For the Birds ****
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
Director: Richard Miron
If we’re brutally honest, we have to admit we all have our own particular place on the Crazy Scale.
Of course, Crazy is in the eye of the beholder. For those on the outside looking in, the most infuriating thing about personal eccentricities is that eccentrics don’t think they’re eccentric at all. That odd phobia, that strange appetite, that unusual obsession is, to the person in question, as normal as butter on bread.
For his often frustrating, always engaging documentary For the Birds, Richard Miron spent years filming the twisting, tortured story of Kathy, a woman who could never have enough ducks, chickens, roosters, and turkeys squawking around. When we meet Kathy and her long-suffering husband Gary, their Upstate New York trailer home has become a glorified coop for some 200 flapping, fighting, defecating fowl.
“You have to have something that you believe in,” she explains, sitting in the trailer — the smell of which we can only, thankfully, imagine. “Something that gets you up in the morning.”
But that’s not good enough for the animal control people who show up, assess the situation, and leave shaking their heads. Soon some very nice people from a local animal preserve arrive. As they try to explain the need to remove nearly all the animals from her property — their close proximity is causing deadly fungi and the birds’ water is disgustingly befouled — Kathy nods enthusiastically. But we can see it in her eyes: No way will she agree to part with even one of her feathered friends.
Miron follows the ensuing legal tussle, casting a sympathetic eye on one and all — even on Kathy’s lawyer, a local tax attorney who takes up her cause with unfathomable gusto.
Most affecting, though, is Kathy’s husband Gary. Blinded by love, he stood by for a decade or so as his wife’s bird fixation took hold — first in their backyard, then from wall to wall in their modest home. As he listens to the animal control people, we can almost see him awakening from a self-induced trance: These birds, he declares, have got to go.
From this point, For the Birds follows a particularly painful trajectory as Kathy comes to terms not only with the prospect of losing her beloved birds, but also the support of the man she married. In time, the couple’s unfolding personal tragedy begins to eclipse the avian apocalypse that precipitated it.
Moments of For the Birds are almost unbearably sad, and for much of the film it appears there can be no happy ending for Kathy. Yet, somehow, the film ends on a note of hope that, with the support of good friends and an understanding family, she can sustain a happy medium between bird lover and bird hoarder.
Only after the credits have rolled does the film’s lone shortcoming occur to us: There’s a huge gap between crazed Kathy and reasonable, hopeful Kathy. For perhaps understandable reasons, Miron’s cameras failed to capture the process that got her from obvious obsessiveness to apparent accommodation. Did she get counseling? Is she on medication?
We don’t know. And that’s cause for worry. After all, she’s still got some birds. And like the flock at the end of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic, they’re roosting just outside her door, waiting for their next move.