman foes inexplicably try to break in and kill them — oddly like Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

(Incidentally, if you buy Night of the Living Dead, get the Millennium Edition from Elite, not one of the cheap copies, and not one of the edited special editions.)

Leave a Reply