Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose #18: Love Birds (Opening Scene of The Birds)

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Today's Daily Dose is the opening scene from The Birds.

 

Watch the scene over at Canvas and then come back here and discuss.

 

Here are three questions to get everyone started:

 

1.     In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) through their interactions in this scene?
 

2.     How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere?
 

3.     The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene.

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In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) in this scene? Mistaking Hedren for an employee and her playfully manipulating the moment, allows Hitchcock to establish her character's traits. She is strong, flirtatious, non-helpless, and "knows what she wants" woman. She also shows that no matter what, she will get her way. The first scene plays like a RC with its playful banter but, I've always found it rather a demonstration of Hedren controlling behavior. In a way it's a roll reversal for this time. She being the typical male character who see what she wants and goes after it, he being the victim of a joke and plays along waiting for her to make the first move. Yes, this could be a RC but, I've always walked away feeling she is a spoiled child who was never told "no".

 

How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sound of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere? From the street, there is no music, only sounds of life, a trolley bell or the birds sound from above. By allowing the sounds of the street instead of a musical soundtrack to follow her to the shop, Hitchcock establish where she is. She is in San Francisco as we can see by the poster on the wall and by the trolley going by but, it is more effective with the seagulls as we are reminded that the sea is near. In a way, you can almost smell the city as the bird sound reminds you of that you are very close to the ocean. That seagull sound is only missing the sound of the tide coming in. It also, makes you think all is well until, Hedren looks up and see more birds than expected. When Hedren asks about the swarm, she is quickly dismissed by the expert because after all birds are harmless.

 

The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene. Hitchcock is coming out of the pet shop with his two dogs. In the opening scene, two is a theme. We see two dogs followed by two love birds, concluding with the main character's flirting making a couple. The cameo to me just represent the possible of a romantic relationship for this scene. It sets up the scene that follows of the romantic banter.

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  1. In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) in this scene?

     

    I love this film. Of all the Hitchcock films, this is the one that is most familiar to me next to Pscho. It is hilarious watching the parlay between Tippi and Rod in the opening scene. She is trying so hard to answer his questions and he is totally on to her. And how about that? Mitch is looking for love birds and he knows more about birds than Melanie for sure. I believe further in this segment he actually knows who she is based on her family history and a photo in the newspaper. There's nothing horrific about this, yet the question about the sea birds inland seems a bit forbearing of things to come.

 

 

  1. How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere?

     

    Funny how you watch a film and the background music becomes just that - background. In The Birds, the noise of the birds has made a subliminal impression on me. I didn't realize there was no music, but the sound of the birds was so fitting with the film's story you don't notice the lack of music. It seems perfectly normal that you hear the sound of the birds. On a side note, I can hear a few birds tweeting and a pheasant squawking in the brush with the wind in the cottonwood tree. Sometimes I can hear the wind under their wings. So bird backgrounds are quite pleasant and my morning is not complete without a few moments at dawn. There is a storm somewhere in the distance and so the birds are rather quiet -- at the moment ...

     

     

  2. The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene.

     

    Seems like a perfectly normal thing, a man walking out of a pet shop with his two birds, but you know ... that famous Hitchcock silhouette is quite easy to see in this shot. It conveys normalcy. So what really could possibly happen to upset the apple cart? 

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I think the sound score was most striking, especially after a lack of music was pointed out. I've seen this film numerous times, and I guess I never caught on to it.

 

During the playful romantic banter between Hedren and Taylor, chirping birds are heard throughout. This is interesting to me, as you can still make out the dialogue between the two main characters, but the bird sounds are quite noticeable. But these birds are chirping almost playfully, happily, reinforcing the romance budding between Hedren and Taylor. This is different than the squawking heard from the massive flock of birds Hedren sees before she enters the shop.

 

While it may be a minor observation, I think it's also interesting that after entering the shop, Hedren is asking for a bird that will talk (Myna). She's told she will have to teach it to talk (i.e., to be more "human-like"). This is ironic that by the film's end the birds are dominating the humans, and not the other way around.

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In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) in this scene?

 

Seems just a casual day in a pet shop with friendly flirtatious dialogue. Funny Melanie is trying to mess with Mitch yet he is onto her and has a little fun of his own.

 

How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere?

 

I suppose with a film called the Birds, what better soundtrack than bird chirps & calls. I think the bird sounds act as almost a laugh track to the playful flirting between Mitch & Melanie.

 

The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene

 

Hitchcock's cameo seems uneventful. It fits the mood of this light and fun scene. His dogs go with all the pairs in the film... love birds, Mitch & Melanie, two cities, etc...

