March Shame: So The Birds has a beginning, a middle and “an end”


March Shame: So The Birds has a beginning, a middle and “an end”

(originally posted at


The year: 1990. My age: 12. The movie: Psycho. This was the year I watched my first Alfred Hitchcock movie, or at least the first one I remember. Pardon me if I don’t stop to fully explain the greater ramifications of showing a 12-year old Psycho. Sure, it was all that, but it was also… more.

It was about this time that I first became what one might call a pre-teen video store junkie. By the way, PRE-TEEN VIDEO STORE JUNKIE is my Ennio Morricone tribute band (obligatory hat tip to @ThatAndyRoss every time I freeload on his #Bond_age_ meme). In short order, I watched Rear Window, North by Northwest, Notorious and Dial M for Murder. I worked my way through the available VHS tapes, whatever my parents had in the library. Undergraduate film school brought about a lot of clips during class, but I don’t specifically recall watching a whole Hitchcock film. The Hitchcock class was a rotating offering that rotated right out of my time in the program. I found myself in “The Politics of Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg” instead. This class offered me the opportunity to form drastic opinions about The Color Purple and Born on the 4th of July and for that I will always be grateful. But I’d have much rather tackled the deep cuts from Hitch, most of which I eventually got around to on my own time after the release of the first Hitchcock DVD Box sets.

But the one movie I never sat down to watch was The Birds. I’d studied the isolated “jungle gym” scene on its own during my Intro to Film class. I’d seen dozens of clips in montages, retrospectives, etc, etc. I’d felt like I’d seen it a dozen times over. But I hadn’t. And then when I created this CinemaShame list I still didn’t think to include it. Two months into my list, I realized I’d forgotten probably my most egregious oversight. So I dropped Ride the High Country and replaced it with The Birds.

After numerous false starts I finally set a hard date with Hitch during the #Cine3Some (the simul-live-tweet of three different films at the same time) where @AnnaRenee would finally finish Gone With the Wind and @theactualkeith would show up late and then fall asleep during Citizen Kane. Shame!

The first act of The Birds is not, well, especially great. It meanders in and out of a bizarre crush turned practical joke about lovebirds. The basis for suspense is being built, brick by brick. Chickens won’t eat. Birds gathering on a wire. Questions about bird migration. Every mention or shot of birds is heightened to a preposterous level of perceived significance.

And then Tippi Hedren gets clubbed by a seagull. Act two. Hitch stops messing around… and then before you know it, you’ve reached the scene. THE scene.






Out of context, the “jungle gym” scene is a study in conducting escalating tension. In the context of the entire film, however, the “jungle gym” scene pays off dozens of smaller moments, all leading up to this one sequence. Melanie Daniels (Tippi) sits, enjoying a quiet cigarette on a bench. Minding her own business. In the background, children sing a Scottish folk song (“The Wee Cooper O’Fife”) in the schoolhouse. The crows gather. From here on out, Hitch unleashes sequence after sequence of birds gone bad. No explanation. No attempt to point fingers or give them some excuse for the bloodletting. Some might posit that this film is an environmental fable. Poppycock. The birds are attacking because the birds are attacking. Throughout the film characters want to blame Melanie Daniels because of the timing of her arrival at Bodega Bay. A woman confronts her. Accusing her of “EEEEVIL.” As the hysteria mounts and the fingers point, it becomes increasingly more clear to the viewer that there’s no solution, no possible deus ex machina that will save these characters from the birds.

And that brings us to the ending.

I’d heard plenty about the ending. Angst. Derision. Worship. It was time to see for myself.

Here’s my tweet immediately following the conclusion of The Birds:

And even as I launched into the second of my Thursday night CinemaShame features, Godzilla, I still didn’t know what to make of that ending. It was the absence of a resolution.

This morning I had a revelation. Well, not so much a revelation as an understanding, a reading that satisfies everything I wanted or needed from the ending to this film. I rewatched the ending tonight to further flesh out my hypothesis.

As viewers we’ve come to know these characters, even fear for their well being. We hope that they escape. This is the tension in the film. As they’re loading up the station wagon to make a valiant ride to the hospital to mend Melanie’s wounds, we expect the birds to attack. When they don’t and when there’s no added tension we don’t know how to react. Yay? Our characters are safe? Happy ending?
(originally posted at

Nah. Not exactly. (Spoiler-ish things to follow, but nothing below would lessen your enjoyment of the film have you not seen it.)

As the wagon drives off into the “safe” horizon, the camera remains at the house, at Bodega Bay, surrounded by the idle crows and seagulls. If we return to the notion that there’s no reason for the attacks, no ecological message, no provocative “EEEVIL” inspiring supernatural swarms of killer birds, we have no reason to believe that Melanie and Mitch will arrive at the hospital safely… unless the birds have already achieved some measure of victory. With the camera remaining with the birds rather than the humans, the point of view has shifted. The birds, as the title of the film suggests, have been our main characters all along and now as we and the birds watch the purged humans flee Bodega Bay, this is our happy ending.

The birds have won.

Note the ray of sunshine.

