Saturday, June 17, 2017

Blu-ray debut for Dario Argento's first fright film, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE

If TrustMovies is not mistaken Dario Argento's debut effort THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE was among, if not the first film to introduce international audiences to the Italian Giallo genre. That, together with the fact this this was Argento's initial crack at directing (after helping write a number of movies) --  the filmmaker is shown below -- should push his film into into near-classic "slasher" status.

If the new Blu-ray disc, via Arrow Video, does not look as good as a number of other of its ilk and time frame, that may be because the movie never did look all that great -- even at the time of its 1970 release. Though the cinematography is by Italian master Vittorio Storaro (who followed this film with the much-better-on-every-level The Conformist), it is not as sharp and precise as you might expect (a relatively small budget might account for this). The composition and use of color is quite interesting, however. I saw the original theatrical release of the movie, and can verify that it looked no better then -- in terms of sharpness and clarity -- than it does now. Neither did its further transitions to tape or DVD.

So Arrow's claim that the movie has never looked nor sounded better is most likely quite true. And since we are getting it here in a 4K restoration from the camera negative in its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio, this, too, is a first -- at least since its theatrical debut. As to that sound, it is excellently produced, all right, but the much-vaunted score by Ennio Morricone is not among the composer's better works. Look to Once Upon a Time in the West, Fraulein Doktor (and a raft of others) for that.

The film itself is a veritable grab-bag-cum-definition of Signore Argento's craft, style, smarts and faults. The plot has do to do with an American writer (Tony Musante, above, left), on a kind of vacation/work project in Italy, along with his model girlfriend (Suzy Kendall, above, right) just as a series of grizzly murders is taking place -- one of which (below) he appears to catch in the very act, as he wanders by the glass window of a posh art gallery late at night.

The plotting, while fun and sometime fascinating (look for the usual Argento "surprise" finale), also completely lacks any believable human dimension. Our hero and heroine refuse to behave like any actually human beings you will have ever encountered (except those who appear in bad movies). Musante's character puts not only his own life in danger time and again, he does the same with that of his girlfriend. And after very bad things happen, such as our heroine being stalked and nearly killed by the murderer, she is able to recover in no time flat and also get a great night's sleep in the process. There is also very little logic in Argento's plotting. The one person (out of two) left alive in the penultimate climax is the very last person that this particular killer would have let off the hook.

Argento's use of color (lots of red, of course) is also fun. There's one lengthy, silly scene of an assassin in a yellow slicker jacket that leads to the film's funniest surprise. Watching this landmark "slasher" film today also points up the enormous advance (well, debasement) in the audience's appetite for violence, blood and gore. This "Bird" seem almost pristine: all lead-up and then suggestion, with merely a small slash and splash here and there. The film's forensic investigation, using the latest technology of its time, provides some fun, but I do wish we'd have been able to see more of that titular bird. This exotic "looker" receives only a single moment of screen time.

There is a rumor (probably apocryphal) that, with the international success of this film, no less than Alfred Hitchcock was said to be worried about this new Italian kid's intrusion into his suspense-thriller territory. Watching Argento's entertaining trifle now merely points out the vast difference between the work of a master and a would-be. The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, via MVD Entertainment Group, arrives on limited edition Blu-ray + DVD this coming Tuesday, June 20, for purchase and/or (I would hope) rental. Click here for further details.

As usual, with the releases of Arrow Video, the disc offers a wealth of Bonus Features, including new interviews with Argento and Gildo Di Marco (who plays Garullo, the garrulous pimp); a new analysis of the film by Kat Ellinger; new audio commentary by Troy Howarth; a new visual essay on the cinema of Argento, The Power of Perception, by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; English subtitles for both the English- and Italian-language versions; high-def Blu-ray and standard-def DVD presentations; reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp; and a limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie and new writing by Howard Hughes (no, not that one) and Jack Seabrook.

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