Hitchcock's "The Birds"
Andrew Golitzinsky
July 13, 2022

Bizarre camera set ups, odd use of cuts, an interesting use of sound and true tales of horror are allelements that constitute a Hitchcock movie. Having a brilliant technique mind Hitchcock took the art ofediting one step further. While the classical form of editing was standard Hollywood fair, Hitchcockunderstood the basic language of film and editing and guessed the audiences reaction, taking each shotand cut one step further in order to truly frighten and mystify audiences around the world. If SergeiEisenstein perfected classical editing techniques then Hitchcock perfected non-classical editingtechniques in order to take his stories of suspense, terror as far as film and editing language would allow.In The Birds Hitchcock used non-classical editing in order emphasizes the plots elements in his filmswhich greatly contradicts the more classical style of editing perfected by Sergei Eisenstein. Classicalediting style and theory according to Eisenstein is meant to bring the audience to a conclusion. It makesassociations of images in people minds and then lets people link the images up in their minds, drawingconclusion of their own as the film progresses. One theory subjects "it may be interesting to know that aclose up of a man's expressionless face followed by a shot of a bowl of soup created the impression thatthe man is hungry" (course pack p 106) This means that certain images when put together create anexpectation that the audience can follow, in other words a language, a film language the is universal forpeople who watch films. The same way a film maker can have a shot of someone talking on the phone, ifthere is a reverse shot of someone else on a phone the audience expects the second person on screen istalking to the first person they saw. For example in Sergei Eisenstein's October, shots of workers beingmassacred by the Russian army are intercut with shots of workers butchering animals. The metaphoricalconclusion the audience draws up is the hapless slaughter of innocents, rather that simply an oddcoincidence or an editing mistake. (How did those shots get in there?) Knowing that film audiencesexpected certain things and knowing that certain images when places one after the other create certainreaction Hitchcock cleverly takes the classical frame of cinema and manipulates it to draw out theconclusion of the audiences and then shatter them. A perfect example of this is the school scene in TheBirds. In one shot we see the main heroin, Melanie taking a break outside of a school, calmly smoking acigarette. Cut to a shot of a playground where one black crow lands on top of the jungle gym. The rest ofthe sequence plays out with Hitchcock cutting back and forth between the two, adding a few crows everytime to the playground. He soon sets up an sort of editing rhythm, where he cuts back to the maincharacter smoking a cigarette, looking around back to the crows with one or two more of them. Theaudience begins to expect that every time the camera cuts back to the playground a few more crowsarrive. Knowing this Hitchcock plays the audience right into his hand by setting up the editing rhythm andthen just at the last second, right where the main character sees the danger goes he cut back to the crowand the audience is surprised that it is not one of two crows that have been added into the scene, much asthe editing rhythm was suggesting, but rather hundreds of crows have now gather onto the playgroundand the children in the school are in serious danger. It is only when the shock of Hitchcock breaking theediting rhythm he himself setup that he unleashes his monster on the poor children of Bodega bay.

