Jimmy Janowski Returns to Bodega Bay
by Anthony Chase
BUA revives The Birds Attack! to mark the 50th anniversary of the movie it sends up
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic suspense film, The Birds, was released in 1963, making this year its 50th anniversary. Naturally, Jimmy Janowski wanted to celebrate the event by returning to the scene of the attack, Bodega Bay, California, with a revival his own parody of the film, The Birds Attack!, which opens at BUA Theater this weekend.
“I would love to have traveled to Bodega Bay for the Labor Day weekend festivities, but that was just not possible, so we’ll do this instead,” explains Janowski.
Two years ago, Janowski’s parody—complete with iconic mint-green suit and icy blond coiffure—was a runaway hit. The show established Bebe Bvlgari as a new BUA star in the Suzanne Pleshette role. (At BUA, the resident stars are rewarded with entrance applause by the audience). Other unforgettable turns were created by Christopher Standart in the Jessica Tandy role; Timothy Patrick Finnegan in the Veronica Cartwright role; and Eric Rawski as the Rod Taylor character. The entire cast has been reunited for the revival.
In The Birds, spoiled socialite and perennial bad girl Melanie Daniels bumps into dashing Mitch Brenner in a San Francisco bird shop. He is buying a pair of lovebirds for his sister’s birthday, but they’re out of stock. He recognizes Daniels from the social pages (and courtrooms) of San Francisco, but pretends he thinks she’s a salesgirl. She’s miffed at being tricked, but fascinated by the guy, and so after he leaves, she tracks him down to Bodega Bay and delivers a pair of lovebirds to the home where he lives with his mother and sister.
The plot thickens when Daniel’s arrival in the beachside town coincides with a bizarre phenomenon of nature: The birds of Bodega Bay begin to make increasingly lethal attacks on the human population.
The parody uses an identical plot, but makes hay of the overlapping relationships and sexual undercurrents implicit in the story, based on the novella by Daphne Du Maurier. (After Jamaica Inn (1939) and Rebecca (1940), The Birds was the third Du Maurier story to be filmed by Hitchcock. Rebecca has also received the BUA treatment, with Janowski as the Second Mrs. De Winter).
“I understand that Bodega Bay has become quite the resort town,” says Janowski wistfully. “It has a real coastal arts scene and more beaches than P-Town! Of course, the only thing remaining from the film is the schoolhouse.”
The schoolhouse was the location where crows ominously assembled on the playground before attacking the fleeing schoolchildren and killing the teacher. For the scene, the children were actually running on a treadmill while being attacked by puppets and animated birds. In other scenes, birds were attracted to actors with anchovy paste. For the famous attic scene, a live bird was actually attached to Tippi Hedren with an elastic cord. The final scene of the film, an ambiguous ending in which the main characters slowly escape Bodega Bay through a menacing proliferation of real, puppet, and animated birds at rest, described by Hitchcock as the most complex shot of his long career, was actually a composite of 32 separate exposures. At BUA, by contrast, director Todd Warfield has manufactured stage magic out of found materials, animated with his own special, deranged ingenuity. Dozens of dollars have been lavished upon this revival. (Not to worry, the mint-green suit and blond up-do coif remain unchanged).
How does it feel for Janowski to return to Bodega Bay, two years later?
“It feels exactly the same,” he enthuses. “I love [Melanie Daniels] and I love the story. I was hugely surprised by the response the first time. This is a celebration of all the great films of that time. Those movies had a style about them that is comical by today’s standards, but in them, I see the essence of camp. We gain understanding of why those films resonated with us at the time, through our understanding of what we know now.
“I see the survival and the determination of Melanie—her tenacity to get what she wants, and I recognize the gay rights battle that was to come immediately after these films. Here is a woman in turmoil—beautifully dressed and coiffed, of course,” he adds with a laugh. “Mitch is what she wants, and what is stopping her? Nature! Not only that, but when the birds attack the village of Bodega Bay, it doesn’t take long before someone in the town thinks of blaming her. ‘All these bad things are happening because of who you are, Melanie Daniels!’
“Do we really need to analyze why that resonated with gay audiences? Gay people are always told that all the evil in the world is because of something we’ve done. Why is this happening? What did Tippi do? Is she evil? Are we evil? Maybe it’s something we’ve done.”
Indeed from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, to the fall of Rome, to 9/11, to the threatened sanctity of marriage, there is always someone to suggest that gay people are the cause.
“So many stories like this came out of Hollywood in the 1950s and ’60s,” observes Janowski. “Some bad girl gets blamed for all the town’s ills. Think of Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind,” he offers, adding, “Well, maybe she should have danced like that when her father died…”
Janowksi’s memory of 1950s and 1960s Hollywood is astonishing.
“The plots sound stupid today,” says Janowski, “but this goes beyond mere film study—this is our soul!”
Janowski is delighted by the fact that a younger generation of audiences can experience these stories as comedy.
“It is always wonderful to expose young people to the theater in a fun and enriching way—and young people generally do not know this film. I am often asked, ‘Does it make a difference if I haven’t seen the movie?’ and I tell them, ‘It will add layers, but no. This is not like Shakespeare! The characters and the plot will be immediately accessible—and then maybe you will enjoy seeing the film later!’”
The Birds Attack! opens at BUA Theater this weekend and plays Saturdays and Sundays through September 1. See On the Boards for details. Watch a hilarious video promo below:
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