Birds, Psychos, Anxiety and SnuffbyMungoParkIII©
While waiting at a local pizza place for my pizza to cook I happened to look out of the glass storefront and noticed the power lines running on both sides of the busy street were lined with thousands of birds. As I watched there were huge flocks of even more birds swooping in and landing on the power lines, some tall signs in the area and in some nearby trees. Since it is October, it seems understandable that quantities of birds are on the move heading south for the winter and in years past I do remember seeing them come to this area in great numbers.
What seemed odd to me was that, except for a few people concerned about parking under the birds, no one really took much of a notice of the number of birds. In the short period I was in the pizza place, so many more had flown in that there must have been at least ten thousand within maybe a two block area, and no one really noticed. On the other hand, I did notice the birds and while I knew there was no danger, I still felt a pang of apprehension running through me. When my name was called, I grabbed my pizza and headed for my car, the whole time glancing upward, wondering.
Once I was safely in my car, I realized that the people who I saw basically oblivious to all the birds were younger than me, most probably more than twenty years younger than me. I really didn't observe anyone my age (50 or so) during the time I noticed the flocking. It immediately seemed apparent that pretty much anyone of my generation would have felt that same apprehension, anyone who had seen Alfred Hitchcock's terrifying movie "The Birds." The movie had such an impact on a generation that I think most anyone who saw the movie as a child or young adult will feel a strange tingling down the back of their neck when seeing a mass of birds on the power lines, signs and trees.
It's the images we remember, the birds on the fence and playground equipment as the students try to slip away down the road and then the wild rush down the hill with the birds chasing the kids, in town, the brilliant camera sequence that cuts from the leaking gas pump, the river of gasoline flowing down the street, the man lighting the cigar, the people at the restaurant watching it all in an almost stop motion sequence. Who can forget that final scene as the family tiptoes out to their car, completely surrounded by the birds as they climb in and drive into the sunset, seemingly escaping it all, but listening to the radio reports of bird attacks in other cities?
Of course we are the same generation who will lock the doors to their house and the lock to door to the bathroom when we take a shower. And then, don't we also take a quick peek or two just to make sure no one is standing on the other side of that shower curtain. Okay, but even if you don't check, there's that strange feeling and then the sigh of relief when the shower's turned off and we step safely out of the tub.
It's the absolute horror of the images, a shadow on the shower curtain, a flash of a knife blade and the horrific black and white image of the black liquid running down the bathtub drain. Amid the bright red geysers of blood spray that attempts to portray horror in many films today, the impact of the black and white images of the bathtub drain has never really been matched. At least not for an entire generation who, to this day, feels that odd twinge as they climb into the shower.
Then came the film that taught us to fear heights, as we observed the sheer terror in Jimmy Stewart's eyes, the sweat on his face, the trembling he felt just thinking of height. Even the somewhat hokey special effects as Stewart envisions a fall, the strange swirling lines accompanying the dream.
Of course there were other filmmakers besides Hitchcock producing great horror and other films a bit later, though few really shocked us and stayed embedded with us like his films. Perhaps Spielberg's "Jaws," especially in some of the sequences where his huge mechanical shark wasn't working, touched on this level of impact. Remember the emotion of that first scene where all we saw was the woman's initial reaction of pain, then disbelief and then absolute horror as she came to realize what was happening.
Around that time the porn filmmakers had perhaps gone too far in the shocking terror with the snuf films. Capitalizing on sex and horror some of the porn filmmakers produced some films that depicted the murder of someone. The novelty and horror of it all was there were rumors that some of the films were not merely depictions of murder, but actually a film of a person actually being murdered. For the 1970's this was a shocking possibility, one that, in spite of numerous investigations, never was proven.
As I drove away from the pizza place and away from the masses of birds perched menacingly on the power lines and later as I locked the door to take a shower I had to wonder why weren't subsequent generations affected so by movies. Had the viewers simply become accustomed to the fear and violence, had advanced special effects such as computer generated animation simply made the shocking mundane, or had the art and ability of the moviemaker to affect an audience been lost? With the technology available, horror seems to have become something of a race following the formula that more gore equals more horror. If one filmmaker wants to out do another they simply use more buckets of blood and show more and more graphic depictions of mayhem.
Actually, while many movies have become gorefests featuring geysers of blood and other incredible displays of special effects, there remains a select few films from a few filmmakers that do maintain the art. Viewers have become desensitized to the graphic displays, so that special effects must evolve to continue convincing the audiences, otherwise the movie becomes a laughing stock because of the hokey effects.
I think the reason recent generations are not affected by the movie scenes like my generation was has nothing to do with the movies. The images that have been burned into people's psyche like "The Birds" affected a generation come from television, not movies. These images are not fictional, they are real and seen daily on the news. Millions of school children watched the launch of Challenger as a teacher soared into space and now this generation has that image to haunt them. Another set of kids either watched the events or simply saw the horror in their parents' eyes on September 11th.
The art of moviemaking has changed from Hitchcock's days, it has evolved into something some might consider better, others might not, but like everything else it has changed and will continue to change. A generation was shocked and affected by images from some incredible movies; subsequently another generation was shocked by the images on TV and now it is the internet that brings these images into the minds and imaginations of a generation.
I fear we are becoming a culture increasingly desensitized to these images, whether they are carnage, violence or even sex. So, while there are those of us who feel uneasy amid a large flock of birds, who lock all our doors when we take a shower, we have to wonder how others will respond to the intense images that have become part of their psyche. It is not the horror films that frighten us now, it is simply day to day life.