Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

The Birds

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

The Birds

Article excerpt

THE BIRDS Camille Pagtia. London: BFI Film Classics, 1998, 104 pp.

Finding in The Birds (1963) the perfect expression of her "Nicene Creed" ("We all go to school in Bodega Bay!"), Camille Paglia regards Alfred Hitchcock as heir to Coleridge in viewing nature as cruel. From its title sequence, which she sees as presenting the process of "the irrational and the primitive vanquishing human illusions," to its famous bird-covered (Apollonian) jungle gym, the film supports herthesis that nature always has the final say over culture. As she says elsewhere, it is "hubristical to imagine that we are free from the continuum of living things." Above all, this is witnessed in Tippi Hedren's Melanie Daniels, whom Paglia considers as "the ultimate Hitchcock heroine": a beautiful, spoiled blonde who will finally pay for her commanding glamour.

Paglia's reading is the commentary track the special edition DVD should have but doesn't: it's full of dazzling connections within the film, between the film and others in Hitchcock's oeuvre, and between the film and psychology, painting, literature, classical mythology, fashion, architecture, and other cinematic works. Analysis of this movie benefits from a writer with such an enthralling understanding of popular culture and high art, whose aesthetic and intellectual influences are ancient Egypt, Homer, Shakespeare, the nineteenth-century novel, Nietzsche, Freud, and Frazer. But it also gains from Paglia's "pre-modern cosmology" (e.g., her belief that history has shape, order, and meaning, that abstractions such as "beauty" have a shifting but continuing validity), as well as her biologically-and hormonally-based sense of anthropology.

She has offered this definition of art criticism: "The greatest honor that can be paid to art work, on its pedestal of ritual display, is to describe it with sensory completeness. . . . I try not to allude but to re-create, to produce the first, baffling experience of reading a text or seeing a painting or film. …

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