Birds in The Birds: Hitchcock and Sound

Birds Titles

Liam Leddy

Alfred Hitchcock is often deservedly lauded for his skills as an editor, as well as for the ingenuity of his films’ plots. What often gets lost in the shuffle though is how well Hitchcock uses mise-en-scene and sound. The Birds is an excellent example. The first time I saw the film I, like many others, noticed how seemingly disjointed the two halves were. If I hadn’t known the main subject matter of the film was before I saw it because of its fame, the first 50 minutes would have, on the surface, prepared me for a film purely about the relationship between Mitch Brenner and Melanie Daniels, with any sort of outside conflict coming from perhaps Mitch’s mother or Annie Hayworth, and nowhere else. Instead, at about the 52 minute mark there is a mass bird attack at Cathy Brenner’s birthday party, and the film becomes one of disaster, with all the characters fighting against the birds—not with each other. While I was perhaps puzzled and maybe even a little surprised by the sharpness and abruptness of this plot twist, I realized I wasn’t shocked at all. I may have not consciously expected the change in course, but there was a part of me that knew how dangerous the threat of the birds was, and knew that something like this would happen. Naturally I wondered why I was so relatively nonplussed by the first bird attack and the film’s subsequent course. How could I have known what was coming? Reviewing the film, the answer is rather simple: Hitchcock prepared me for it, expertly using timing, mise-en-scene, and especially sound to prepare viewers for the sudden change in the film’s focal point. In this essay I will go over specific instances of this throughout the first half of the film, illustrating exactly how Hitchcock subtly saturates the viewer with the idea of the birds as both omnipresent and threatening.

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