I love discovering old movies that I haven’t seen before because I’m often impressed with the simplicity of the effects and the power of story.
I rented two Rod Taylor films this month, and I had never really seen him in anything until now. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and George Pai’s The Time Machine (1960). Both films were really interesting and different, but there was something about them that connect them in my mind: they both used completely ordinary objects and ideas to sell a fantasy, yet I was on-the-edge-of-my-seat interested in both of them the entire time.
I really love Hitchcock films, and I’ve seen many of them since I was a kid. My collection has several of his works in it, but somehow I never saw The Birds all the way through.
The first fourth of the film had almost nothing to do with birds but centered on the relationship between the two main characters. That was a really smart idea because it was really well written, and I felt like I could identify with the characters. So by the time they started getting attacked by the birds, I was invested and cared more about what happened to them.
There was something else remarkable about this film that I noticed. He hardly used any visual effects. There were some scenes that simply had a lot of birds in them, which is nothing more than something I see every single day. I pass a flock of birds sitting on telephone wires all the time, and it’s honestly not frightening to me at all.
Yet through dynamic storytelling, Hitchcock built up so much suspense in the film, I was freaking out over the fact that there were a lot of birds in the main character’s driveway at one point. I think that’s incredible to be able to pull off. How many filmmakers could do that today?
The Time Machine
This movie is based on H.G. Wells’ novel, so pulling ideas out of his imagination probably doesn’t hurt any film. Sometimes the cheesiness of old movies gets in the way of my experience of them, and I find it hard to get lost in a world so unbelievable. However, this was not the case with The Time Machine.
I think one of the more impressive aspects of this film was the actual time machine itself. I’ve seen Back to the Future and Dr. Who so I’m used to the idea of using whatever is relevant to the time period as a time machine. But this is one of the first ones I’ve seen that has been completely out in the open.
This time machine was made out of what almost appears to be a fancy looking sled. But the fact that it was not closed off made it really interesting. You could see the passage of time as it was happening. It was really fascinating to watch the world around him change as he sped up or slowed down time.
Also, the futuristic world in the movie is actually very simple. There weren’t many visual effects to sell the idea that he was in a different time period. Production design and direction sold it for me. It was really interesting to see what HG Wells thought the world would look like in thousands of years.
Both films used very simple ideas in a creative way to present a unique experience to the audience. I love it. It’s filmmaking at its best. It’s a great example of using whatever is around you to make a film work.
What are your experiences with The Time Machine and The Birds? Were you impressed with the filmmaking techniques or disappointed?