Sound plays a very important factor in the editing styles of Hitchcock, and he uses it in acompletely different way than Eisenstein. While Eisenstein uses sound to emphasis the editing rhythmand reinforce the movement on screen Hitchcock once again plays with audiences expectation by notadding in sound or music when audiences think their should be. In standard editing film languageaudiences expect certain editing phenomenons to happen when watching a film. Eisenstein understandsthis perfectly and sets up an editing language that everyone can understand. In relation to sound thismeans that he sets up the editing rhythm to follow the sound , be it sound effects or the soundtrack to thefilm, each sound is set up to follow the editing rhythm and therefore the movement on screen perfectly.This sets up a nice comfortable film language that audiences everywhere can understand. For example inAlexander Nevsky the music for the film matches perfectly with the action on screen. Each new cut setsup a rhythm that goes in turn with the music. We see the German army approaching slowly, the music isslow and the cuts between shots are slow. When the fighting breaks out between the Russian and theGerman army not only does the music tempo increase but the length between shots speeds up andmatches the music. This way of associated the image to the sound makes thing easier for the audience tofollow and is almost expected. It's easy to follow image and sound when they are synced up therefore it'seasy to follow image, sound and editing when it's all synced up. While Hitchcock understands this hedeliberately sets up the sequence in order to play with the expectations that sound, image and editingrhythm should be in sequence. In the scene in The Birds when the mother goes up the stair to see the firstvictim of the birds we expect that some sort of background music will follow. Instead Hitchcock plays nomusic what so ever. He now has no editing rhythm to set up. This sets up a want to hear something.Audiences being comfortable with Eisenstein film language will start to become nervous at the lack ofsound. The Hitchcock knows that the audiences now expect some sort of music, once the "big shock"comes or once the screaming start. Once again he fools the audience by having his editing language speakfor him acts as his rhythm. Once the mother enters the room, she finds the corps of the fist victim, hiseyeballs eaten out and we are greeted with three quick cuts, very fast, once after the other, each onecutting in closer to the eyes of the victim. Again no music to company these very graphic and unsubtlecuts and no noise from the mother reaction shot. She even manages to run away from the house withoutmaking one sound, always in a silent scream.

Another good example of the non-classical style of editing Hitchcock used in his films is the rapidcuts to unorthodox camera angels. Once again Hitchcock is playing with the audiences’ expectation. Inthe classical editing style cuts go from one classical shot to the other. If people are talking it's a shot ofsomeone and then a cut to the shot of the person they are talking to. Hitchcock understands this and inThe Birds decides to increase the tension in the film by cutting to very non-classical camera angle orshots. This tends to startle audiences and makes the film even more terrifying. For example, during thebirds attack on the gas station a fire is accidentally lit and begins to spread to the gas pumps. Hitchcockcuts from the fire burning to the pumps to Melanie's face in a kind of silent scream. She is not moving aninch during these shots and it seems very unnatural. This unnatural facial expression just increases theterror of the film. Another good example is during would be the when Melanie’s mother is running awayfrom the first victims house. Here Hitchcock cuts to very non-classical shot of Melanie' mother becausethere are various objects hiding the face of the actress. Hiding the face of the actors is just not done inclassical film editing, an editor is supposed to cut out shots were the audience can't see the actors face, notput some in. This technique of cutting to shot hiding the actress’s face once again increases the tension ofthe film. The audience wants to see the face, wants to see a reaction shot of some kind but Hitchcockcleverly denies the audience what they want, making it frustrating and more than a little scary. Once againHitchcock knows his editing well and exploits it at ever turn. He could have easily shown us Melanie’smother's face while she fled the screen of the first murder or had classical reaction shots while the fireburned towards the gas station but he didn't. This makes audiences fidget in their seats because if theediting language is off, they just know something terrible is about to happen. The use non-classicalediting has done it's done; the film is now suspenseful on a new level, a film language level.

Hitchcock was a man of many talents, his ability to tell a story and play with audiences’expectation is one to be desired. Taking an already existing system of film language and editing andtaking it to levels shows creativity and a fearlessness to challenge the system. Basically expanding on theideas and theories the Eisenstein had come up with before him. Knowing what the audience felt it knewabout cinema language he took the knowledge and stayed a step ahead of the audience. His use of cuts tonon-classical shots, the way he leaves sound out when people expect sound to be there all point to the factthat he did all this on purpose to get one message across the film world; expect the unexpected. Hitchcockshowed the world that film language could be manipulated not to show the audiences something but tonot show them certain things and therefore surprise them, an essential style when one sets out to makehorror and suspense films. He figured out exactly how to manipulate the audience, making them expectone thing and delivering the next. In theory he not only manipulated the audience he manipulated fearitself. He knew what made people uneasy and therefore prone to being afraid. A true master of the craft offilm making one of terror Hitchcock's film challenge the classical Hollywood system, expanded editingtheory and scared the wits out of everyone in America. .‍