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  1. In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) in this scene? -- The banter between the two characters could indicate more of a romantic comedy, but for me the tone was off and covered more foreshadowing than playful humor. Melanie is as impatient as Mitch - yet she breaks away from her serious attitude with the clerk to play 'saleswoman' with Mitch. Mitch doesn't seem to be buying it as he knows more about the birds than her, but goes along with the gag, probably so see how far she will go.

 

How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere? -- The sounds of birds outside created a seaside town, yet the birds inside, once cheery, become a little more deafening, not because he enhances their sounds but because he does not dim them; most of the time background noises are lessened to allow the dialogue to be heard; in this case, the birds remain a part of the dialogue and therefore, create not a romantic opening, but a sinister one. Subtle. Crafty... 

 

The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene. -- He passes through the door with his two dogs; Mitch is looking for two love birds for an 11 year old child (2 1s); Melanie and the clerk are the only two women in the store at the time...  so yes, Hitchcock offers a clue about doubles for the viewer quick enough to catch it. 

 

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While it may be a minor observation, I think it's also interesting that after entering the shop, Hedren is asking for a bird that will talk (Myna). She's told she will have to teach it to talk (i.e., to be more "human-like"). This is ironic that by the film's end the birds are dominating the humans, and not the other way around.

 

An excellent point; as I heard her request, I thought of movies now, where people are looking for robots instead of birds and the dialogue could be exactly the same.  I don't think your observation was minor at all!   :)

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(1) In the opening scene, we learn that Melanie has ordered a myna bird which she’d hoped would already be able to talk when she picks it up.  We learn that Melanie has a playful side as she pretends to work at the pet store when Mitch mistakes her for an employee and asks her for help finding love birds.  Mitch, we see, is quick-witted and playful as well.  He is quick to discover Melanie’s charade, posing questions and making comments that reveal she is not knowledgeable about birds.  The opening scene of The Birds is like a romantic comedy because of the mistaken identity trope and the flirtation that ensues.  Furthermore, the characters talk about love birds and the demonstrativeness of their affection, which is sexually suggestive.

 

(2) Initially, I considered the sound of the gulls outdoors as normal ambient noise, but when I saw how many gulls were in the sky—an exorbitant amount—the noise became a little unsettling.  Immediately upon Melanie’s entrance into the pet shop, however, I was put at ease by the singing and chirping of the birds in captivity.  The sound of the birds inside the pet shop is relaxing.  The birds there are in captivity, so it is a safe space, a sanctuary.  In this opening scene, we see the prelude to chaos outside juxtaposed with the mood of safety and security that remains intact inside.

 

(3) The movie is called The Birds.  Seeing as how Hitchcock exits the pet shop with two dogs—an no birds—I think his cameo serves as a foreshadowing of the havoc the birds will wreak.  (Birds are not his pet of choice.)  Having two dogs with him could represent the concept of safety in numbers.  The two dogs, as mentioned in the curator’s note, also touch on the Hitch’s frequent theme of doubling.

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As Melanie looks up and sees the gulls she wonders what is happening.

The pet shop lady says there must be a storm coming, because the birds are moving

inland. This is a foreshadowing of the chaos to come.

 

In the opening scene Melanie tries to put one over on Mitch by pretending to work at

the pet shop. Mitch knows what is going on the whole time and tries to teach her

a lesson.

The lighthearted banter between the two is another touch of Hitch's to throw us off

and then bring us back to the main story line.

 

The soundtrack is pure genius by Hitch, because it makes the birds the main characters

of the story.

 

Another Hitchcock touch his use of doubles. The cameo walking his two dogs,

the love birds, Mitch and Melanie's relationship.

Also comparing the sleepy sea town of Bodega Bay to Santa Rosa in "Shadow

Of A Doubt" where evil comes to town.

 

This is a good character study of how people interact, when confronted with extreme

circumstances.

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  1. In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) in this scene?

​​                  ​In the opening scene we have the playful interchange between Mitch and Melanie. When mistaken for a clerk in Davidson's Pet Shop by Mitch, Melanie decides to have some fun and string him along. Instead of saying "Sorry, I don't work here" (which I am sure many of us have experienced) Melanie acts the part as a less then knowledgeable clerk. Mitch, upon realizing that he is being had, decides not to tip (not Tipi) his hand and continues to play along. This indeed becomes a flirtatious interlude just like in a romantic comedy of the classic period.

          We also have the first bird "expert" trying to explain the odd behavior of the seagulls to Melanie.

 

2.How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere?

              

             The first scene is on the streets of San Francisco with the appropriate traffic and street noises i.e. Cable car gongs, motorcycles roaring, cars passing and feet walking on the sidewalk. However, we hear over this the sounds of the seagulls... something is stirring them up, something perhaps ominous. Once inside the Davidson's Pet Shop, the sounds of the birds are more peaceful and docile. Canaries, "red birds", love birds all merrily chirping and cooing with an occasional screech thrown in. The store counter clerk does remark about the possibility of a storm at sea upsetting the seagulls to account for the loud sounds emanating from them in the sky.

