on 6 February 2014
In the case of this writer (on this subject) the 'construction' of the book as a single essay rather than dividing it into chapters seems completely justified. Paglia has so much to say about the film, even down to the smallest details. Some of her conclusions seem a little forced or too much of a stretch, but the ideas are welcome and they are invariably expressed in an amusing and engaging way.
Readers who like their film criticism to be informative but dry may baulk at the author's delight being so much in evidence. I find it refreshing though, especially when so much illuminating insight and information comes out of it. Paglia may in no way restrain her dislike of the child character sister of Mitch, for instance, ultimately expressing the wish that she be killed off, but a book with this much to give earns itself the odd self-indulgent tangent.
on 31 July 2015
Perhaps, if I'd read other BFI titles from this series, I'd not have been so let down by this book.
'The Birds' is a film that feels important and I await that 'important book' to do it justice.
Having said that, this pamphlet-like book is a superbly well written. Camille Paglia has wrought exquisite prose; she clearly loves this film.
There are some interesting details, however nothing is news! If you've poured over every Hitchcock book, then you've already seen the photos that are reproduced. Paglia has done her best and this slight book is reasonable.
Surely someone can write 'the' book on The Birds?
on 13 January 2000
This reads like a first draft: it is all one chapter, not even divided into sections, and has a few factual howlers (the role of the governess in The Turn of the Screw, and putting Barbara Bel Geddes's bras in Rear Window instead of Vertigo). Without doubt Paglia knows her subject matter very well, if the subject matter is defined as the film on the screen and not too much else. She is perfunctory on the technical aspects of the film, an its place in cinematic history. She has a few comments on the usual Hitchcock subjects: his fear of policemen, women etc., but they are often lifted from the work of other critics (notably Robin Wood and Donald Spoto). Paglia chooses to give the narrative of the film with asides for her own reactions. She is clearly very observant, and loves the film, and can write in an engaging enough manner, with just occasionally a comment which leaps of the page. In that sense she is a fair choice for a guide to the film. But in the end there is not sufficient force in her linear analysis. I'm left wondering whether my time would have been better used watching the film itself as a guide to the film. I can't help thinking that if the essay had been subdivided into chapters it would have allowed Paglia the wherewithal to develop and advance her arguments. I really think the editor should have been brave enough to send the manuscript back.
Her linear tour indicates that she thinks that Melanie Daniels is the cause of the birds' fury, though she never makes the point clear; and her review of the facts at least has the merit of highlighting what causality there is in The Birds between the affairs of the humans and those of the birds. Paglia's evident delight in Tippi Hedren's performance makes me want to take another look at her acting: she highlights the role of modelling in Hedren's characterisation. In contrast she doesn't have much to say about Rod Taylor, and dislikes the character played by Veronica Cartwright so intensely that she overlooks her performance and fails to note her later career, apart from saying that she reappears in Marnie - I hadn't made that connection, and would like to check it.
The merit of the book lay not in Paglia's analysis of argument, but in a few ancillary details where she does give some technical / factual information. Apparently Hitchcock chose not to film a closing chase sequence between the sports car and the birds. Paglia's doesn't even pause to note that Hitchcock opted for ambiguity at the end. The other interesting, though less important fact is that the original poster for movie shows an adapted image of Jessica Tandy made to look like Hedren, and normally mistaken for her. A more acute critic might at least have paused to consider whether there was a symbiosis between the mother and lover figure. But no.