How does the director Alfred Hitchcock use filmic techniques to build suspense and build tension for the audience in the film “The Birds”? The film “The Birds”, released in 1963, is an Alfred Hitchcock film. Alfred Hitchcock was known as the ‘master of suspense’ and is well known for making films such as “Psycho”, “Vertigo”, “Frenzy”, “Blackmail”, “Rear Window” and “Strangers on a Train”. He based this film on the popular novella by Daphne Du Maurier, although it is only loosely based around the story. In essence “The Birds” is a story about bird attacks. A wealthy San Francisco playgirl pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town which slowly takes a turn when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people there.The title sequence of a film is there to introduce the film and prepare the audience for the film. It is there to make the audience curious and to draw them in.
Therefore a title sequence in “The Birds” does this. It is simple, just a plain white background with the shapes of black birds flying through the shot. The white could represent pureness, good, clouds, innocence, the black the evil of the birds and the blue title names could show the sea, sky or coldness.
At the beginning there are a few birds. As each name comes up, more and more birds fly through, from all angles. The aim is to make the audience feel uneasy.The simple black malevolence of the birds as they flutter past achieves this. Alfred Hitchcock is very clever in the way that he doesn’t use any music. He only uses the diegetic sound of the birds flapping past.
The sound gets louder and louder throughout the title sequence. This gets the audience alerted to the sound and makes them feel uneasy as the sound gets louder. It is repetitive and annoying. Later the audience will come to link this to a bird attack. It almost sets the theme right at the start, so the audience know whenever they hear that flapping sound the birds are coming. Also, the way each name comes on has some relevance.
It looks like birds are pecking away at the name, or like they are being bird pooed in, they appear in big splats.The first main attack is on Bodega Bay. The gulls swoop in over the gas station, the men race outside to help a man being attacked, while the ladies stay inside. Some petrol spills out and towards a man lighting a cigarette.
The petrol explodes in a ball of fire, killing the man. Then the people in the diner flee as the birds attack. Melanie Daniels goes to a call box, where she gets trapped as the birds try and get in. Just as her situation is getting desperate, as the gulls are breaking the glass of the callbox, Mitch rescues her. He pulls her into the safety of the diner. During the attack, Hitchcock uses almost every camera shot.
He uses wide-shots, (w/s) to establish surroundings, particularly when the gulls begin to attack, and at the beginning of the scene. He often uses mid-shots (m/s) to focus on a couple of people, for example there are quite a few shots of the people watching the attack in the diner. He uses point of view (p.o.
v) very well too. Used to show how the characters see it. Throughout the attack you get the idea that there has been a roll reversal. Usually it is birds that are caged, but now the humans are the ones that are trapped.This is ironic and clever. It means the audience feels sorry for the people, and we start the beginnings of a relationship with the characters. We begin to feel closer to them and this is important as we can relate to them more easily.
I particularly like the bit when he does a close up (c/u) of the petrol spilling, this focuses the audience’s attention on this, so they realise the danger. He then goes on to use a mid-shot of the petrol to slowly show the danger. There are people very close to the petrol.Then an extreme close-up (e.c.u) of the petrol as it reaches a car, then to our horror, a wide-shot to establish there is a man standing by the car with the petrol, and he has a lit match! We have not until this moment realised the danger, then suddenly it hits you with the transfer from e.c.u to w/s.
After the car has exploded, there is a series of four jump cuts between Melanie Daniels’ reaction and the chaos that is engulfing the town. She starts off looking one way, and after each jump cut, she turns her head. They are c/u of her face and w/s of the chaos, to focus in on her reactions and the general chaos outside.
Jump cuts are designed to almost simulate the situation. They are usually used in a chaotic situation, or situation of high emotion. The speed of the cuts, hence the name, are there to make the audience feel disorientated and confused.There is then an aerial shot of the whole bay. The shot flies along with the birds, and I think it makes the people look tiny and the birds bigger and more sinister. When Melanie Daniels gets trapped in the callbox, Alfred Hitchcock cleverly uses a high angle shot, which is often used to make people look smaller and less significant. It achieves this while making it look like she is in a coffin, as the callbox is small. The shots focus in on her panic with a close-up.
She looks trapped and confined into a cage. Melanie cannot get out because the birds are attacking. A bloodied man is shown outside the callbox to bring home the danger to Melanie and us. Then as the situation couldn’t get much worse two gulls dive and smash the glass in the callbox. This is foreshadowing the next major attack which is in the Brenner house, although we do not realise this. As an audience we cannot see how she should get out of the circumstances, until Mitch her night in shining armour arrives and drags her into the safety of the diner. I certainly felt though that they probably weren’t going to be safe for long, given the ferocity of the attack.