 

3. The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene.

​     

            ​The cameo shows Hitchcock and his own two Sealyham terriers Geoffrey and Stanley walking out of the pet shop. They must have been out for a walk and have just popped into the shop to look around. They appear to have not purchased anything. Hitchcock and crew walk out of the store and head to the left along the sidewalk.  Possible meanings... dogs are truly man's best friend through thick and thin. Another hint may be that its time to "get out of Dodge" because mayhem is ahead.

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1. In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) in this scene?

 

This opening scene seems more appropriate to a romantic comedy because we watch this little meet-cute between Melanie and Mitch. She's a prankster, thinking she's playing a little joke, while Mitch knows what she's up to this whole time. We learn that Melanie does not seem to take things very seriously, while we go on to find out Mitch decides to play this joke in order to teach her a lesson. 

 

2. How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere?

 

In this opening sequence, the sounds of the birds are almost ambient, what you'd expect to hear in outdoors or in a pet shop. However, they begin to incite feelings of terror and horror as the film goes on. 

 

3. The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene.

 

The famous Hitchcock cameo in this film is significant because he is walking two dogs out of the pet shop. It foreshadows all the couplings that will become important in this film (Melanie and Mitch, the lovebirds, Mitch and his mother, Mitch and Annie, San Francisco and Bodega Bay). 

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what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) in this scene?

 

The Birds is my 2nd favorite Hitchcock next to Psycho.  Contrary to the question I do sense  a slight "horror apocalypse" foreshadowing in the opening scene mixed with dark and romantic comedy elements.  Maybe that is because I first saw this movie at age 6 and was really creeped out by it.  I have never been a big birds fan when it came to nature or pets.  As a child, there was a a large jungle jim near in the elementary school park.  One October it was cloudy and I remember the black crows gathering in packs nearly 40 of them... it was so reminiscent of the schoolhouse scene from the movie that I couldn't even go outside to play.  I remember even "not wanting" to go to school because of the the Birds.  In addition I currently live in a beautiful historical area of Long Beach, CA with many palm trees.  At certain times of the year, 100s of wild green parrots from Mexico fly into the palms in front of my condo.  In fact I have a panoramic glass window view of these palms.  Some mornings I'm waken up to the cacophony of parrot chirping that is so unsettling and then there is the retaliation of bird **** all over the cars that are forced to park on the street because many condos, and buildings in the old historic district I live in have no garages.  I also once was driving on PCH in Huntington Beach and a gull actually did crash into my car!  So though I doubt a bird apocolypse is possible, I do believe that smaller bird attacks and bizarre bird incidents are!  I also had crows that bit through telephone wires on my roof disconnecting my phone on 3 occasions.  I had to change to cell phone only.  Crazy huh?  Do like birds?  (NO NO NO).  I also have 2 friends who have parrots.  I can't stand the grating noise they make, the molting feathers and the smell.  UGG. so freaky.  

 

Ok sorry now to the movie:  I always loved San Fran, and of course TIppi is the typical Hitchcock blonde, graceful and beautiful.  I find it interesting that she is dressed in black business outfit which foreshadows danger.  The one shot of the black birds in the sky... freak me out!!!  Where others might not think about it.... I remember the first time I saw that .. was like Oh god time to move out of SF LOL.   When Tipppi (Melanie) enteres the shop... I'm easily as unsettled ... all those birds flapping their wings in cages to me is unsettling.  

 

Rod Taylor is in my opinion a pretty sexy actor.  I love him in this movie.  I love how he mistakens Tippi (Melanie) for the shop girl.  The flirtation is funny but the talk of birds foreshadow events to come.  Esp.. talking about birds being locked up..  It sets up the bird attacks so perfectly.  Even though I found the dark comedy/romantic elements sexy and fun.. I 'm always thinking.. what is one of those damn birds gets out of the cage and plucks Tippi's eye out.

 

I like how Hitch uses social class in development of characters..  Tippi (Melanie) is rich and expects to ALWAYS gets what she wants.  She is cross with the shop girl.  "Where are my birds" they are so suppose to be here.  Have them delivered to my penthouse etc.  This theme will lead her on her obsessive chase to get Rod Taylor (Mitch) into bed and romance (I don't blame her LOL).  The banter of Mitch buying love birds for his baby sis, and not wanting birds too "demonstrative" is funny to me.  I love Hitchcock's humor in this movie which is what makes The Birds so bizarre when the attacks start.  BIRDS is just plain bizarre and creepy which is why I love it. 

