It should be noted that Dario Argento did not create the Giallo genre. That honor goes to Argento’s mentor Mario Bava. With Bava’s masterworks Blood and Black Lace and Black Sabbath, the stage should have been set for an explosion of dark thrillers. However, that international recognition would have to wait a few years longer. Throughout the 1960’s Italian cinema was swept up in a succession of spaghetti westerns and sword and sandal pictures. Whether in part because of that fact or in spite of it, in 1970, a thirty-year-old screenwriter and former film critic would almost single handedly change the face of Italian cinema.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was Dario Argento’s first foray into the cinema as both writer and director. He had previously penned a dozen or so scripts, most notably, co-authoring Sergio Leone’s classic Once Upon a Time in the West. With “Bird” Argento, would begin his flirtation with dark mind of the serial killer and lay the bloody groundwork for a string of critical triumphs. Hailed by critics worldwide as “The Italian Hitchcock”, in 1970, Dario Argento began an astonishing run as one of the worlds top filmmakers.
In Argento’s premier film, Tony Musante stars as Sam, an American writer in Rome, who while out for an evening stroll, happens to witnesses an attempted murder. Soon after notifying the police, Sam, troubled by his inability to recall the details of the attack, begins to investigate on his own. Straight away, Sam finds himself trapped in a wicked game of cat and mouse with a methodical serial killer who is determined to exact bloodthirsty vengeance.
Blue Underground offers an excellent re-release of Argento’s paramount film, presenting the masterpiece in its original 2.35:1 widescreen format. The picture is immaculate with no visible scratches or dirt. The colors are vivid and the blackness is absolute, fully capturing the intensity of Vittorio Storaro’s (Apocalypse Now) stark cinematography.
The 2-disc special edition offers the viewer Audio Commentary from Authors Alan Jones (Profondo Argento) and Kim Newman (BFI Companion to Horror). Both Jones and Newman intersperse their commentary with anecdotes relating to the making of the film as well as illustrating some of the struggles Argento faced on the set. The authors’ vast knowledge of Argento’s work as well as film history allows them to make excellent reference to both Argento’s future oeuvre as well as his past influences. While the audio commentary is engaging it’s lacking in the kind of technical observation and insight that comes from having an actual eye witness account of production.
Also included are 4 featurettes with a total running time of about 45 minutes. Each of the featurettes looks at a specific aspect of production. The longest of these is an interview with Argento regarding the various facets of directing his debut film. Argento offers some insight into the difficulties he had gaining the respect of the actors as well as the dilemmas that faced the first time director. The second interview entitled Painting with Darkness features an interview with Cinematographer Storaro in which he offers his recollections on crafting the visual mood of the film. The final two interviews feature actress Eva Renzi as well as famed Italian composer Ennio Morricone. The DVD also includes International Trailers and T.V. Spots.
While Blue Underground has put together what will likely be the definitive version of Argento’s innovative debut work, it would have been nice to see a featurette on the historical significance of the film, as well as the influence it had, not only on the next generation of Italian filmmakers, but on Argento’s own catalogue. Considering its influence on the myriad of movies to come, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage must be considered an essential part of any completests collection. Blue Underground has provided the Argento-phile in all of us an extremely juicy Halloween treat.