Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Sh!#ting on the Classics: The Birds
I will resist the temptation to make jokes about birds shitting all over everything because in this case, a misguided audience shit all over The Birds.
Chicago’s The Birds screening featured TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz interviewing star Tippi Hedren before the film and a brief Q&A with the audience. I was expecting the screening to be video projection, but lo and behold, an actual 35mm print was run through an actual projector. It was one of the nicest looking prints of The Birds I have ever seen.
The tickets were free. Tippi was there. What could possibly go wrong?
Why, sociopaths, of course. I was shocked by the audience reaction to the film, specifically the many instances of inappropriate laughter. This is a film about people being attacked by birds. It is a horror film; it is not a comedy.
I have witnessed this phenomenon before, most notably at a screening of Douglas Fairbanks’ The Black Pirate at Ebertfest a few years ago. The audience was so primed to find the film quaint and antiquated that they missed the fact that this particular film is deliberately tongue-in-cheek and over the top. The smug audience had quite a time laughing at material it felt was exaggerated and unbelievable, never considering that the filmmakers had made it that way on purpose. It was as if the audience needed to club the film into submission with inappropriate laughter: “Lay down, Movie! You will be ironic fun whether you like it or not!”
What was really disturbing about the laughter during The Birds screening, though, was how often it occurred during scenes where children were terrorized and hurt.
I found this laughter perplexing, and I continued to think about the screening for the rest of the week. I longed to figure out how that film could have invited that reaction. I was desperate to hunt down these hipster douchebags like the dogs they were, roughly tackle them to the pavement, and peck at their bleeding, naked skulls with a rusty icepick. (These are the leisure pursuits that kept me out of the really good schools.)
I developed six “theories” about what these idiots may have been “thinking:”
1. “This is an event. I want to be part of the show. I like audience participation. This is my way of participating. Ha ha! That little child is BLEEDING! And I am drunk.”
2. “Any film made more than ten years ago (The Birds celebrates its 50th birthday next year) has to be ridiculous. It is just so OLD—ha ha!”
3. “I am superior to this film. Ha ha! I am not stupid enough to be attacked by a bird. The helpless children on screen are dopes!”
4. “It is fun to be scared. This scene is scaring me. This is my way of sharing my reaction with the audience. Ha ha! This is like going through a haunted house together.”
5. “I do not understand irony and demand that all entertainment be somehow ironic, whether it actually is or not. Ha ha, if you get my drift.”
6. “This film is touching me in a way that I do not wish to be touched. My laughter is my defense against this film. Ha ha?” (I noticed this during the latest theatrical rerelease of The Exorcist. Young people in the audience seemed to laugh at inappropriate times as a defense.)
F-Heads, my jury is still out. Why would anyone laugh at children getting hurt? If you agree with any of my theories or have one of your own, I welcome your comments below.
Well, back to my latest hobby—training large birds to attack loud, clueless audience members. Watch for them at a theater near YOU!