 

How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere?

 

Bernard Herrmann's sound design is brilliant.  The sound of birds to me is always unnsettleing. Crazy. Again in the store all the background cacophony of birds creates tension.  That is what I sense in the opening scene.  Tensions of traffic, and mobs of people in a big city like SF,  tensions of the birds in cages and the flock of birds in the sky,  sexual tension between Mitch and Melanie,  the tension the shop girl feels that Melanie's order is not ready.  The background track ads to the tension and I love how Herrmann's bird tracks build and build through the movie  It just gets more crazy till the bird war.  Creepy as hell. 

 

The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene.

 

I always love Hitch's cameos. We always see the use of duality in Hitch's movies;  good and evil, sexual and passive, black and white, etc.  I think the duo of Hitch's pet dogs forshadlow that all relationships can go randomly from compatible to feuding.  Many 2s  (2 love birds) Mitch/Melanie, etc.  I think the 2 dogs also subliminally say "Mans best friends" aka safety in numbers...  that Melanie and Mitch will be forced to come together to save themselves and others from the birds.  Notice how many birds we see in the opening scene. The only other animals are the brief glimpse of Hitch's dogs. 

 

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1.     In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) through their interactions in this scene?

It was very illuminating for me to view the opening scene through the lens of Dr. Edwards' comment that the opening was a microcosm of the entire picture. I have not yet seen The Birds​, but now I am looking forward to it. I concur that the opening seems more like that of a romcom than of a horror film, and I suppose that was just Hitchcock being Hitchcock and setting us up for horror to pop up in seemingly everyday situations.

​Through their interactions, we learn that Melanie is plucky and interested in flirting with Mitch. We also learn that he is on to her, as it quickly becomes obvious that he knows much more about birds than she does. I particularly liked the humor that Hitchcock injected into their banter, such as when Melanie said that one can tell by their hangdog expressions that birds were molting.

​On a personal note, having been on vacation in San Francisco with my girlfriend two months ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Hitchcock opened the scene with a shot of Union Square and a passing cable car. As if these clues alone were not enough to establish that the scene was taking place in San Francisco, he has Melanie walk past a poster that says "San Francisco." It seems it was important to Hitchcock that the viewer should know exactly where actions take place. I wish I had seen this movie prior to two months ago, when my girlfriend and I were there. I took a picture of her with a background shot of the Big Alma statue, and it would have been fun to know that Hitchcock had seagulls swarming above it in the opening scene of ​The Birds.      


 

2.     How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere?

I suspect I would not have noticed that the opening did not include music if Dr. Edwards had not pointed this out. I think it was ingenious for Hitchcock to use bird sounds and ambient street noise for his sound design. The comparison of the cries of the angry sea gulls to the submissive chirping of the bird shop birds was an interesting microcosm and harbinger of the movie. Frankly, the ability to distinguish between actual bird sounds and simulated bird sounds made by a modified Trautonium is not one of my core skills, so I am wondering if both were included in this opening sequence.

​However, one particular part of the opening sound perplexes me. Just before Melanie enters the bird shop,  she hears a wolf whistle and turns to see that it was made by a passing boy. It really seems to make Melanie's day that an apparently sub-teen-aged boy would display sexual attraction to her, and she breaks into a beaming and approving broad smile. Personally, I thought this was creepy. Did we really need a kid to inform us that Melanie was hot? I think we could have figured that out ourselves.   


 

3.     The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene.

​This is a great question! Knowing that Hitchcock frequently made cameo appearances in his films, many of which were so brief as to be nearly unnoticeable, I have often wondered what was he trying to accomplish with his cameos. Were they intended to convey meaning? It seems to me that his early cameo in The Lodger​, which I could not see until classmates indicated the precise seconds in which we saw the back of Hitchcock's head as he sat at a desk, may have been made simply because he wanted to save a little money by not paying an extra to play the scene. Maybe he just wanted to put his personal stamp into his movies, and his cameos did not necessarily "mean" anything? Frankly, I cannot divine any meanings to many of his cameos, such as the one we recently saw where he tries to get on a bus but cannot. As for his cameo in The Birds​, people say that his two dogs point to his love of the "Doubling" theme, and the same has been said of the double bass he carries in his cameo in ​Strangers on a Train."  I suspect that Hitchcock put some careful thought into what he would do in his cameos, but if so, his effort was lost on me.      

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1. In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) in this scene?

