Sunday, October 30, 2016

Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” is the November Film Classic in Bigfork

One afternoon, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a San Francisco pet store. She decides to follow him home with a surprise when the pet shop does not have what he wants. She brings with her the gift of the two love birds for Mitch’s sisters which he was trying to buy. Of course they strike up a romance. Soon after birds start attacking children at Mitch's sister’s birthday party, and a huge assault starts on the town by attacking birds everywhere. This seems like a plot only a master horror movie maker, like Alfred Hitchcock, could turn into an award winning film that scared movie goers in its day, and still will give you the creeps. The movie is “The Birds” and it is the November 10th classic movie in Bigfork shown on the big screen of the Edge Center by Jack Nachbar at 6:30 PM.  The is no charge and it will be accompanied by Jack’s presentation providing a better understanding of the film at the time period of the picture's release.

With such a seemingly simple plot, the “how” of this movie’s success must be in the story-teller’s skills.  That would be Sir Alfred Hitchcock. Once he showed up at a premiere for this movie with a bunch of birds for company.  He saw Tippi Hedren once in a commercial on TV for a soft drink and signed her as the next "Grace Kelly.” When “The Birds” was aired on NBC-TV in the U.S. on January 6th, 1968, it became the highest rated film shown on TV up to that time, and remained in the top spot until “Love Story” near the end of 1970.

The movie was nominated for an Oscar for Best Special Effects beating out the big winner of that year, “Cleopatra.” A movie that certainly had some awesome special effects of its own. And the list of other awards is substantial. Including as the American Film Institute’s rating of 7th greatest thriller, and Bravo’s award in 96th spot on their 100 Scariest Movie Moments, for the bird’s attack on the town.  

More recently this film has had a rebirth in popularity with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 96% showing that the key to good story-telling is the build-up…no matter what era. It is simply a good scary movie, as State Senator Ted Gill once said, “(he)… gave up movies after seeing it. They were…just getting to weird and disturbing for an old rancher…it’s still pretty terrifying, even if you see it again and again.”  

Sir Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) was the Master of Suspense with a directing career spanning more than a half of a century. Starting out as an English film director, he had a successful career in British silent movies and “talkies”, before relocating in America and becoming an American citizen in 1955. His movies often included heroes on the run with “icy” blondes” along side them. He created new styles in movies which often made the audience feel more a part of the movie’s action. With twisted plots, lots of action, murder, anxiety, fear, empathy, and surprise endings, his movies were very special.  

He usually had cameo appearances in his movies and audiences searched for his presence. For ten years he hosted a TV program, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, which increased his persona as a master story teller.

In 1978, film critic John Russell described him as “the most universally recognizable person in the world,” and “a straightforward middle class Englishman who just happened to be an artistic genius.”

Tippi Hedren signed a seven year contract to work with Hitchcock before even meeting him thinking the work was to be a “special” in the Hitchcock TV series. 

Nathalie “Tippi” Hedren, born January1930 was a very successful fashion model in her twenties appearing on front covers of "Life" and "Glamour" among others. She was “discovered” by Hitchcock in a TV commercial for a diet drink called Sergo.  Hedren received world recognition for her acting in two Hitchcock movies, “The Birds” and “Marnie” receiving a Golden Globe award for her work in the first. She appeared in over 80 movies and TV shows winning numerous other awards and honors.

The first call was from her agent telling her “a producer” was interested in working with her. She was totally surprised when she found out it was Hitchcock and that “The Birds” was a movie not a special for his TV show. Hitchcock later said, "I was not primarily concerned with how she looked in person. Most important was her appearance on the screen, and I liked that immediately. She has a touch of that high-style, lady-like quality which was once well-represented in films by actresses like…Grace Kelly…and others but now is quite rare." Hitchcock put Hedren through an extensive color screen test that lasted two days and cost $25,000. She was a quick study and learned a huge amount about movie making working with Hitchcock. She cried when Hitchcock, during a dinner with his wife, gave her a pin with three birds on it and told her she was going to be the star of “The Birds.”

Hitchcock made her into a first class Hollywood personality and star by coaching her about wines, foods, style, costuming, being directed, and much more about the inter-working of making movies. She said she learned more in her first three years working with Hitchcock than other actresses take 15 years to learn elsewhere. She was worked mercilessly by Alfred but she absorbed and learned during all of it.

The breaking point was the week she did a bird attack scene where Alfred told her the birds were going to be fake, but instead, prop men with heavy leather gloves threw “live” birds, with their beaks clamped shut, at her while she “acted” that she was in terror. A doctor, treating her for a bird wound on her cheek ordered one week or rest and asked Hitchcock if he was trying to kill her.

Rod Taylor claimed that the seagulls in "The Birds" were “encouraged” to just walk around rather than flying by feeding them a mixture of whiskey and wheat.

 Rodney Sturt Taylor (1930–2015) was an Australian actor of stage, film and television. He had a rather unusual means of making his trip to Hollywood He won an Australian acting award which included a round trip ticket to London with a stop over in Los Angeles. When he got to Los Angeles, he simply just never got back on the plane. In Los Angeles, he launched a six decade career that included both film and TV appearances.

He never rose to the level of a top tier star, but did manage to get over 100 film credits with some in very good movies including “The Time Machine”, “The V.I.Ps.”, “Giant”, and, of course, “The Birds”. In the 2009 film “Inglorious Bastards” he appeared as Winston Churchill which was his final film appearance.

Rod almost did not get the part of Mitch Brenner in “The Birds,” because Cary Grant was considered, but Hitchcock did not want the huge expense of Grant. He also beat out several other actors. In the end, it was a good choice, and Rod turned in a very good performance.

You can see this movie free of charge courtesy of Jack and his wife/projectionist, Lynn.  Place: The Edge Center for the Arts, Bigfork. Date and time: Thursday November 10th at 6:30PM. It will be worth going to Bigfork, because Jack will give you lots of background about the movie and a cartoon of the period will give you some laughs.

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