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The Bird With the Crystal Plumage(1970)
In his first film as writer/director, Dario Argento (SUSPIRIA, DEEP RED, TWO EVIL EYES) single-handedly created the giallo genre and instantly emerged as the filmmaker critics worldwide hailed as ‘The Italian Hitchcock.’ Tony Musante (TRAFFIC, WE OWN THE NIGHT) and Suzy Kendall (CIRCUS OF FEAR, TORSO) star in this pulse-pounding suspense thriller about an American writer in Rome who witnesses – and is helpless to stop – a brutal assault, the cunning vengeance of a maniac, and the heart-stopping horror that lives – and kills – deep in the dark.
For more about The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and the The Bird With the Crystal Plumage Blu-ray release, see the The Bird With the Crystal Plumage Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on September 9, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Eva Renzi, Enrico Maria Salerno, Mario Adorf, Renato Romano
Director: Dario Argento
» See full cast & crew
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage Blu-ray Review
Are you curious (giallo)?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, September 9, 2013
It's a rare director who is credited with inventing a genre, or at the very least porting that genre into the film medium and giving it life as film. Italian director Mario Bava is widely cited as the first director of the so-called giallo genre, an Italian idiom which in fact had been part of the literary tradition for decades before Bava's 1963 opus The Girl Who Knew Too Much. Giallo means "yellow" in Italian and initially referred to the color of paperback mystery novels, perhaps ironically written quite frequently by American or British authors. Over the course of time, and especially with regard to cinematic gialli, the term came to mean a certain kind of erotically charged thriller, almost a pre-cursor to the slasher craze of the seventies and eighties, where a mysterious killer sliced and diced his or her way through a bevy of (usually) beautiful young women. Gialli were often quite lurid and often intentionally visually provocative. Bava's follow up to The Girl Who Knew Too Much, 1964's Blood and Black Lace is in turn often cited as having provided substantial inspiration for another director who would become associated with the giallo genre, Dario Argento, an erstwhile film critic (hmmm. . .) who decided to ask his wealthy father for a loan in order to put his own stamp on giallo in the form of 1970's The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, a film which is usually listed as one of the greatest gialli of all time. It's absolutely fascinating to watch The Bird With the Crystal Plumage now from the vantage point of some forty-plus years (wow!) since its initial release. Argento's style and even plot mechanics can be seen as having sparked, at least in part, all sorts of different films, including those aforementioned slasher flicks as well as perhaps some more unexpected fare like more "literary" efforts such as De Palma's Blow Out (a film which of course owes as much to another Italian, Michelangelo Anonioni and Blow Up). There is in fact a rather interesting through line from a film some Italians might consider a gialli, Michael Powell's 1960 effort Peeping Tom, through to Blow Up, and on to The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (and then perhaps at least tangentially to the De Palma thriller). All of these films deal with a certain kind of voyeurism, where the efforts of a hero (or anti-hero) trying to come to terms with something he's witnessed (or in the case of De Palma's film, heard) acts as a metaphor for the very act of watching a film. Peeping Tom went a step further, giving the audience a disturbing point of view perspective of murders being committed—by a madman documenting his killing spree on film. But all of these films are at least subliminally (and some might argue absolutely overtly) dealing with the psychological issues of "witnessing" in its most basic form.
The whole voyeurism aspect is brought home early in The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. Almost right off the bat, Argento gives us that telltale sound of a camera shutter taking pictures, evidently of young women being watched surreptitiously. But then the audience becomes a voyeur as we see someone evidently preparing for some nefarious activity. And then, in what is the first of several tours de forces Argento sprinkles throughout the film, Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) becomes an unwilling witness to attempted murder at an art gallery, stuck between two doorways made of glass which he can't get to move—as if he's being forced to watch a horrifying attack. While the woman (Eva Renzi) ends up surviving, having seen the carnage sends Sam into an emotional tailspin.
One of gialli's recurring tropes is utilized in this opening sequence, that of the mysterious assailant who is quite often clad in a dark raincoat or overcoat and is just as frequently gloved. We obviously can't quite make out who the assailant is, and neither can Sam. A rather flat footed policeman named Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Solerno) still feels that Sam is his best chance of catching the attacker, and Sam's passport is requisitioned, leaving him a captive in Rome. Sam returns home distraught to the comforts of his gorgeous girlfriend Giulia (Suzy Kendall), though he's haunted by the images of a woman, bloody and battered, staggering through an upscale art museum.