 

It seems more like a romantic comedy because other than the foreshadowing of the hovering mass of birds in the sky Tippi flirtingly doubles as the pet store attendant and proceeds to be knowledgable of birds. She's playing an imposter in order to flirt and toy with Rod Taylor who we learn about looking for "love birds" in all the right places. You'd never know doom or apocalyptic themes were to take place even the music is light and suggestive of familiar romantic comedies. Correction: so light is the music it's not even there ;) my bad

 

2. How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere?

 

I'll need more time to study the sounds so early in the film especially since Hitch will really lay it on in later scenes. I'd say the pet store with the layering of bird sounds are meant to emerse us in this world first as an audience that is safe and the dominant species then only later to be the prey (dominated) or victims of the natural world in unnatural circumstances. True chaos... FYI: I've seen the birds as much as Psycho and they strike me as his more horror-like genre. I like how he describes the "nightmare" that is 'North By Northwest' also, RIP Martin Landau so glad I could tell you how much of a legend I thought you were...

 

3. The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene.

 

Playful cameo. Very memorable and fitting for using his own dogs. I think it's a bit ironic he's walking dogs as though he's giving us a clue that they are possibly more subservient species than the unruly birds but I could be stretching that theory also ;)

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In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) in this scene?

 

One way this opening scene seems more appropriate to a romantic comedy is the fact that it seems more like a "slice of life" than a prelude of things to come. It seems like your classic "boy meets girl" kind of story. 

 

Another way is the focus on the love birds in the pet shop. Melanie sees other birds (more ominous ones) as she walks into the pet shop, but there is no lingering on them. The lovebirds seem to signal a budding romance more than an apocalyptic disaster. The dialogue between the two characters as Mitch is describing the ideal bird could also be construed as the perfect mate--not too demonstrative, not too aloof.

 

We learn a few things about Melanie and Mitch. We learn that Melanie is there to pick up a special bird, one that has the ability to talk. Mitch is kind of a superior type--immediately he assumes Melanie is a salesgirl just because she's standing at the check-out counter, but what is more interesting is that she goes along with it right away. We also learn that Mitch has a very young sister whose birthday is coming up, and that is why he is looking at birds.

 

How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere?

 

As Hitchcock has stated, the birds are the stars of the movie, and from the very beginning we are aware of their presence. Though we can see the characters, the only sounds we hear are of the birds. While at first the sounds of the birds doesn't seem like anything out of the ordinary, the fact that there really is no other extradiegetic sound starts to give the audience the feeling that they are all around, closing in.

 

The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene.

 

The Hitchcock cameo in this scene is Hitchcock leaving the pet shop walking his two dogs. While I don't know if it has any particular meaning in relation to the scene, it could be related to the fact that the two characters in imminent danger walk into the shop looking for birds, while the man with the dogs will probably be just fine.

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​However, one particular part of the opening sound perplexes me. Just before Melanie enters the bird shop, she hears a wolf whistle and turns to see that it was made by a passing boy. It really seems to make Melanie's day that an apparently sub-teen-aged boy would display sexual attraction to her, and she breaks into a beaming and approving broad smile. Personally, I thought this was creepy. Did we really need a kid to inform us that Melanie was hot? I think we could have figured that out ourselves.

 

It does seem creepy in that context but I recall a story that Hitch was in on an inside joke about a commercial that Tippi was in where they whistled at her. I think Hitch was playing with that as a side note perhaps he's playing to a younger audience as opposed to strong sexual undertones. Experts can correct me if I'm wrong.

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The opening scene to THE BIRDS is more appropriate for a romantic comedy than horror as we are witnessing the chance encounter of Melanie and Mitch, who both seem to be flirting with each other. There is only one ominous sign in the scene- the birds circling around outside before she walks in. The dialogue and deception between Mitch and Melanie all happen at the top or second floor of the pet shop which I find a nice touch that we are set up higher, like birds. The associations between these two and birds move beyond this however, when their playful dialogue includes a sympathy of why birds should not be caged up (like people in society). Melanie states, “Well they can’t just fly around in the shop”, as if they are wanting to to be themselves and let their true guard down. We learn that Melanie can be deceitful (pretending to be a shop worker) and that Mitch is intelligent and on to her game, but also stubborn in the way that he enjoys pointing out her inaccuracies.

 

The sound design of the birds “score” is a constant, never fading through dialogue. Outside there is a lower noise (almost like the adults or the decision makers of the entire species planning their attack) contrasted with the inside bird sounds which are much higher pitched, like children or babies. There the ultimate struggle is subtly presented-who is controlling who? On one hand we have hundreds of birds in these cages in the store, literally outnumbering the customers but the people have the power/control. Outside, we have the people outnumbering the birds, but soon the birds dominate. 

 

The opening of THE BIRDS, reminds me of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, first because we see a trolly (or the San Francisco train), but then we are focused on Tippi’ Hedron’s introduction, surprisingly not on the trolley and walking across the street (1st criss cross).When she enters the pet shop, Hitchcock exits- presenting another criss crossing of paths. Then the two identical dogs he is walking are not different from the lovebirds Mitch is seeking, as well as the love he is about to meet in Melanie.

