Tag Archives: Cinema Shame

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 wordpress.cinemashame.com)


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 wordpress.cinemashame.com)

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

February Shame: So The Longest Yard is not really a comedy

the longest yard

February Shame: So The Longest Yard is not really a comedy

(originally posted at www.cinemashame.wordpress.com)

I am an unapologetic fan of Burt Reynolds. When I talk about Burt Reynolds films in the 1970’s I occasionally slip into a diatribe not unlike something that would come from the mouth of Sterling Archer.

I’m under no delusions.

Most of Burt’s cinematic output is, objectively, bad. But it’s pure entertainment. Just listen to that trademark Burt Reynolds laugh and try not to smile. Go ahead.

In Entertainment Weekly’s Guide to the Greatest Movies Ever Made, one of my inspirations for the CinemaShame project, The Longest Yard was ranked as the highest “comedy” I had not yet seen. And it starred Burt Reynolds. No more excuses.

When, within the first five minutes, The Longest Yard offered me a drunken Burt Reynolds man-whore; a car chase; an unexpected appearance by Bernadette Peters and “the laugh,” I was convinced The Longest Yard might be the best movie ever made. Clearly, I’d become wrapped up in the moment.

And then a funny thing happened after about 30 more minutes. I realized that The Longest Yard wasn’t really comedy at all. Sure, there are funny moments. Indisputably funny. In addition to Richard Kiel’s “I think I broke his fuckin’ neck” bit, this scene in particular had me rolling:

In the end, however, The Longest Yard is about race and privilege, the corruption of the prison system and the culturally accepted violence in sport. For every laugh there’s dire consequences. The warden, played with wonderful, slithery menace, by Eddie Albert (Green Acres) doesn’t pull any punches. He’s not in this movie for cloying broad comedy. He coerces an inmate to burn another inmate (a main character, mind you) by locking him in a cell and rigging the light fixture to explode. Names have been removed to prevent spoilerfication. And even though Burt Reynolds summons all of his mid-70’s superpowers, including a gag about shaving his mustache, he’s only half inside the comedy can and gives a performance that somehow, someway balances and cements the erratic tone of the film into something coherent, funny and dramatic. Burt Reynolds had range, goddammit.

In fact, the influence of The Longest Yard can be felt in nearly every football movie since, comedy or otherwise — yet none can touch the brutality displayed in 1974. Even when it’s funny, it’s a touch uncomfortable. Much like the scene above. Once is funny. Twice is funnier. Three times and I started to feel sympathy pains. Take for example Any Given Sunday — the movie of similar subtext that sets out to acknowledge the socially-approved manslaughter. The gloss and sheen of a modern big budget film makes the violence seem safe and less terrible. The gritty, grainy film stock used in the 70’s, coupled with the trending cinematic realism blurs the line between horror and humor. Is The Longest Yard a great cinematic achievement? Maybe. Maybe not. What is, however, is a miracle in light of our current, disposable expectations for sports movies and sports comedies in particular. This is something much more… even if I’m not quite sure how to stock it on the video shelves.

January Shame: So Ben-Hur is kinda about Jesus by @007hertzrumble

As a follow up to my introduction of CinemaShame yesterday, I’m reposting the entry I wrote for my January selection, BEN-HUR. I have my February selection lined up for this weekend. It really feels good to finally watch these movies. There’s therapy happening here daily.

That’s how I began my viewing on Ben-Hur Saturday night.

But first some backstory.

I’ve owned multiple versions of Ben-Hur on DVD and Blu-ray. Most recently I picked up this mamajamma 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray. And for a long time, I’d been content to look at it on my shelf. A brilliant example of how to make me pay money for a movie I have no agenda to watch. Put it in a bigass glossy box with cool cinephile-specific shit inside I might not ever read. I also have the similarly-styled Casablanca set. Continue reading January Shame: So Ben-Hur is kinda about Jesus by @007hertzrumble