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Film Studies 101
Feature
The Birds At 50: 9 Moments Of Visual Genius
Empire pays tribute to Hitch's ornithological horror

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The Gas Station Attack

The attack on the Bodega Bay gas station is a sequence familiar to film students the world over. The actions of a single bird result in a stream of gasoline heading from a petrol pump towards an unwitting cigar smoker, whose discarded match proves that smoking really is very bad for your health. As the stream catches fire, Hitchcock cuts between near-static shots of Melanie watching, and the fire trail racing back towards the petrol pump. Each shot is fractionally shorter than the previous one, building up to the explosion not just with a clinical rise in tension but also in an experimental juxtaposition of movement (the flame) and stasis (Melanie's face). The sequence is topped off by a leisurely, insanely high-angle shot showing the birds observing the carnage with dispassionate menace, before they descend on the town to wreak further havoc.

Trivia titbit: Hitch calculated this short sequence with military precision: from the first shot of Melanie looking off screen (20 frames long), each successive shot is two frames shorter. The final shot of Melanie in the sequence is just eight frames long.
 

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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

2
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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