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1.     In this opening scene from The Birds we see a playful flirtation between Melanie and Mitch being created. First off, we know that Melanie doesn’t work there, Mitch doesn’t. With her verbal exchange with the employee we get the idea that Melanie is upper class, seemingly busy, on some strict schedule, and a little worried that the bird she ordered isn’t what she will get. But this shifts-obviously Melanie isn’t too busy to have a little fun with the attractive Rod Taylor’s character. The minute she can’t name the strawberry finch’s correctly, Mitch decides to have bit of fun with her as he asks about ornithological reasons for keeping the birds in cages. He furthers his fun by trying to find out if she knows what molting is. Tippi Hedren’s character plays it off as best she can, but Mitch is on to her. In this scene, these two establish the obvious attraction to each other, but also display that they are college educated, possibly single, and most likely rather independent and confident people. This is critical in terms of character buy-in and respect amongst the audience. This scene alone doesn’t go much further in adding to the romantic comedy aspect but there are other scenes-such as the shot of the love birds leaning to and fro on the floor of Melanie’s car as she is speeding to Bodega Bay.

 

2.     From the beginning, the birds are a constant cacophony of ear piercing sound. It almost gets worse at the point where Melanie reaches the top of the stairs in the pet shop. Here there is a higher pitched piercing sound that I noticed. The feeling is uneasy and chaotic. Usually there is a calming affect as we listen to gulls juxtaposed against crashing ocean waves at the beach, but not here. The mood is frantic and in fact amplified by the plot set up. For example, Mitch is in a hurry it seems, and needs to find the perfect gift before he sets off for home. Melanie is too. A certain stress level that the birds add to the characters is voiced as Melanie asks the shop keeper about all the gulls outside.

 

3.     ‘Hitchcock is walking his own terriers Geoffrey and Stanley--and that there are two dogs does bring to mind the Hitchcockian theme of doubles’- from the notes and I would agree. There is no doubt that the “doubles” theme persists. From the fact that Mitch and Melanie both start with “M” to the pair of love birds, Hitchcock is telling us that this pair will be going through an experience together in the films vignette of the next couple of days. I wonder if perhaps this in some way illustrates the tight relationship that Hitch and Alma have relied upon as a double or couple throughout their careers. After all the terriers are the family dogs. 

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1) To me the opening scene sequence seems more like a romantic comedy is a simple 'boy meets girls' moment. 'Girl' in pet store being waited on & 'Boy' comes in & mistakes her for a worker there. 'Girl' who seems VERY interested in 'Boy' acts the part of employee and tries to help him out but what she doesn't know is that 'Boy' actually knows who the 'Girl' is and plays along with her 'act'. This cat & mouse game goes on til 'Girl' is busted by 'Boy' & the real employee. Now annoyed (and still interested) the 'Girl' goes and gets 'Boy's' license plate number and gets his personnel information and decides that she is going to pay 'Boy' a visit and give him a present...love birds.

 

 

2) What seemingly looks like a typically nice day where the birds are singing in the background and a pretty girl walking across the street and get whistled at...the pretty girl glances up and sees birds swirling in the air (which is something we've all done just out of habit). You really don't feel that its anything out of the ordinary. How many times have you looked up and seen a flock of birds in the air and not give two thoughts about it. It's a nice day, birds are singing, it seems like another beautiful day. Almost a false since of security maybe. What could happen on this beautiful day? You wouldn't imagine that later in the day in a quiet, small town that the birds would rage a war on the local residents. That's not possible...or is it???

 

 

3) What fun it is when you are watching a Hitch film and try to figure out when and where Hitch will pop up in the movie. Hitch puts himself in this opening scene as a 'typical customer' coming out of the pet shop with his 2 cute dogs. To me Hitch always plays the 'common man' in the scene that he's in. If you didn't know who he was you wouldn't even have really paid attention to that man. He seems ordinary and not doing anything abnormal...just blends into the background. 

 

 

 

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1. In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) in this scene?

Mitch is knowledgeable about birds; Melanie is not, and Mitch quickly discovers this. But she is trying her hardest to impersonate a shopkeeper that traffics . . . oh, I mean sells . . . birds. I think also that both of them are attracted to one another. Melanie might be a little bit put off at first by Mitch’s assumption that she is a salesperson in the shop, but she continues with her charade because I think she wants to, because she is attracted to him. Mitch’s description of what he wants in the lovebirds is hilarious: Why can’t we control lovebirds so that they are appropriate for an eleven-year-old?

