Judy Irving’s The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is a documentary of quiet, introspective charm centered around the story of Mark Bittner, a bohemian outsider living in San Francisco who developed a relationship with a flock of wild parrots living near his home at the time. Bittner, an ex-street musician, ruminates quite eloquently on both the tangible reality and philosophical truth of the impact that the birds have had on his life. Judy Irving’s film is at its best when she just lets her “star” wax unobtrusively poetical; Bittner has a soothing ease about him, a stillness that lends his raggedy figure an almost pastoral quality. The film engages with the notion that there are perhaps more parallels than we might think between our society and that of the birds, particularly in regard to the universal need of all living things for friendship, love, and the assurance of certain primal insecurities. While not a terribly groundbreaking theme, Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill distinguishes itself through the articulate simplicity of its approach. For the most part this approach holds true, but the film does misstep, marred by a sappy and unnecessary soundtrack, an ending that is strangely self-serving and far too rushed, seeming more like a gimmick than a thematic resolution, and by a few surprisingly poor formal choices on Irving’s part. Of particular note is her overwrought utilization of silly slow motion sequences and freeze frames during some key moments; Irving’s mistake is that she occasionally forgets to let her material speak for itself. Yet if Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is to be judged a slight work and minor achievement, it is pleasantly so.
- Judy Irving
- Mark Bittner
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