The history and the theory of cinematography have always been one of the most interesting parts of history, and in spite of its only 100 years history, cinema collected millions of fans throughout the world. As for the plot of any film, it is necessary to admit that it is a kind of narration, which I usually based on the imagination of the watcher, as the perception of anything seen on the screen is absolutely individual, and everyone highlights his/ her own moments, forming the plot and the subject line. The standard guiding principles for the construction of the plot in one’s mind are those principles of causality and stimulus. A film’s plot usually makes those guidelines applicable by transmitting story information. This aspect of the plot I shall call narration.
The personal development involves Hitchcock’s interest from about 1958 to 1963 in going beyond point-of-view shots identified with a given character, an interest begun in Vertigo, developed in Psycho, and culminating in The Birds. In these three films, which to varying degrees might be called the “extra subjective” films, the director sought most seriously to touch the fears of the audience directly. They are his least detached, most unsettling, and haunting films.
The subjectivity of human nature in movies is often used as the key moment of the plot; as watching a film, we rarely appreciate the performance or the plot itself at first sight. The starring actors, their characters are the first details of any movie which catch our eyes. As watchers, we notify actors playing, characters’ behavior, his/ her actions, sayings, and so on. Almost nobody mentions the position of some details which point to either future someone’s destiny or someone’s true colors. The product placement details are usually taken as proper. But we never miss some phrases, which often become proverbs, always mention some specific features both in character and appearance of the starring actor.
The discussion of the movie by Alfred Hitchcock “The Birds” (1963) can be fully devoted to the issues of human consciousness and subjectivity, actually, like any other movie, especially high-quality one. The manifestation of subjectivity starts from the first line of script-writing, when the director plans the future movie, how it will be performed, where and when this or that character will appear. The same is with the selected essay movie – “The Birds.” The very selection of the plot and kinds of symbolism can be interpreted as a subjective author’s choice, especially if we know enough about Alfred Hitchcock and his manner in performing thrillers. Some researchers consider that birds’ assault symbolizes the spread of communism in Europe and the fear of the western world of it, as Denison University Professor Elliot Stout notifies the use of red color in various, sometimes even unexpected places throughout the plot. This explanation may be considered valid as firstly, the movie was released during the Cold War relations aggravation between Western and Socialistic Blocks, and secondly, as lots of movies, literary works had been interpreted from this point of view. The non-scientific movie review, on the contrary, suggests nothing about political issues but social. On an allegorical level, the birds are the symbolization of unleashed, troubling, devastating powers that threaten all of the human kindness (the threat subjected persons are the schoolchildren, a defenseless farmer, bystanders, a schoolteacher, etc.) when relations have become insubstantial, obstructive, or cruel. In a broader meaning, the steadiness of the home and natural world surroundings can be expressed in the broken cups. A great example of human consciousness is changing people’s behavior. Citizens forgot how to define danger. They can not see the danger that gathered around and lost the skills of self-protection from the threatening violence, even staying in shelters (telephone boots, windows, facades, etc.) Various mentions of blindness are interspersed throughout the film. These are the pecked-out farmer’s eyes, the children, who play blind man’s bluff at someone’s birthday party. Even the camera, which depicts the horror of the situation, is showed attacked too.
As it can be seen, the interpretation of the plot is a whole matter of subjectivity. Anyone more or less attentive may notice some additional details and refer to some symbols, as the film contains a long enumeration of such dually-interpreted moments rather.
Originally, critics failed in their attempts to interpret the movie from a literal point and define it against another classic disaster/ horror movies of such kind. The typical Hitchcock MacGuffin’s question: Why do the strange attacks occur? But the film cannot solely be interpreted that way, because as the actors in the film discover in the long discussion scene in the Tides Restaurant, there is no solid, rational reason why the birds are attacking. They are not seeking revenge for nature’s mistreatment or foreshadowing doomsday, and they don’t represent God’s punishment for humankind’s evil.
When this becomes realized, the figurative film’s difficult fabric makes more logic, particularly if deduced in Freudian terms. It is about three poor women (literally ‘birds’) – and a fourth is much younger – each gathering around and contesting for varying levels of friendliness and awareness from the single, sensitively-cold male lead and the delicate stresses, anxieties, and changeable relations between them. The attacks are strangely associated with the mother and son relations in the film – annoyance (and doubts of neglect or being left lonely) of the envious, originally aggressive mother surface when her single son brings home a good-looking young lady. Strangely, the first attack has figurative phallic hints – it happens when the man and woman move toward each other outside the restaurant in the coastal town.
This demonstrates the absolute subjectivity in the approaches, even in characterization and explanation of the symbols.
Raymond Bellour argues that The Analysis of Film should be grounded on at least four books. One of them devoted to North by Northwest (1959), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), and Psycho (1960), studies the works by Alfred Hitchcock and the connected arrangements of perversion, voyeurism, and fetishism.