 

2. How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere?

Viewers hear the birds before they see them. From the sounds, I knew right away that they were seagulls, and the sounds seem a bit out of place in a downtown area. The shot of them flocking together seemed a bit unnatural too in a city setting. Melanie and the shopkeeper even talk a little about the birds’ behavior being slightly unusual.

 

3. The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene.

Melanie is out on the sidewalk in front of the pet shop, and Hitchcock walks out the shop’s front door with two small dogs on leashes. For now, the animal kingdom is contained: Birds (or at least some of them) are in their cages, and dogs are on their leashes.

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Just some random thoughts today…

 

1. In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) in this scene?

 

Melanie and Mitch (M&M) appear to be sparring with each other lightly (pecking?), talking about the activities of lovebirds, as if they themselves may be lovebirds. Birds of a feather flock together. :-)

 

Melanie walks with a bounce in her step, which feels comedic and fear-free. The lady behind the counter is a bit of a ditz, talking on and on (like the chatter of a bird?), which also feels comedic and unconcerned with any serious issues. The lady’s movements are also quirky and bird-like.

 

Yes, Melanie senses some strange bird behavior outside, but the lady at the counter provides a plausible (enough) answer about a storm at sea shifting the birds inland, so any potential fear dissipates quickly.

 

There’s also the sense of comedy when Mitch mistakes Melanie as a shop girl and she goes along with it… and then proceeds to misidentify every bird in the shop. He knows more about them than she does… and yet he hasn’t quite figured out that she was only a customer.

 

 

2. How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere?

 

We get a good sense of where we are with typical city street noises of people moving through their day’s activities via several modes of transportation (whereas birds have only two options: flight and possibly walking/hopping on their feet). We hear cars traveling on the road, a grunting motorcycle engine passing by, the clang of the trolley bell, horns blowing. You can even hear Melanie’s heels crunching softly against the asphalt as she crosses the street. And, of course, the bird sounds — it feels strange to hear the call of a seabird in the city.

 

The travel signs on the building tops say “Fly” and are airline related. It’s a nice juxtaposition of the natural flyers (birds) as something to fear, while the unnatural flyers (humans in airplanes) being something fun and frivolous (flying to Paris). Also, the travel poster feels like a warning, as if encouraging people to leave here now… get away.

 

Melanie receives a “birdcall” from a little boy passing by who whistles at her. She actually smiles and is flattered, thinking him charming. Then she notices the birds surrounding the city who are all calling out and seem noisy and bothersome. Are they laughing at her… mocking her?

 

Side note: When the birds are circling around the square, we see the “Victory” statue standing high in the middle, fearless and strong, as if it’s telling us: In the end, we shall prevail against the threat of the birds! (Won’t we???)

 

Then we enter the pet shop — Melanie heads up a flight of stairs (note the word “flight”), to the upper level where she is seemingly a few steps closer to the sky, windows give us a view of the outside world. Up there, the birds are tweeting merrily, but they get louder, more intense as Melanie arrives.

 

Melanie is waiting for one that talks to arrive at the shop for her to pick up. The shop lady tells her she’ll have to teach it to talk herself. It’s as if there are some abilities we willingly want birds to have (like talking to us), while there are other abilities we do not want them to have (like flying around and attacking us). I wonder if Melanie’s miner bird will be able to come to her rescue and translate, “Leave me alone, you’re hurting me!” from English to Birdtalk.

 

Side note: The “talking ‘bird’” that arrives for Melanie to “pick up” seems to be Mitch. :-)  And vice versa.

 

They remark on how the pet shop birds are contained in cages, suggesting it is to protect their species (as if they don’t naturally mingle amongst other types of birds in forests — and exist just fine amongst each other without human intervention — in real life).

 

Side note: The shadows of birds sitting on a tree branch over Melanie's shoulder doubles the number of birds seen there.

 

 

3. The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene.

 

Hitch with his two little dogs…

 

Perhaps he’s pointing out that some animals are not considered to be in need of containment (sweet, loveable dogs), while others are kept in cages to keep them from exhibiting their full natural behaviors (birds who are meant to fly, yet can’t fly away because they’re in a cage). However, even the dogs are kept on a leash, to keep them from getting away or out of control.

 

I will guess that the monkeys are there to hint at the presumed origin of mankind and make a statement about evolution — and to pose the questions: Is it really necessary to contain animals and/or make them our “pets”? Are we any different from them?

 

P.S. This pet store creeps me out.

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The opening does feel more like a romantic comedy, aided in part by the mistaken identity farce - Mitch thinks Melanie is a pet store employee when she is really a customer herself. And in her attempt to prolong the conversation with him, she goes along and mistakes canaries for love birds. He can see she doesn't know what she is doing but he is attracted to her as well and continues the game. The attraction is clear and this is their meet cute.

