There was a period when André Bazin was considered by some to be a simplistic, naive thinker whose writings were only of historic interest. In 1974, Screen regular Colin MacCabe, in a widely influential article, characterized Bazin as “a theoretically naive empiricist, a kind of idiot of the family.” How times have changed. In a new essay, MacCabe writes that Bazin realized that cinema creates a “complicated series of relationships between camera and setting” and concludes that Bazin was really a modernist, and so on the right side of history after all. Bazin, a modernist? I am not so sure. However, the sea change evidenced by MacCabe is symptomatic of the state of cinema studies as a whole: Bazin is back! This must be deeply gratifying to Bazin scholar and editor of Opening Bazin: Postwar Theory and Its Afterlife Dudley Andrew, who has been Bazin's leading advocate on the American side of the Atlantic for more than three decades.
Having attacked people at a gas station, setting off a conflagration, birds begin to gather over Bodega Bay, accompanied by an electronic hum that sounds like the grinding of two large stones or perhaps like the wind. This electronic hum recurs at the film's conclusion, as we anxiously wait to see whether the Brenner family and Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) will make their escape from their besieged homestead. Hitchcock himself described this electronic hum as a “brooding silence” that “should give us the feeling of a waiting mass.” The sound epitomizes the experimental quality of the soundtrack of The Birds (1963). The sound accompanies the birds and is caused by their presence but is not quite of the birds, at least not the natural creatures we are familiar with. It suggests their objective presence yet evokes something alien, something larger than, or beyond, nature. Furthermore, if we follow Hitchcock's train of thought, there is a subjective aspect to this sound, as if it is colored with anxiety and expresses the internal “noise” that a fearful, acutely sensitive, self-consciously sentient listener might “hear.”