Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bodega Bay--The Place Where The Birds Rule And The Gateway To The Sonoma Coast

"It's the end of the world," said the man sitting at the end of the bar with a capricious smile and a drink in his hand. The place was Tides Restaurant and Bar located in Bodega Bay, CA. It was a scene from the Alfred Hitchcock classic thriller "The Birds."

Bodega Harbor was the place where Melanie Daniels(Tippi Hedren) was unexplainably attacked by a lone seagull while heading towards a dock in an outboard motor boat where her love interest, Mitch Brenner(Rod Taylor), awaited her arrival. The Tides Restaurant and Bar was where Mitch took Melanie to care for her bleeding head. Later, at the same restaurant, a debate ensued between some of the patrons as to the strange behavior of the birds. "Not likely," said a bird lover and amateur ornithologist concerning the likelihood of a bird exhibiting violent tendencies towards humans.

Birds have been known to swoop down on cats and even people, if they consider them a threat to their nests. I have been a witness to such curious behavior. There have been times when I have observed a little bird menacing another bigger bird for some reason unknown to me, but to attack a human without provocation, that would be out of character in the world of birds. On one occasion, I was dive bombed by some seagulls while eating at Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, but the birds were more interested in the food I was holding than taking out some anonymous vendetta against me. The family owned parakeets when I was just a toddler. I don't particularly recall any malevolent behavior on their part. Although, when it sat on my shoulder, it would peck my ear. It was somewhat bossy at times. Always told me to take out the garbage. Should I have been concerned?

As the movie progressed, the attacks from our fine feathered friends became more frequent and vicious. If you dare to watch the movie at some point in time you may want to close your eyes when Mitch's mother visits a neighbor friend. It isn't a pretty sight. Then, there was the scene after the crows attacked the children as they left the schoolhouse. Mitch finds the school teacher(played by Suzanne Pleshette) laying on the ground outside her home. Let's just say the birds have a thing about eyes.

They seemed to defy the idea that birds of a feather flock together only. These were no mere random acts or isolated incidents. Their maneuvers gave the appearance of being coordinated with one prime objective--punish man. The movie doesn't come right out and say that. Hitchcock leaves that up to us to figure out. At the climax of the movie, when Mitch and his family along with Melanie are forced to leave their battered home, one of the birds takes a parting shot with a peck to Mitch's hand as if to say, "It isn't over. It's only the beginning."

This was the premise of Hitchcock's first horror/fantasy film that scared audiences back in the early sixties. Bodega Bay was the setting he chose. It is a real place 1 1/2 hours north of San Francisco at the southern end of the rugged and beautiful Sonoma Coast. Hitchcock chose it because of its foggy weather and mystical landscape, which at that time was subdued and open. It has been over sixty years since the movies release and the Visitor Center in Bodega Bay receives thousands of Hitchcock fans every year. When you mention the movie to the receptionist, she will give you a sheet of paper listing all the points of interest and locations.


Although the original Tides Restaurant and Bar was destroyed by a fire in February of 1968, you can visit the newer Tides, which was built in its place--a complex with a snack bar, gift shop, seafood store, an elegant restaurant with a spectacular view of the harbor, and an inn. The old pier where Melanie was first attacked is still there. The farm house and the dock across the bay where Mitch lived all burned down in the late 60's. The old Potter School is the only original building used in the movie that stands to this day, and you won't find it in Bodega Bay. It is located some six miles inland in the town of Bodega. The schoolhouse was an abandoned building when it was first discovered by Hitchcock and rebuilt for the movie. Years later, it became a bed and breakfast, but now is a private residence. You can take pictures of it, but no longer able to tour it. You could politely ask the present owner, but the response may not be polite one--I read that in a review. The school teacher's house next to the schoolhouse was only a facade built for the movie.

I was just a young man entering my teens in 1963 when "The Birds" made its debut. The movie has since been a favorite. Hitchcock's spellbinding masterpiece has had an effect on my psyche. Whenever I see birds massing together I wonder, "Could this be it." There is a passage from the book of Revelation in the Bible that speaks of the birds being called to a great evening meal of God where they will eat the flesh of men. I wonder if Alfred had this text in mind when he was first inspired to write the script and storyboards?

Surrounded by tall hills and tall trees, the drive into Bodega Bay from the south is picturesque and narrow with many twists and turns. Once you reach the misty, tranquil waters of the harbor and begin to navigate its shoreline, you will sense the lingering remnants of nostalgia left by the movie. It saturates the old surviving salty structures of yesteryear as well as the contemporary. Bodega Bay is also the gateway to the rugged and scenic Sonoma Coast all the way to Goat Rock near Jenner.

Sonoma Coast Lodging

Inn at the Tides in Bodega Bay

One last parting thought. The ending we have become accustomed to seeing in the movie was not part the original script. The ending that was supposed to be was scraped due to costs. Picture in your mind the great Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco covered with birds. "It's the end of the world."

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