We form the biggest bond with Melanie. She is intended to be the main character and we can tell this because she is the centre of the story, we only see what happens to her in the story. It’s all about Melanie’s reactions and experiences. I noticed that the camera would focus on her often so we get to know more about her than anyone else. We first meet Melanie right at the start, when she goes into a pet shop. She meets Mitch Brenner who is buying love birds. This becomes an important theme throughout the film.
As the two meet buying lovebirds, they become lovebirds and the fact that the whole story is about birds this is an important thread.Melanie buys lovebirds to take to Mitch after he leaves. The two become very much like lovebirds as well. I like the way that the birds are a source for suspicion throughout the whole film. While the birds are attacking the family keep the lovebirds in the kitchen, and there are a few shots of the birds in their cage.
I know that I certainly thought the birds were going to break out at some point and attack, but in fact they never did come close. I like this and think it is sneaky as it keeps the audience on their toes trying to predict what will happen. It keeps up the interest when a film goes in a different direction to what you expected.We meet Mitch in the pet shop too, but he features less strongly during the film.
He is the hero and love interest in the story so we get to know him quite well too. He is usually shown as the more dominant figure in a two person shot (2 person m/s). Mrs Brenner and Cathy are less important, Mrs Brenner is there to add depth, realism and variation to the plot.
Cathy is the weak child, the vulnerable one. Main characters are the ones we feel the most attached to, and if cleverly done, we feel some emotion when something happens to them. A random man dying isn’t as powerful as one of the main characters getting hurt. Less has to happen to them, but we still feel something as the audience has watched them for long enough to know a bit about them. So therefore the main attacks happen only when we have had time to get to know the main characters.The attack on the boat is the first attack by the birds in the whole film. At 24 1/2 minutes into the film, it is the point where the film turns.
At this point it becomes not just a story about a romantic cat and mouse act, it changes direction. The previous part of the film was a “Mcguffin” – a term used by Hitchcock meaning a red herring, something to mislead the audience. The attack is the first of many involving Melanie Daniels. Being the main character this may be unexpected, it is a device used in a way to build up our expectations and then confounding what we expect with reality. We as an audience have connected her.
Because of the previous character build up we know more about her and so feel more closely related to her.Hitchcock does build up a fear of the birds very effectively. The attacks are repetitive. This gives the nasty feeling that they are carefully planned and organised. We know that there is going to be another attack. Also right from the very beginning Hitchcock worked to establish a sound trigger for the attacks. There is always the sound of screeching and beating wings whenever an attack is coming and this puts us on edge.
The whole massing of the birds is chilling too. We know from everyday life that birds flock. So in the film the large numbers of birds in a flock are used to terrify. The sheer number of them is scary and the way they all move in the same direction at the same time. In the film it almost looks like a black blanket of birds, descending down. And lastly the attack on the children is nasty.Children are more vulnerable and innocent so it is usually considered worse and even cowardly to attack such helpless things.
However to the birds it doesn’t matter as it is shown on the nasty attacks on the school house and Cathy, in which a supporting character dies, Annie the school teacher. At the start of the film there is absolutely nothing, save the title to indicate the film had anything to do with the birds. And it continues that way for over 20 minutes. Melanie Daniels was always adamant there was something wrong with the birds and told everyone, only to be met with disbelief. I think may reflect how Hitchcock felt about real life.People will be ready to ignore things out of the ordinary, even if it stares them in the face.
This is how all the residents of Bodega Bay react, one lady tells her that there is no way the birds can attack! In the film I think there is no main uses of non-diegetic sound. Hitchcock uses no music at all, so the only snippets of non-diegetic sound come from the bird noises before we know that they are coming from birds outside. But this is quickly changed to diegetic sound the minute we see the birds.He only ever bird noises in the film and this becomes very repetitive, we feel edgy and irritated by the constant noise.
We come to link that noise to the attacks so on the occasion it non-diegetic, we are all sure it comes from the birds and there is an attack coming. There is a bit in the film where he uses a children’s nursery rhyme to the same effect. This is called contrapuntal sound. The innocence of the children singing it is opposite to the malevolent threatening look of the birds, as more and more flutter onto the climbing frame behind an unaware Melanie really makes us feel ill at ease.
The repetition of the nursery rhyme becomes almost unbearable as the volume gets louder and louder.