(Reader) Hithcock’s control issues portrayed through his meticulous editing of The Birds

As Bordwell goes through the basics of film editing, it is clear that editing is one of the most crucial aspects of making a film. He writes at the beginning, “‘The Social Network’” in finished form ran 2 hours, but 286 hours of material were shot–not an unusual amount for such a project” (Bordwell 217). The sheer volume of film that is produced for one project is insanely large, and cutting it all down to a digestible amount seems like an insurmountable challenge. However, editors are able to do this while also deploying several editing methods to provide context, continuity, and Hitchcock’s favorite: control.

In Film Art, Bordwell analyzes four shots from Hitchock’s 1963 classic The Birds. These four shots portray a group of three people watching the gas station across the street be attacked by birds. (This is completely unrelated but how on earth is this an actual movie? They’re birds. Just drive away or stay inside your house; it doesn’t seem like a couple seagulls could cause that much fear. And they made a sequel. The fact that they made a sequel to this is insane.) In these four shots, Hitchcock used a looser graphic continuity to keep the main point of interest in focus. All characters in the scenes are wearing subtle colors, and the gas station is mainly gray. However, Melanie, one of the members of the group and main focus of these scenes, is dressed in green to make our eyes follow her. When the film switches from the gray gas station back to the group of people, our eyes automatically lock onto Melanie, as we’ve previously been looking at a neutral landscape, and suddenly there’s a green pop which takes our attention.

In terms of the rhythmic relationship between each shot, Hitchcock plays with the timing of each of the four scenes. The first is 41 seconds, the second is 13 seconds, the third is around 2 seconds, and the final shot is around 1 second. This winding down of the clock from longer takes to shorter takes builds suspense and braces the audience for an intense scene. Another form of rhythmic editing is flash frames. This is when a scene will cut to a white screen to imitate an impact of some sort. While Hitchcock does not use this technique in The Birds, he does in Rear Window when Lars is coming towards Jeff, and Jeff flashes him with a bulb. When Jeff flashes the bulb, the screen quickly flashes to white and then fades out back to the scene with an orange hue. While this is completely unrealistic, the editing makes it seem as though this flash of light has temporarily blinded Lars, and it takes him a second for his vision to slowly revert back to normal.

One of the most important aspects of these four scenes is the spatial relationship between each shot. The first shot is a medium shot of the three characters. This cuts to a medium close-up focusing on Melanie in the center of the frame. From this cut and scene placement we see that Melanie is the main focus of this scene. We also see Melanie looking out the window of this scene. This then cuts to the third shot which shows the gas station across the street. This then cuts to shot 4 which shows all the characters looking out the window. Hitchcock employs the Kuleshov Effect in order to paint the spatial relationship between the three characters and the gas station. The Kuleshov Effect states that if there is a cut from a neutral face to an image, and then back to the neutral face, it is assumed that the neutral face is focused on that image, and the type of image determines our perception of the character’s perspective. For example, if the image is a cheeseburger, we’ll assume the character is hungry. In this scene we assume that the characters are looking at the gas station in anticipation, but in reality the gas station and the set in which the characters stand were filmed in completely different locations. Editing blends it together to make it seem as though they are across the street. Hitchcock also uses this technique in Rear Window whenever Jeff is looking out the window through binoculars or his camera. We see a clip of him looking, then it cuts to one of the many apartments, then back to his face, making us believe that we’re watching the same span of time, but in reality they were all filmed separately.

Editing gives so much control to how the film turns out in the end. As we learned in class and if you do a little research, Hitchcock was insanely controlling on set, needing to have power over every single aspect of the film. That’s why this analysis of just 4 shots in depth shows just how much power editors have. They control our perception, they control who has the most screen time, who we perceive as the main character, and so much more. These techniques and many more are crucial to figuring the essence of a film and what the final message is.

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