Virginia Film Festival

Nov 8, 2013

The Virginia Film Festival is underway, offering the public more than a hundred films and lectures over the weekend.  Friday night's show promises to be a thriller for many fans of Alfred Hitchcock, with a film that was released 50 years ago, and events are planned in Richmond and Charlottesville to mark the occasion.

The 1963 trailer for The Birds begins with a mild mannered introduction.

“How do you do?  My name is Alfred Hitchcock, and I would like to tell you about my forthcoming lectures.  It is about the birds, and their age-long relationship with man.”

But by the end of the lecture, it’s pretty clear the birds are angry about how people have hunted, caged, plucked and eaten them.  That’s when the film’s star, Tippie Hedren, bursts through the door under full attack.

“They’re coming! They’re coming!”

Film historian Robert Kolker, who lives and writes in Charlottesville, says the movie was in some ways a preview of dystopic cinema to come. “The Birds is the beginning of the run of post-apocalyptic films that are so current today.”

And it broke new ground with its freaky soundtrack, which used electronic effects rather than symphonic scores to unnerve movie goers.  

The Birds was, in Kolker’s opinion, not Hitchcock’s best work. “It was another major commercial hit for him, but it was also the beginning of the end.  Hitchcock’s great fertile period is in the mid 1950’s – particularly with Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho.”

But it was a start – a first film -- for actress Tippi Hedren, who will appear at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville Friday night (11/8), then press on to Richmond for a talk  Saturday (11/9) at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  It’s launching an exhibit of Hollywood Costumes – about a hundred of them -- including Superman, Titanic, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight Rises, Indiana Jones, the Seven Year Itch and from the Wizard of Oz, the witch’s hat, the Ruby Slippers and Dorothy’s dress.

Museum administrator Robin Nicholson says it took some doing to get the collection from its last stop in Melbourne, Australia. “Because of the fragility of many film costumers – because they were never made to last – the decision was made to travel them on the mannequins rather than undressing and redressing at each venue, which does mean they have to travel in very large crates, so as a consequence the exhibition had to primarily travel by sea rather than by air.”

He argues costumes aren’t just props – they’re keys to the characters – and historic relics from one of the most popular art forms of our time. “The sets go, the props go, the actors eventually go, and so in many ways the last defining cultural relics of cinema are the costumes.”

The museum plans to show most of the films from which costumes were saved in an event called 60 Movies in 60 Days, beginning with The Birds, which sold out weeks ago.