Back in theaters for one night only: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”

A missed opportunity across the country is the failure to establish a regular, ongoing market for old movies being shown on modern theater screens.  Only recently (OK, the late 1990s so not that recently) mass audiences were able to go back and see the original Star Wars trilogy in the theater and in the past year we were able to see more recent, but still years old, films in the theater well after their initial release, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Avengers films, and the Batman franchise.  But for decades now “art house” theaters from time to time get old releases and screen these old films for a few weeks at a time.  Usually the quality is poor, yet it gives new audiences as well as the older crowd that saw the films in their initial release an opportunity to discover or enjoy the films again.

With the advent of refurbishing and improving the original films themselves, distributors were able to release new, clean, and sometimes digitally remastered versions of the film on new screens with current sound and picture features, and now this is happening even more often.  The first of these I remember seeing was Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, at the old Drake Theater in Des Moines back in 1985 with my dad.  Unlike seeing Hitchcock on television, this was now a “real” movie and it played like a current release.  The music was loud and stunning and powerful and emotional.  The crisp colors–from the green of the trees at Muir Woods to the stark greys of Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak’s suits to the postcard like quality of the couple walking around the Palace of Fine Arts–and that ending–it isn’t just a movie that sticks with you but an experience.

Later, I made sure not to miss a 50th anniversary screening of the complete remastered Gone with the Wind back in 1989.  Later that year while living in Washington, DC, I saw Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder in its original 3D version at a 35th anniversary screening at the Library of Congress theater in 1989.  Grace Kelly never looked better.  That is, until my wife and I saw her and Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window at a Portland theater in a new 45th anniversary remastered release in 1999.  Wow.  For a suspense thriller, Hitchcock knew how to represent beauty visually and brilliantly and with equally incredible music.  We also were able to watch a screening of Nosferatu–a silent film, yet our version was accompanied by a full Portland Symphony Orchestra playing a classic sound track.  And even Citizen Kane came back in a major theatrical release in the 1980s.

Each of these in-person viewings of now classic films is much more than the simple experience of watching them at home, no matter the quality and enormity of your home theater.  So it is with some real, serious enthusiasm that I encourage everyone not to miss Turner Classic Movie’s national release of Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds, for one night only, Wednesday, September 19, 2012.  It’s been 49 years since The Birds first premiered, starring Tippi Hedrin and Rod Taylor, and this release celebrates the 100th anniversary of Universal Pictures.

Here is a trailer discussing the one-night screening:

To find out if a theater near you is participating in the screenings, check your zip code at the Fathom Events website, where you can link to buy tickets at participating theaters.

I first saw The Birds at a drive-in theater in a re-release as a young kid.  It flat-out gave me nightmares.  On numerous later viewings I came to appreciate how skillful and nuanced Hitchcock made this film.  If you are lucky enough to get to this screening, here are some things to watch for, particularly if you are seeing The Birds for the first time:

Suzanne Pleshette.  Pleshette always looked good on film and TV and here she has a very mysterious aura.  She is both hardened and maybe a bit sultry as Rod Taylor’s character’s stilted ex-girlfriend who is forced to interact with the new target of his affection.

Bodega Bay.  Like a lot of films that take place on the coast, watch for the quiet calmness of the town where the story takes place.  I know Bodega Bay is in California, but it feels a lot like the town of Haven, or towns from other creepy stories that occur on the northeast coast of the United States.

The music.  Or lack thereof?  Like John Williams’s sweet and cheery score for Jaws (albeit minus the bass tone queues for the shark) there is something clashing here and a bit of a Hitchcock experiment–not nice and cozy themes but a deafening silence that permeates the film from beginning to end.  Listen for the “musical score” in The Birds and you’ll see what I mean.

Look for a young Veronica Cartwright here.  Cartwright is recognizable from being in hundreds of genre films throughout her career, from the original Twilight Zone to Alien to the X-Files.

And, of course, keep an eye out for an appearance by Hitchcock himself.

And enjoy a very unique experience!

C.J. Bunce

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