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Worth A Look: 24.14%
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3 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Wild parrots in the city - and their human friend."
5 stars

The title of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is not so much deceptive as it is incomplete - although they are unquestionably one of the film's main subjects, equal attention is given to the eccentric man who is their self-appointed caretaker. In many ways, this movie is even more about Mark Bittner than it is about his avian friends.

There are various theories presented as to how San Francisco acquired a flock of South American parrots; some clearly urban legends, with a story a bird-shop owner tells of one of his suppliers losing a shipment has the most credence. Despite being tropical birds, they have managed to eke out a life in this not-always-hospitable city. Bittner points out that they could have survived without him as a justification to his claim that they're wild animals (an amusing early scene has one passerby claiming that they can't truly be wild if they have names). A long-haired one-time musician, Bittner isn't completely domesticated either. His "landlords" say that they don't want to use the term "squatter", but saying that does kind of get it out there. This will be important during the movie's second half.

Before we learn much about his history, we learn about the birds. The first one we meet, Mingus, is the most domestic of the lot; he has built his nest under Bittner's pantry and only goes outside as punishment. On the other end of the scale is Connor, one of the flock's oldest members and also the only one with a blue, rather than red, crest. He's very standoffish, having lost his mate years ago.

Parrots mate monogamously, and this is evident in the photography. Though we see many shots of the flock as a whole, or of individual parrots, most of the scenes are of pairs. Even in "crowd scenes", the birds are generally paired up or in family groupings. This behavior also leads to Bittner anthropomorphizing their behavior for us, and that's interesting to observe. He points out two birds who were a couple, Scrapper and Scrapperella, pointing out how Scrapperella had the habit many caged birds have of plucking out her own feathers, and that she also had picked at Scrapper's feathers. They're not a couple any more, perhaps because Scrapper got tired of the abuse.

This may be true, along with the characterization he gives another pair, Picasso and Sophie. Or especially Connor, who he describes as less afraid of hawks than his red-headed cousins, or how Connor looks out for other birds without acknowledging any affection for them. Potentially more interesting than whether or not why this is why those parrots act as they do is how we ascribe those motivations to them. He explains his long ponytail early on by saying that he had decided not to cut his hair until he had a girlfriend, and this doesn't seem like a priority to him. Yet, still, he casts the parrots in love stories.

This is a nice-looking film for what is obviously a shoestring budget. It is shot on film as opposed to digital video, but it's clear that there are some limitations. When director Judy Irving has to shoot at night, or something she can't shoot at eye-level, the cinematography can't quite keep pace. On the plus side, she does capture the beauty of the birds and the city, as well as the chaos of Bittner's overgrown garden, very nicely.

The birds themselves are intriguing subjects. Bittner at one point describes them as being like monkeys, and that's rather apt at times. We're used to thinking of birds in flight, or grounded, but these parrots come across as primarily climbing creatures. Their claws are built to wrap themselves around branches, while their supple legs allow them to twist themselves in unexpected directions.

The ending is also sweet, in an unexpected way. Along the way, we've kind of allowed ourselves to forget that they're a filmmaker just off-screen, despite how the beginning serves up more than the usual amount of narration on why she made the film, and there are a few moments during the movie where Mark addresses not the camera, but instead the person behind it. There's a next chapter to this story, and it's one that we might not have predicted from the beginning.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill delivers its parrots, and also a little more. It's a gentle, G-rated movie, and one where the rating legitimately means for all audiences, as opposed to just those under eight.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11727&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/06/05 18:52:29
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User Comments

3/21/08 Pamela White facinating, funny and a few tears 5 stars
4/14/06 NoRefill This movie was really just OK. Nothing life changing or even exciting. 3 stars
1/02/06 Suzz One of the best films of 2005 5 stars
12/13/05 Corinne the story and the cinematography kept me entranced. 5 stars
10/25/05 Anita Bath terrific. Absolutely fantastic. Just great. Loved it. Well, it was nice. Actually it sucked 1 stars
8/02/05 Maire Percy truly awesome 5 stars
5/21/05 Avi we love this movie 5 stars
5/01/05 Dorothy Malm fascinating movie, I could watch it twice 5 stars
4/03/05 NEBulous truly enjoyable story of both the birds and Mark. Wild parrots 4 neighbors too. 5 stars
3/09/05 jonh isverygood 4 stars
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Directed by
  Judy Irving

Written by
  Judy Irving

  Mark Bittner

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