Sunday, March 18, 2007

I Need the Biggest Seed Bell You Have

When I was having lunch yesterday at the diner closest the train station (nachos & fixins over poached eggs: no better and no worse than it sounds), I noticed that the city's movie theater, which is right across the street from the diner, was advertising an 11 AM showing of The Birds for this morning. So I finally got around to seeing that. Is there a stranger movie out there than The Birds? I love how the first 45 minutes is all Hitchcockian character entanglement that gets utterly subsumed by the following plot. I think the movie is best enjoyed as a kind of wacky, unlikely medium for some very effective suspense. (And magnificent camera work, and scenes where someone's talking into a phone in the foreground and people in the background gradually bring their attention to what is being said, and other Hitchcockian goodness.) And then it just kind of ends.

I was wondering whether there's any conventional wisdom of what this might be "about"—usually I'd suspect some kind of Cold War paranoia from a '60s movie, but it really just seems to be about birds. And great soundtrack! Or lack of soundtrack, except for silences and bird noises. Very striking. Bernard Herrmann is in the credits for consulting on the sound.

Note to guy sitting behind me: hearty ironic-appreciation laughter comes across as kinda creepy when it's a scene involving terrified children, don't you think?

My first thought on seeing some decidedly unthreatening pigeons outside the theater afterwards was "Ha, you guys really don't have your act together." The walk home from the gym takes me right by a large cemetery, where a large but invisible crowd of small birds was chattering away relentlessly, and that does make you think twice . . .

This is actually two movies in two days for me, which I don't often accomplish. Yesterday it was The Lives of Others, conveniently screened at the Lincoln Plaza theater a movie-length and change before the start of the Philharmonic concert. I liked this but didn't love it. It's a story about a Stasi officer in mid-'80s East Germany who is assigned to monitor a possibly dissident playwright and begins to lose his steely detachment; the writer, for his part, is forced for other reasons to question his existence within the regime & to reexamine his compromises there.

It's a rich subject, and the movie draws a lot out of it. But it felt like the movie couldn't quite decide which of the main characters it was really about—the very long ending seems to reflect difficulty in getting to a point of resolution—and the reasons for some crucial character changes seemed muddy to me: maybe relying on a shorthand "proximity to art or artists will make people change their tune." The main female character in particular is always a bit of a plot element.

But it's worth seeing, if the story sounds like it would interest you. There are some effective, subtle touches too. A couple of scenes, for example, are set in an utterly drab Stasi headquarters cafeteria, which may be about as effective a banality-of-evil statement as you can make.


Blogger Pete said...

I once saw a piece of a lecture by the philospher Slazov Zizek (most likely mispelled there), an acolyte of Lacan, where he said something to the extent of "...and the birds, which are of course I manifestation of his mother."
in reference to the Hitchcock film. Needless to say, I stopped wathcing the lecture at that point.

3/20/2007 3:03 PM  
Blogger Nate said...

Yeah, really. I think the birds are of course a manifestation of the birds.

There's an essay collection called "Pluto's Republic" by Peter Medawar, who was a British biologist -- There's a very favorable review of it by Richard Dawkins in "The Devil's Chaplain" -- one essay was essentially about how the whole of psychoanalytic thought (at least as of his writing in the mid-20th century) was a complete scam. He very lucidly makes the point that psychoanalysis is insufficiently explanatory to be of serious use -- its proponents use it to explain any human trait but it is unable to explain why that trait occurs rather than any other. "Of course a manifestation of his mother" and the like are retroactively applied with a very broad brush, but given just the properties of Hitchcock's mother no psychoanalysis can predict the birds.

3/20/2007 9:24 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

A manifestation of Hitchcock's mother, or of the movie character's mother? The latter makes a lot more sense, except that it still doesn't explain why the bird attacks don't bring anything major to light in the interpersonal parts of the plot.

That's a good point from Medawar.

3/21/2007 12:21 PM  

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