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The Birds At 50: 9 Moments Of Visual Genius
Empire pays tribute to Hitch's ornithological horror

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Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds premiered on March 28, 1963. Ostensibly a gentle rom-com about a socialite, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), and a lawyer, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), it soon becomes an all-out horror when their courting is interrupted by violent, unexplained bird attacks. Its ambiguity and subtext have been hotly debated since its release, but one thing most agree on is that The Birds contains some of Hitchcock's most inspired imagery. To mark the film's 50th birthday, we examine some of its remarkable visual moments, and look at how the Master employed the tools at his disposal to evoke specific emotions, create certain effects and generally demonstrate his all-round genius...

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The Chimney Attack

Having already aimed a pointy beak at Melanie's head and mounted an all-out assault on Mitch's little sister Cathy’s (Veronica Cartwright) birthday party, the birds' third attack arrives unexpectedly and with eerie menace. Melanie and the Brenners are enjoying a spot of afternoon tea, while Cathy's pet lovebirds are making steadily more and more noise in the background. As the only non-violent birds in the film, are they trying to warn the Brenners of something? A curiously high-angled close-up of Melanie (foregrounding the spot on her head where she was attacked), paired with sudden silence, unsettles us, and a single finch appears on the hearth. And then: carnage. Thousands of finches, buntings and swallows pour out of the fireplace and attack the family. The switch from domestic banality to unbelievable terror is deftly controlled by Hitchcock, giving us a few uneasy seconds to realise something's up before unleashing the full horror.

Trivia titbit: Most of the birds in this scene were added in using a "yellow screen" process at Disney. An attempt to use live birds on set was abandoned when they were released from the chimney and proceeded to behave in an entirely non-threatening manner, standing around and wondering why everyone looked so cross.

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1 Fawcett Farm Location
The Fawcett Farm is located maybe a mile or so northwest of the hamlet of Valley Ford on California State Highway1, just west of the intersection of Highway 1 with the Valley Ford-Freestone Road. It is easy to spot on Google Earth. My in-laws have a sheep and cattle ranch to the south of Valley Ford. Roads near Valley Ford were used in the filming of Bandits (2001). South of Valley Ford is Tomales, where the Presbyterian Church was the location for the church and cemetery scenes in Village of the Damned (1995). More

Posted by futhark on Saturday July 6, 2013, 05:06

Thank you very much for a really interesting feature. I reckon it must have been 20 years ago when I first saw the film (the first time I'd seen a Hitchcock), lured by the promise of many visual effects shot. I'd never really appreciated what wonderful things could be done with suspense until I'd seen the climbing frame scene. That ending is frustrating to watch aged 12 if you've only ever seen films with tied-up endings. Six years later, coming back from the Emmerich version of Godzilla, we just caught the tail-end of The Birds on TV, and again the sound effects when the three actors were just looking up at the ceiling was so much more effective than anything in that Emmerich film More

Posted by Schnorbitz on Friday March 29, 2013, 17:22

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