One could talk about Dario Argento’s work having fallen so far from his early films, but that’d just be depressing. It’s far more pleasant to focus on his beginnings with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Considered a hallmark in the Giallo genre, the film was a hit in Argento’s native Italy and kicked off his Animal Trilogy. Arrow Films had previously released The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in the UK, but have now revisited the film with a brand new transfer and a host of new extras.
This is really a no-brainer, isn’t it?
Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) an American writer living in Rome with his girlfriend, Julia (Suzy Kendall). One night, Sam witnesses the attempted murder of wealthy socialite Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi). Ranieri survives, and her description of the would-be killer matches the description of a serial killer active in the area. The police, led by Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) have run out of leads, but as a precaution, confiscate Dalmas’s passport and force him to help in their investigation. Dalmas agrees to help the police in hopes of clearing his name and to speed up the investigation. However, the clock is ticking, the number of victims is rising, and soon Dalmas finds himself the target of the killer.
As BD’s own Chris Coffel remarked in his review of the VCI Entertainment Blu-Ray, Argento was clearly influenced by Hitchcock. As with Hitchcock’s films, the police are futile in their work to piece together the mystery. And like a number of Hitchcock’s thrillers, our protagonist is briefly suspected of the murders, and undertakes his investigation in order to clear his name. Perhaps the most obvious nod to Hitchcock is just as Simon Oakland did at the end of Psycho, there is a scene involving the psychiatrist giving a long-winded explanation to the killer’s motivations. Ultimately, this explanation is turned on its head, as Argento cross-cuts this explanation with shots of another character in the film who has just suffered the same sort of trauma as the killer, introducing doubt into the film as to who the killer really is. It’s these homages to one of film’s greatest masters of suspense, as well as Argento’s own burgeoning skill, that helps to craft the suspense and tension Argento’s giallo films would become known for in the later years.
Another part of these homages is also what makes The Bird with the Crystal Plumage so enjoyable: The way Argento lets his audience play detective on their own. Indeed, Sam’s only clue (and ours) is his recollection of what he saw. And what is often the case, eyewitness testimony can be faulty. Indeed, we the audience only see what’s happening from afar. Therefore, we end up using Sam’s testimony as our own, with his conclusions filling in the blanks as to what he didn’t see. Of course, we don’t even think that Sam’s conclusions are wrong, even if much of what we see is from a viewpoint that obscures vital information. Nonetheless, Argento seems more than happy to lead us along that path of stubbornness until the inevitable twist that catches us unaware.
Of course, if it’s an Argento movie, one can’t forget about the Argento look. Part of that “look” goes to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who bridges the gap between what Argento sees in his head, and what we see on the screen. Every scene in the film is framed in such a way that it creates a visual delight. The scene where Sam is at the glass doors, helpless and unable to reach the struggling Monica on the floor is one such example of the suspense that Argento creates from his visuals. Another example is the scene of Suzy Kendall alone in her apartment, where with just a few shots, Argento is able to capture an audience’s attention.
I know that there will be those who say that Argento’s later films in his Animal Trilogy surpass The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and others will say that even those pale in comparison to Argento’s Deep Red. But the key thing to recognize (as we all should do) is that we all start somewhere. And really, what better way to start than to create a film that is as visually-stunning and impactful as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage? Every filmmaker would hope to have a début as good as Argento and to have a film that still enthralls genre fans and influences films to this day. This is definitely a film that you should check out.
Presented in an AVC-encoded 1080p transfer in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (unlike Arrow UK’s original 2011 release, which was framed in Director of Photography Vittorio Storaro’s 2:1 Univisium aspect ratio). This newly-minted transfer comes from a 4K scan of the film’s original 35mm camera negative and looks nothing short of spectacular. Detail is consistent, with great texture and saturation. Film grain is present and appears natural, with no noise reduction or smoothing. Print damage is either minimal or nonexistent. There have been some complaints about the framing of this transfer when compared to past releases by other companies, but unlike Arrow’s release of House, you won’t find any crew members poking about.
Featuring mono DTS-HD Master Audio tracks in both English and Italian (the latter with optional English subtitles), these tracks just as impressive as the video. While not reference-quality, they sound clean and free of distortion or hissing, showcasing the power in Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack but never overtaking the dialogue.
For starters, Arrow has included the option to watch the movie with either the English or Italian language opening and closing credits via seamless branching.
The extras really kick off with an Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth. Howarth is the author of “So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films”, and definitely knows his stuff. Howarth provides an extremely interesting track loaded with information and trivia on the cast and crew, the production, as well as exploring the various themes found within the film. It’s very easy to listen to and never gets boring.
Following that is “The Power Of Perception”, a visual essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of “Devil’s Advocates: Suspiria And Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study”. Heller-Nicholas examines Argento’s use of perception within his films, breaking down the complex methods of reading the portrayals of murder and femininity. While it does sound pretentious, it’s actually an interesting piece. It’s also spoiler-heavy, so beware.
“Black Gloves And Screaming Mimis” is an analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger, wherein Ellinger compares Argento’s film to the novel “The Screaming Mimi” by Frederic Brown and the film’s place in Italian Giallo. Again, spoiler-heavy, but also quite fascinating.
The man himself shows up for “Crystal Nightmare”, which has Argento talking about lifting ideas from Brown’s novel, how his film producer father helped him to get this picture made, the reasoning behind the film’s title, as well as his recollections on the shoot and other aspects of his career.
“An Argento Icon” has actor Gildo Di Marco talking at length about his career, his work on this picture as well as his work in Four Flies On Grey Velvet and Door Into Darkness, and how surprised he was with the interest in his acting career.
“Eva’s Talking” is ported over from a previous Blu-Ray release featuring a 2005 interview with Eva Renzi. Renzi spends the interview talking about psychological aspects of the film, the view that the murders within the film are exploitative of women, and how her character is basically a victim of male abuse in the film. In spite of this, Renzi also states that she was grateful to have worked with Dario, who was very civil with her. In contrast, she also mentions how Tony Musante was quite egocentric during the filming.
Rounding things out is the international (English) and Italian theatrical trailers, and a new 2017 Texas Frightmare trailer.
Being that this is the Limited Edition, Arrow packed in a full colour 60-page booklet containing credits for the feature and the Blu-ray disc, as well as writing on the film by Michael Mackenzie, Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook. We also get a replica of the film’s original North American poster with the newly created cover art for this release on the reverse, a set of six postcard-sized lobby card reproductions. On top of that, Arrow has also provided a reversible cover sleeve for the keepcase with the newly-created painting on one side, and the original Italian poster art on the flipside. This is all housed within a sturdy cardboard slipcase that replicates the new artwork.
Arrow once again packs in tons of quality extras on top of a gorgeous audio and video presentation. Definitely get your hands on the Limited Edition before it runs out.