Sam ultimately becomes convinced that he is perhaps better prepared than the police to solve the crime, especially after he's informed that the same assailant may have killed several women across the city. Sam ultimately finds a rather disturbing painting which may be a clue to the identity of the killer, but at virtually the same time Sam and Giulia find themselves the targets of the killer, receiving threatening phone calls and notes. The police at least are able to pinpoint a telltale sound in one of the calls, which leads to the film's hyperbolic climax.
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is frankly not the most innovative of mysteries, nor even the goriest of horror outings, but it's quite notable for its oppressive sense of terror and subterfuge, something that I personally find perhaps most analogous to Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now, interestingly another film with a slicing, dicing murderer set in a legendary Italian city (and yet another film which hints at voyeurism, not necessarily limited to its teasing title). Argento manages to be both rather shockingly lurid (the final showdown between the killer and Sam is almost an excerise in outright sadism) and surprisingly restrained (the film is much less bloody than some might expect).
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage takes a page out of yet one more film with voyeurism at its center, Alfred Hitchcock's legendary Psycho. As with Hitch's masterpiece, we get a frankly ludicrous little coda with a psychiatrist explaining the madness which has gone before, though it's notable that one of the reasons given for the murderous rampage is due to the killer having seen something. It's kind of a needless wrap-up to a film that is in fact more about seeing and less about having things explained in a didactic manner.
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of VCI Entertainment with an MPEG-2 encoded 1080p transfer in 2.34:1. Fans of this film have but one question on their minds, at least with regard to this Blu-ray: how does it compare to the Blue Underground release? That Blu-ray is now out of print and fetches sometimes absurdly huge sums on several online sites. I have added three screenshots from the Blue Underground version in positions 21 – 23 to mimic the first three screenshots accompanying this review which are from the VCI version. A quick comparison shows that the VCI version is somewhat brighter, but perhaps surprisingly that does not affect blacks or the overall contrast of the film, and in fact I was not overly bothered by this change, despite being used to the Blue Underground Blu-ray. The image is still somewhat soft by today's standards, but VCI has not overtly scrubbed the elements here, and a rather swarthy amount of grain is still in evidence, especially in the darker sequences. Colors are very nicely saturated, and fine detail pops rather well in close-ups. I would certainly not fault this transfer in any major way for being brighter than the Blue Underground release, and in fact in some ways I think the colors pop more effectively in this version. Perhaps surprisingly, despite VCI's continued use of the now ancient MPEG-2 codec, there were only a couple of instances of very brief artifacting, the most noticeable of which is in the early fog scene where Sam is walking home.
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Perhaps the biggest allure of this VCI release is the restoration of the original mono soundtracks, in either English or Italian, delivered here via LPCM Mono mixes. There's a quite noticeable difference between the two languages, with the Italian mix sounding notably more muffled in the higher frequencies, and with quite a bit more hiss than the English version. That said, both version present dialogue and Ennio Morricone's interesting score very well. Personally, I preferred the English language version due to the much more present upper registers, but those who want to hear the Italian language version in mono won't be too horribly disappointed, given reasonable expectations.
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Fans who didn't scoop up Blue Underground's release of The Bird With the Crystal Plumage when it first came out have been kicking themselves ever since. My personal opinion is that the video quality here is at least acceptably comparable to the Blue Underground release, though it's also noticeably (if frankly slightly) different. The biggest change here is really in the audio mixes, where this VCI release offers the original mono mixes, as well as a much less lustrous assortment of supplements on this release. This is certainly a budget friendly option for those who don't want to spring for the now excessively expensive Blue Underground version. Recommended.
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage: Other Editions
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The Bird With the Crystal Plumage Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Bird With the Crystal Plumage Blu-ray - June 6, 2013
VCI Home Entertainment has announced that it will release on Blu-ray cult Italian director Dario Argento's L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo a.k.a The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), starring Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, and Enrico Maria Salerno. The release ...
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