Film4 Summer Screen 2012: Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’

This August, Somerset House’s Film4 Summer Screen season played host to a very special screening of British ‘Master of Suspense’ Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic The Birds, featuring a digitally re-mastered version of the film shown for the very first time in the UK. Illuminated with blood-red lighting, the open-air venue could not have been more perfect considering the content of the film, one of Hitchcock’s most famous thrillers about murderous birds who commit violent, frenzied attacks on the people of picturesque Bodega Bay.

Unannounced by the organisers and a complete surprise to the audience, The Birds star Tippi Hedren took to the stage to introduce the film and talk about her experiences of working alongside Hitchcock. Despite recent revelations from Hedren regarding the sexual harassment she had suffered at the director’s hands – having branded Hitchcock “an unusual genius… almost to the point of dangerous” – here Hedren remained diplomatic as she praised Hitchcock’s intelligence and talent. Ever the actress, Hedren proceeded to heighten the tension and sense of foreboding as she recounted the famous bedroom scene, stating: “Whenever you walk up stairs, and you open that bedroom door…don’t go”, in a suitably hushed tone.

Hedren stars as Melanie Daniels, a stubborn socialite who sets her sights on handsome lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) after an odd exchange in an aviary. Melanie notes his number plate, traces his car and sets off on the hour drive to Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco, with a pair of caged love birds. Upon arrival in the close community town, Melanie quickly realises that Mitch is somewhat of a playboy with overbearing mother, points gleaned from school mistress Annie (Suzanne Pleshette) with whom Mitch has also had relations.

As Melanie becomes more smitten with Mitch, the birds that circle Bodega Bay start to conduct random attacks on Melanie and other townspeople. The attacks quickly escalate and become increasingly vicious, but with the road to San Francisco blocked, there is no escape from the murderous birds. The techniques employed by Hitchcock were so progressive at the time, that even now they still manage to shock. Although Hedren’s shrieks of horror and the dramatic petrol station explosion drew laughs from the audience rather than screams, collectively they were undeniably hooked.

You’d be hard-pushed to find a more befitting setting than Somerset House’s Summer Screen season to showcase one of the great works of arguably Britain’s finest ever film directors. What’s more, a well-organised event that celebrated the collective enjoyment great cinema can produce, along with the welcome appearance of Hedren, made this an evening to savour.

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Sophie Kingston-Smith