Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Birds

Serious question: am I a bad father for watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds with my daughters, ages ten and six, on a snowy afternoon off from school and work?

My answer: No.

My wife’s answer: You are a good and loving father to our children, but the movies you select to watch with them can merit a visit from Child Protective Services.

Now, Little One, my oldest daughter, is remarkable for her age.  Either that, or she is completely unremarkable.  What I mean by this zen phrase is that she is very much unlike me when I was her age in our reactions to intense science fiction and horror movies.  We both eat them up, and some of our best times together are laying on the floor in the living room watching these oldies on the big flatscreen TV.  But my reaction watching these as a kid – often alone, mostly on small, black-and-white TV sets, mostly at night sneak-watching them without my parents being aware – are a complete one-eighty to what she experiences.  Movies that terrified me as a kid, such as The Thing From Another World, which we watched a few weeks back, she chuckles about.

I’m sure a lot of this has to do with her cutting her teeth on CGI.  The special effects of today are light-years ahead of those I watched as a youngling.  We just saw 1953’s The War of the Worlds the other day, and the fact that she could see the strings holding up the Martian war machines so distracted her it kept her out of the plot and atmosphere the film famously delivers on.  And she’s pretty intelligent for her age, too, so I don’t necessarily hold that against her.

So it was with some trepidation on my part that I selected The Birds yesterday.  She wanted desperately to see it, a combination of me and the wife talking it up, and me and the wife forbidding it until she reaches her teen years.  Would the dated 1963 special effects make her overlook the cinematic masterpiece that is the film?  And how could I negotiate it so six-year-old Patch could watch it without being scarred for life every time she spots a sparrow in the back yard?

Well … both children were entertained.  I kept Patch at my side to cover her eyes when scenes got too intense (such as when Tippi Hedren is attacked by birds in the attic towards the end of the film).  Besides, she grew bored with the flick every now and then and would wander into different rooms to play with her toys.  Little One was riveted and absolutely loved it, giving it an A+, and jumped at least three or four times, the most physical fear-twitch being a great example of what makes Hitchcock a rarely imitated master:

Tippi Hedren is sitting on a bench outside a small, one-room school overlooking the ocean.  The bird attacks have started, and being random and inexplicable, have everyone in town on edge and unsure of what’s happening.  Behind her is a playground.  A crow alights onto one of the monkey bars.  Then, another.  Ms. Hendron turns nervously to glance at them.  We watch her fumble for a cigarette.  Back to the wide angle, and we see there are now five or six crows on the bars.  Close-up to her face, exhaling smoke, wondering if she’s going insane.  Then wide angle – and now there are a hundred crows, crowding out the monkey bars, on power lines, on distant roofs –

And Little One instantaneously jolts next to me.

Ah, Hitchcock.  We may need to watch your entire oeuvre this spring and summer.

But no Psycho until High School!  Promise!

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