The Birds - final shot


An Introduction to CinemaShame

CinemaShame - Last Crusade Knight

Back in January, a Twitter acquaintance (#Bond_age_ regular @campbelldropout) and I were discussing an idea for a project that would encourage people to finally tackle those movies that they regret not having seen. He had come up with a list of 12 movies that he planned to watch in 2014. Ones that he’d always wanted to see, but for one reason or another just hadn’t. It was an idea I’d considered around in the past. I just hadn’t come up with a way to make the venture more community-oriented… until he showed me his list. After exchanging a few tweets we came up with the idea of CinemaShame, a support group for cinephiles with latent guilt. Here’s the blurb from the About page at

Everyone’s got those movies that they regret not having seen. They tear at the very being of the movie fan, the movie aficionado, the cinephile. Should our friends find out, we’d be labeled frauds, outcasts.

Some movie watcher, you are.

How have you not seen [insert movie title here]?

Everyone’s heard these exclamations at one point or another, so much so that we probably clutch these secrets so close to our chest it hurts. No one will ever know. But we know. And it eats away at us every time we respond in  a Twitter thread or Facebook post with a vague, understated comment that suggests we’ve seen the film in question, without ever committing one slice of concrete knowledge.

Only the penitent movie watcher will pass, will rest easy at night, will finally, after all these years, watch The Deer Hunter without shame and without the judgment of self-righteous others.

Join the penitent men and women who are writing their confessionals in the form of 12-movie lists. Watch one per month and then submit a blog entry about the experience. Write about why you chose the movie, why it was important for you to finally watch it, write about your expectations and how that shaped your viewing.

The project immediately gained quite a bit of interest on Twitter, with 19 people now having submitted their own Statements of Shame — their list of 12 movies they plan to watch. So far it’s been a lot of fun, a virtual watercooler for classic movies. Even if you don’t have any desire to contribute, skim some of the posts on the website, maybe even chat up some of our contributors about their selections.

To describe some of my own impetus for starting the project, here’s the post I wrote to describe my own seeds of CinemaShame:

I meant to post an origin story (they’re all the rage after all) about the beginnings of CinemaShame but the whole project took off before I could toss this out there. Better late-ish than never. Sometime in high school (1995-ish) when I became obsessed with haunting video stores, my parents bought me a book called THE ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY GUIDE TO THE GREATEST MOVIES EVER MADE. It had just been published in 1994 and was the most up-to-date guide on movies I’d ever seen. The lists contained within were broken down by genre: Drama, Comedy, Action, Sci-Fi, Western, etc. It even contains an awesomely nostalgic time-capsule section on the best Laserdisc releases.


Anyway, as I went through the book I marked the movies I’d seen and immediately set forth watching every movie counted off in the book. Suffice to say, twenty years later, dog-earned and falling apart at the binding, the book remains a constant around my TV. I’m still marking off movies I’m just seeing for the first time. A few months ago, I began wondering how I could encourage myself to tackle those films I hadn’t yet watched when the notion of crossing another movie off the list hadn’t yet compelled me. I’d tossed about the idea of live tweeting the movies but the rigors of #Bond_age_ made that impossible. Then when @campbelldropout offhand mentioned his 12-film list on Twitter, I had a EUREKA! moment and the ensuing conversation begat CinemaShame.

In compiling my list of 12, I consulted the EW Guide for a few picks. I looked at the movies I already owned for some others. Perhaps the best aspect of this book is that the lists aren’t routine regurgitation. They contain some surprise entries among the hard-and-fast staples. This might be the result of it being compiled pre-Internet and free from widespread public ridicule. Whatever the reason for it’s longevity, this book has guided my movie watching for as long as I can remember, and I feel like I owed it this fleeting moment of fame.

A sample page from the Sci-Fi/Horror section.
A sample page from the Sci-Fi/Horror section.

Here’s a sampling of how the book ranks the most listed films by our Penitent Moviewatchers:


Citizen Kane_post
No big shock. Kane takes the #1 spot in Drama.

Citizen Kane – #1 Drama
Gone With the Wind – #2 Drama
The Godfather / The Godfather: Part II – #3 Drama
Casablanca – #4 Drama
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – #11 Drama
Raging Bull – #22 Drama
It’s A Wonderful Life – #27 Drama
Taxi Driver – #35 Drama

Comedy, et al.

Maybe I love this book because it picked Airplane! as it's #1 Comedy.
Maybe I love this book because it picked Airplane! as it’s #1 Comedy. Nobody’s watching Airplane!, however. I do hope everyone’s seen it… ahem.

Dr. Strangelove – #11 Comedy

Enter the Dragon – #27 Action

The Wild Bunch – #9 Western
Rio Bravo – #12 Western

North By Northwest – #10 Mystery/Suspense

Psycho – #1 Sci-Fi/Horror
Close Encounters of the Third Kind – #4 Sci-Fi/Horror
2001 – #10 Sci-Fi/Horror
Blade Runner – #50 Sci-Fi/Horror
Dracula (1931) – #51 Sci-Fi/Horror

Singin’ in the Rain – #3 Musical

…the only thing I really don’t like is the way the book handles the “foreign” category… just an arbitrary grouping of everything that’s not in English…

The 400 Blows – #48 Foreign
Rashomon – #61 Foreign
La Dolce Vita – #71 Foreign
Breathless – #75 Foreign

The Apartment – #51 Laserdisc (Ha!)


New and 30Hz Recommended Netflix Streaming Movies

As of January 1st, Netflix booted a bunch of old classics from the streaming roster. The Great Train Robbery, The Long Goodbye, A Shot in the Dark. Old ones out. New ones in. I’ve surveyed the list of newcomers and can happily report that there’s plenty of new goodness to keep you entertained.

30Hz Recommended Netflix Streaming

Here’s my list (the great, the good and the curious) to add to your queue, the new, recommended Netflix Streaming movies.