During a recent trip to Northern California I found myself passing through the tiny coastal town of Bodega Bay, which immediately brought to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds. I was in the area, the setting of that film, for the wedding of two dear friends, and the bride let me know that the original building used for the famous schoolhouse scene was still standing nearby and in good condition. The following clip doesn’t do much to showcase the building itself, but it does contain the most chilling shot of the sequence.
The Birds was the first Hitchcock film I ever saw (I couldn’t have been more than 7 years old at the time) and it remains a personal favorite of his work. It’s certainly not the filmmaker’s best (that, in my opinion, would be Rear Window) but it’s full of interesting and memorable aspects, unique choices. One, which you may not even notice upon a first viewing, is that the film has no score; quite odd for the time and uncharacteristic of Hitchcock. Any music heard throughout, including the creepy childrens’ song heard in the clip above, is sourced from within the narrative itself. The absence of a score also accentuates the moments of shock and dread (for example, when Tippi Hedren’s character discovers the unfortunate fate of the old neighbor). The simple yet masterful use of editing and pacing builds tension in a way that only Hitchcock was able to do at the time. Unfortunately the jungle gym was no longer there, but I recognized the schoolhouse right away. The vaguely ominous architecture and its placement on a steep hill made it easy to understand Hitchcock’s desire to incorporate the building into his film. A small piece of film history though it is, I welcomed the impromptu visit and the shot of nostalgia it provided.