 

The sound of the birds in the opening lends a realism to the movie. Instead of atmospheric music, the audience hears what it sees, birds, whistles, and life on the street. Even though The Birds takes a dark turn, it begins in an ordinary way. I suppose this is a device to show that craziness can happen to anyone at anytime. 

 

I don't see how the cameo has any contribution to the opening of the film. Because he is seen only coming out of the pet store, there is no value to it being Hitchcock over another person. 

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the flirtatious dialog between the couple in the opening scene are like two "lovebirds" and  the shopkeeper seems to be a bit of a "birdbrain". 

the soundtrack of the birds on the street reminds us that birds are everywhere.  And hitchcock's appearance with two pets, shows us that we have supposedly domesticated animals in all of our lives. (including the "wolf whistle" on the street)

 

one of the first horror films i saw as a kid. loved it.

 

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In what ways does this opening scene seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy than a “horror of the apocalypse” film? What do we learn about Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) in this scene?

 

When Melanie ‘plays’ at being a pet shop worker is more similar to romantic comedy, which often have scenes where characters  mistake the identity of a person and the person plays along. In ‘Kingdom of the Spiders a visiting scientist mistakes William Shatner for a gas station attendant. He plays along for fun.  While that is a horror film it relates to the romantic comedy aspect of the film, as Shatner and the scientit eventually become romantically involved.

 

However it is also a playful variation on Hitchcock’s ‘mistaken identity’ theme

 

We also see that Mitch is wise to her act, and he is having fun at her expense. More typical of romantic comedy where two people we know will eventually be together spar with each other.

 

There is a great line “Doesn’t it make you feel awful… having thise poor innocent little creatures caged up all the time?” While Hitchcock never gives a concrete specific answer to why the birds attack, he gives us plenty of humorous ‘food for thought’ with that line.

 

 

How does Hitchcock use sound design in this opening sequence? For example, how are the sounds of birds used to create a particular mood and atmosphere?

 

We start with a trolly sound for a couple seconds. That’s all we need to know the location as San Francisco. Right away we get bird sounds in the background. There is a humorous moment when out of that chirping comes a ‘wolf whistle’ at Melanie. (Different times, she smiles in appreciation). When she looks up at the sky and sees the mass of birds the calls become a bit louder, and there are ‘caws’ in the mix, giving a subtle feeling of menace.

 

As we enter the pet shop, we are surrounded by bird chirps (and no other animal sound, like dog barking or cats mewing). The chirps are highter pitched to represent the small birds in theshop.

 

The bird sounds change a bit as mitch enters. Gone is the steady high-pitched chirping as Malanie talked to the Pet Shop worker. They have a more ‘fluttering’ chirping sound, perhaps to represent that Melanie is immediately attracted to Mitch, as can be seen as her reaction when he addresses her. She makes a slight double take and we can tell she is attracted.

 

In the end the two are framed on either side of a cage of two love birds, and the metaphor is clear

 

 

The opening scene contains a famous Hitchcock cameo. Describe the cameo and if you think it has any particular meaning in relation to this scene.

 

Hitch is seen leaving the pet shop where the movie starts. It is as if he’s saying “I just set up this whole scenario… enjoy!”

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It does seem creepy in that context but I recall a story that Hitch was in on an inside joke about a commercial that Tippi was in where they whistled at her. I think Hitch was playing with that as a side note perhaps he's playing to a younger audience as opposed to strong sexual undertones. Experts can correct me if I'm wrong.

 

Interesting point, Mandroid! If the wolf whistle were indeed an inside joke, then that would completely change how I interpret that scene. On a related note, on Sunday I watched Deadline at Dawn ​on Eddie Muller's Noir Alley segment on TCM, and I was completely in the dark about Susan Hayward asking "What did you want to be when you were 12 years old? Boob McNutt?" Eddie Muller was gracious enough to inform me that Boob McNutt was a comic strip character in the 1930's. Since I had not known that, I had no idea how to interpret Susan Hayward's question. Similarly, since I did not know that Tippi Hedren had been whistled at in a commercial, I did not interpret that scene as a bit of Hitchcock's dark humor coming to surface. I suspect that I do not detect many references to things that would have been understood by the audience who watched the movies when they first came out. One that I did catch was the "Not a hip in a carload" comment made by William Powell (to some women worried that they would gain weight if they ate from a box of chocolates) in one of the Thin Man movies. He was referring to a popular cigarette advertisement of the time in which a railroad car packed with cartons of cigarettes was captioned "Not a cough in a carload" (to indicate how smooth and healthful the cigarettes were). I think most contemporary viewers would miss that reference. I only caught it because I have done so much research on Robert Benchley and the time period in which he lived.      

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