Obsessions Under the Strobelight.10/10
Some films are so well made that watching them unfold sequence by sequence creates the feeling of surrender to a higher force. Hitchcock, no stranger to spellbinding his audience, was known for bringing a sense of intense masochism into the viewer's eyes. In THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH the Albert Hall sequence is a perfect crescendo of images and music in which Jo McKenna sees a man who is the key to her son's safety prepare to commit a crime with deadly slowness. In PSYCHO, Marion Crane takes a fatal shower and gets a vicious visitor. In VERTIGO, Scotty and Judy begin a dizzying affair which itself is as obsessive as narcotic and culminates high above the bell tower, filled with revelations upon revelations.
THE BIRDS is by far one of Hitchcock's most deadly incursions into cinematic masochism. In itself, it's a masterpiece of misdirection. Hitchcock has no wrong man in his story, no chase sequences (or at least, none that involve Cary Grant and some Bad Guys), and no double-crosses. All he presents here is Tippi Hedren's arrival to the small town of Bodega Bay, a series of Meet Cutes between her and Rod Taylor, what could pass as romantic suspense, and the most impressive sweeping of the rug right out from under the audience's feet at precisely halfway through the movie when the plot makes a left turn into uncharted territory. Who else can lay claim to that feat? Hitchcock, in revealing the black petals of his deadly flower revealing themselves, opening up, and swallowing the viewer whole at this precise mark is one of the un-topped achievements in cinema history.
And so begins a sequence of events that proceed at the vertiginous crescendo of domino's falling. We've seen the birds amass and attack in increasing ferocity. We've seen the damage they've done to the little city. Hitchcock, of course, has one better on the viewers during the film's overpowering climax: making their presence oppressive and omniscient through the use of sound imitating their shrieks until it becomes deafening and everyone is twisting and turning in revulsion among the corners of the house in reaction not only to their fury but to what they might imagine as their horrible deaths. Hitchcock never once gives an emotional release, and then he outdoes himself in using the most hackneyed excuse for a plot device: Melanie ascending the stairs because she heard a rustling noise, the quintessential "Don't go there," which is the oldest trick in the book. Because we know what lies on the other side of the door....
The stroboscopic effect of the last attack is petrifying as it is unflinching. Melanie, waving the flashlight in a weak signal for help, being slammed against the door, as Mitch tries to get inside but finds he cannot. As Melanie begins slumping and surrenders to the birds' attack, she has an odd mixture of horror and pleasure. We, of course, can't do anything but watch and watch and watch.
Hitchcock had always been attracted to the theme of rape. Because his (professional) relationship with Tippi Hedren was brittle at best, this sequence, somehow out of place and character, seems more in tune with his love-hate attitude towards blonde women and his need for their total submission. Beginning with the emotional rape Jo McKenna suffers with the disappearance of her son, the psychological stripping of Madeleine's identity in VERTIGO, Marion's violent death at the Bates Motel in PSYCHO in and culminating in the barbaric rape sequence of FRENZY, he possessed a desire to destroy that which he loved or desired the most.
I notice how he makes Rod Taylor's character suddenly incapable of saving Melanie right at the end (which heightens the viewers agony -- they want, they need her to survive the birds' attack). It's almost as if he, the Director as Ringmaster, were pushing the Heroine right to the edge of the abyss for one last moment before bringing her back to the (relative) safety of family. Even then, with the vague ending, Hitchcock seems to sort of wink at the audience and tell them that it's still not over -- and this is the sort of thing only a sadistic imp of a personality would do. THE BIRDS is his obsessions at its most explicit (as they were implicit in VERTIGO) and is the kind of cinematic experience that can always be rediscovered even when its tricks become evident. It's been considered Hitchcock's last masterpiece before returning to almost full form for FRENZY, and in many ways, it is the setup for the more graphic, cruel violence of the latter film.