The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

"OK"

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill Review


Perhaps if Judy Irving's The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill had been released in any other year, I wouldn't be so judgmental and hard to please. Since 2005 has already had two major documentary releases about animals (Grizzly Man, March of the Penguins), I was more than willing to sit through another one, but I wasn't going to cut it any slack.

It's not that Mark Bittner, the self-appointed caretaker of the red-crowned parrots on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill, isn't a lovable, interesting character. On the contrary, he seems like a warm, tender loner who is mistaken for a gauche eccentric like Timothy Treadwell (the main focus of Grizzly Man). Bittner has been living in San Francisco for somewhere on 25 years and has worked odd-jobs to pay for food and seeds for the parrots. He squatted in a small cabin and lived there, even when the land got bought (the owners of the property graciously allowed him to stay there without paying rent. The problem is that he isn't really the focus of the film. Instead, Irving seems to spend much more time showing the history and the myth of the parrots and how they got there.

History has its place, but we're not given enough history on Mark and why he chose this life. Furthermore, his connection to the parrots has none of the psychological rendering (again, Grizzly Man had it in abundance) that would make it palpable near the end, when he is forced to move. The only parrot I found myself feeling the connection to was Connor, the single blue-crowned parrot in the bunch. Irving gives time for us to understand the connection between Bittner and Connor, but that's it.

At the beginning of the film, Irving shoots a man who is, in essence, grilling Bittner about whether he keeps the parrots there for his own good. There is no doubt in my mind that the man is a jerk of the highest order, but at least he is stimulating some conversation on animal rights. The film seems light on seeing the bigger picture: it's a tad too interested in making Bittner look like a big, lovable teddy bear (which I'm sure he is) and never looks at people who might think that he's doing something very wrong. At the end, the head of the city council says that he got mail saying they should destroy the parrots. Again, I know the people who wrote that letter are jerks, without a doubt, but there is a serious lack of a devil's advocate here.

I've been to San Francisco twice in my life, and have had a good time on both occasions (the second time a little too much of a good time). The film could work very well as a promotional tool for the city. For all its flaws, it does make me want to go back and maybe get a drink at that great bar on Hayes St. However, Irving has pushed the birds out in front too much and therefore, it plays more like a well-made national geographic tape that I could show my nephew. Bittner deserves a bit more time and consideration as a human being who has such a close connection with these animals. Suddenly, I have the strange wanting to ride a trolley car.

The DVD adds a few extras: Deleted scenes, an update on the flock (it's grown), and more.

Polly want a chowder?



The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Facts and Figures

Run time: 83 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 22nd September 2005

Box Office USA: $2.7M

Distributed by: Shadow Distribution

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Fresh: 92 Rotten: 5

IMDB: 7.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Judy Irving

Producer: Judy Irving

Contactmusic


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