Sunday, January 17, 2010

Enough said

The first question out of my students' mouths when we finished screening The Birds (1963): "Is there a sequel?" "What would happen in a sequel?" I asked. "What more is there to say?" As I see it, there are two continuing story options: (1) The bird attacks stop. You got no movie; (2) The bird attacks continue with a similar intensity. No movie. (3) The attacks escalate until you've got a silly Godzilla movie, and the audience is not scared, it's laughing its collective head off.

Young people seem to have trouble understanding that once you're done saying something, you stop saying it. I've observed this in conversation, in written assignments, in oral presentations. They seem to believe (with some justification, I fear) that no one is actually giving anything their full attention and that therefore the solution is mindnumbing repetition. They don't believe in or trust anything said only once, like people of some ethnicities who believe that all offers of hospitality must be repeated at least three times, because the first two refusals are not sincere (this is true for some people).

There is a brilliant scene in the musical version of the play Merrily We Roll Along. The songwriter protagonists perform their new song to great praise and admiration at a swanky party. The society guests, none of them performers or artists, demand to hear the song again. The lyricist, wise about these things demurs, saying a performer should know when to get off. The composer, basking in the adoration, prevails, and they launch into the song again. Now, however, everyone has heard it, and they begin little musical interjections on irrelevant topics. Slowly at first, then they build until they completely swallow up the song, which disappears into a fog of musical chitchat.

Still, I should be pleased that even with its antiquated visual effects, The Birds still works its evil magic on a young audience, who reacted just as the master hoped. For my own part, has anyone remarked on how audacious the lack of a score is--in two places in the film in particular. Over the opening titles, which lack even a fanfare for the Universal logo. And at the end, when the future of the human race on earth seems to be all used up, we move without music--just the thrumming and fluttering of the waiting birds--into the "End" card. No credit roll, nothing to offer any comfort before we go out into that waiting bird-infested world.

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