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Cinematic Techniques In Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds Essay

The only sound playing is the rapid flapping of the soft black feathers. It feels as though it will never cease. All that is shown is a black, shiny wall of furious birds. It traps viewers and develops a feeling of helplessness. They feel as though they are suffocating from torn feathers cluttering their airways even though their rational side tells them none of it’s real. This is what audience members of the movie, “The Birds”, reported feeling during the immersive experience. Some felt so claustrophobic that they had panic attacks.

Cinema: the art of tapping in to an audience’s deepest emotions and using it to provoke a specific sensation. Few are able to master this fine art, however, “The Birds” by Hitchcock is a perfect example of a cinematic piece of art. Movies rely on hearing and seeing to design an experience. Movies are much more than just a picture on a screen. They are not linear, they are complex and have depth beyond our imagination. One of the most critically acclaimed master of this art is Alfred Hitchcock. The movie describes the events that occur when a small town is attacked by vicious birds.

The movie “The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock has a deeper emotional weight with its audience than the book “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier because of Hitchcock’s deliberate use of setting, imagery, and mood in the cinematic experience. Alfred Hitchcock is known as a master of the cinematic arts for his preeminent style when designing a setting. The movie depicts a small town, known as Bodega Bay, near the beach in the early 1960s. This town is a peaceful town where nothing disastrous ever happens, and when it does, the inhabitants do not know how to react.

The city is somewhat isolated from society and is not well known, causing the credibility of its citizens to be called into question. The main character, Melanie Daniels, calls her father, the owner of a famous newspaper, and tells him that there is a massive attack on the people of the town and it was all orchestrated by birds. Her father thinks that the idea of “peaceful” birds attacking an entire population is outrageous and refuses to run the story. He not only thinks that she is acting peculiar because of her visit to this town, but also has never even heard of this small city known as Bodega Bay.

The town’s isolation establishes a helpless feeling to the audience members who view the film. Hitchcock tapped into most people’s fear of isolation when designing the set of Bodega Bay, and he knew that if the characters appeared hopeless, then the audience would feel that same sensation. The era of when the movie is set in also affects the impression that the film leaves on viewers. It takes place in the 1960s when technology was not implemented worldwide as it is today. This also adds to the abandoned feeling that was mentioned previously.

The lack of technology because of the place in time it was set in, makes it quite difficult for characters to persuade others when explaining the dire situation they are in. Melanie Daniels could not show her father what was happening through a camera on her cellphone like many of us today. Melanie tried to explain it to her father, but there just was not enough proof. The characters are not able to show doubters what was actually happening. This causes audience members to yell at their screens saying, “Come on! There is a giant bird attack and you do not believe them? Help them! This type of inclusion of the audience is also a goal when trying to make a deeper impression on viewers. While Daphne du Maurier is talented when it comes to developing a setting in a book, the two genius ways of implementing setting to involve the moviegoers presented in the film is purely a tour de force. His contemporary application of setting sets apart the film from the original story in a way never seen before Hitchcock’s time. Hitchcock is also known as a pundit of imagery. Hitchcock’s main goal was to make the audience feel what the characters were experiencing.

A great advantage that a movie has that a book doesn’t is sound and pictures. This movie contains many sounds that try to make the viewers claustrophobic. For example, during the attack on Melanie Daniels, the only sound barreling through the theater is the ferocious flapping of wings, and shiny black feathers filling up the entire screen are all that is pictured. For at least a solid minute, just the pure noise and the black movement can make the theater attendee feel sick to their stomach. Hitchcock knew humans’ natural weak points and exposed them using something as simple as sound and picture.

Another example of imagery in the movie is groundbreaking special effects. Books can only attempt to explain how a scene is played out. However, a movie can use stunning visuals like a million angry birds flying at terrified children, like the iconic scene in the movie. This scene displays many children from the local school running to safety while hundreds of birds dive bomb at them. In the 1960s, the special effects that Hitchcock used were never seen before and told a story beyond what a book could ever accomplish.

This scene resonates especially with children and parents that watch the movie because it leads them to realize that it could happen to them or their children. Along with personal connections, iconic pictures are taken from this film, and that alone allows the memory of the movie to dote longer on the viewer. Alfred Hitchcock was experienced in causing terror among audiences worldwide which helped him create the imagery presented in the film. The mood of the movie was another plot tool that greatly affected the impact on the audience.

The mood was chilling because Hitchcock lit a fiery fear among his audiences. Hitchcock did not use the type of short lived fear caused by clowns chasing people with chainsaws. He used a very specific type of terror. He used people’s deep dark anxieties and brought them to life. This type of horror creeps up in frightening nightmares and causes a widespread panic. He plants the very possible idea of a bird attack into the thoughts of the viewer and then it grows into full blown anxiety once they begin to think about it.

Hitchcock portrays an ignorant town of unsuspecting citizens who all believe that a serious attack could never happen to them, let alone led by birds. The scariest part to the viewers, is that they hold the exact same beliefs as the town folk. They believe that a disaster, like a large attack by animals, could never happen to them. This makes the viewers second guess their living situations and makes them quite anxious. In addition to anxiety, Hitchcock also tries to make watchers tremble in their seats as they experience what people with serious phobias, such as claustrophobia, experience every day.

When all a person can hear is the furious fluttering of wings, coupled with the sight of smooth black bodies’ crowding the characters themselves, it causes the person to feel trapped and thus horribly scared. So, one could argue, that the imagery creates the mood that is presented. This genius technique was relatively new to the cinemas, and this is an aspect that a movie can conquer, but a book cannot. As one could see, the mood was a large sum of what generated such a deep impact upon the audience. Daphne du Maurier is a talented writer, however, it is hard to surpass the ground-breaking technology seen commonly in movies.

Alfred Hitchcock is also quite talented, but in a different aspect of literature. While Maurier is tasked with portraying a story with only words as her weapon, Hitchcock has to portray a story using visuals, which can be much more complicated than simply writing the events of a plot. Of course that is a simplification of books, and there can be subtle nuances and fabulous works of literature, the comparison of the two works clearly shows that Hitchcock’s movie has a deeper involvement of audiences due to the use of setting, imagery, and mood.

Hitchcock has set design in his arsenal, which allowed more flexibility in describing a setting. He also had sound and pictures to aid him in his attempt to achieve the emotional weight her desired for viewers. He was also able to manipulate people’s deepest fears and turn them into a prevalent paranoia. When all that is shown are feisty, little beasts and that can be heard is the battle drum created by their wings, run, for they prey on the helpless and trapped.

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