In the analysis of an 84-shot sequence from The Birds, Bellour shows that the segment–Melanie’s journey out and back across Bodega Bay – proceeds throughout the orchestration of three key oppositions (or codes): framing (close/distant), camera movement (still/moving), and, crucially, for the segment pivots around an exchange of looks, point of view (seeing/seen). These close or micro-repetitions of alternation, which function at the level of emotion, in turn built to become replications of satisfaction at the story level. Bellour’s final inner replication is thus a textual or macro replication distinguished by the fact that its stage continuously changes, relocates itself, and covers all other levels.
Hitchcock wants to obscure the watchers in hesitations that the watchers are involved in the goings-on in this scrupulous countryside community. Hitchcock copes with taking the solid edge off the view by emphasizing the amusing rejoinders of the other people at the tea-party – who, amazed, all come gathering into the room from the veranda outside.
Sound in the movie is the subject of a separate discussion, and the features by which it is related to the issues of subjectivity are that it could be interpreted exceptionally subjectively, and the subjectivity factor had played a significant role in choosing the necessary sounds, musical sets, and background melodies.
The new sophistication of electronic sound became the new technological implementation. Hitchcock told that in his conversation of The Birds, “Until now we’ve worked with natural sounds, but now, thanks to the electronic sound, I’m not only going to indicate the sound we want but also the style and the nature of each sound.” Such a significance of new technical challenges was a characteristic of the director who instantly experimented with synchronized sound, complicated camera movement, and 3-D immediately as each became obtainable for him. Indeed, the challenge of mastering new equipment has offered a major creative stimulus for Hitchcock in many films.
The fact is that Hitchcock became the first who had ever used sound effects to empower the impressions on the movie. During the murders, the music emphasizes the visual patterns of birds as predators; violins are scraped during the assaults to sound like screaming birds. Sound and visual effects act jointly to supply Hitchcock’s most horrifying successions. (That the scoring alone is not as petrifying as pointed by the fact that on the fourth event when the violins scream—while Norman’s run down from the domicile after Marion’s slaughter—the spectators do not get embarrassed in fear, though, they could.) An essential feature of the scoring here is that the violins’ yelling not only relates to Norman with his swollen birds of prey but it also relates the watchers with the onscreen victims. That is to say, the screams of the victims, the shrieks of the violins, and the screeches of the viewers merge indistinctly during violent successions. The difference between screen victims and viewers has crashed in The Birds movie—the bird sounds act as music. Hitchcock even exterminates music under the opening titles in errand of bird noises. Furthermore, once Hitchcock has created the birds as a danger, he controls tension just by manipulating the noises of fluttering and bird cries that return not at random. At any moment in the movie, a bird noise can be initiated logically, so Hitchcock has tools of controlling pressure even more successfully and less blatant than musical prompts. He also presents birds visually, but the viewers are much more aware of their appearances than of their noises. To imagine a bird visually without an attack is to taunt the spectators with a red herring, and so Hitchcock is not able to manipulate the images as freely for expectation as he does with the soundtracks.
The bird screams are often so stylized that if the imaginary bases were not offered, the sounds could not be recognized. The effect of the ensuing vagueness is to universalize the sounds — much as Hitchcock universalizes the disputes between spouses by softening the particulars of their squabble. This universality to be the essence of The Birds: “The vagueness of the film’s sense is a prime virtue. If it had an exact figurative meaning, it would have particular relevance to each spectator, who could then deal with it on its own level. But its very ambiguity makes the danger function appealingly at every level of viewers’ consciousness.
The bird screams are all the more intangible and frightening when they come from invisible sources. The film’s most terrifying attack is the sixth, in which only a bird or two could be seen. Mitch has closed the windows of his house. Paradoxically, his beating, which is heard prior to it is seen, sounds like the drumming of beaks, the main sound during the attack. The circumstances are claustrophobic: as the human victims eavesdrop and fight off the attack, they comprehend that the home is a trap, but not protection. The attack’s end is signified by the retreating of bird noises. Meanwhile, the viewers have felt as endangered as the characters. By keeping the danger acoustic rather than visual, Hitchcock has once more crashed the barrier between viewers and onscreen characters. The theater and the living room have seemed one incessant space—one continuous trap.
It is seen that human consciousness and subjectivity may be displayed in any feature of the movie. The present work describes the subjectivity in the interpretation of the movie plot, and the main ground of the suggestion is that there are as many opinions as many people decide to offer their own.
Part of the work is devoted to the use of sound. Unfortunately, it in no way relates to the subjectivity of people’s behavior, but it highlights the subjectivity and originality of the author. The choice is supposed to show the human consciousness, how people’s reactions can be associated with music (onscreen behavior) and how it may control the emotions of the viewers.
- Bordwell, D., Staiger, J., & Thompson, K. (1988). The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960. London: Routledge.
- Bellour, Raymond. (1979) “Alternation, Segmentation, Hypnosis:” Interview with Raymond Bellour. By Janet Bergstrom. Trans. Susan Suleiman. Camera Obscura 3-4: 70-103
- Francois TruHaut, Hitchcock (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967; originally published as Le Cinema selon Hitchcock [Paris: Robert Laffont, 1966]). 224.
- Weis, E 1982 “The Silent Scream – Alfred Hitchcock’s Sound Track” Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, U.S