The Bird With The Crystal Plumage Blu-ray review
|REVIEWS - BLU-RAY REVIEWS|
The 'Giallo' is born. But does this hi-def release of a classic Italian thriller do justice to the original..?
There are some films so influential to later trends and movements that they can easily suffer by comparison to their imitators: The Silence Of The Lambs, Saving Private Ryan (source of many subsequent years' worth of 'jerky' shutter angle use by cinematographers), Night Of The Living Dead...and Dario Argento's seminal 'Giallo' thriller The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo). So it's a credit to this movie and to Argento that the film still stands up in the context of 1970s Italian cinema which owes so much to it.
Tony Musante is the American writer who has sought inspiration in a long Italian sojourn which has borne little fruit except his fidanzamento with model Suzy Kendall. Just as our hero is preparing to return to America broke, he witnesses a savage knife attack on art gallery assistant Eva Renzi by the kind of shadowy, knife-wielding assassin soon to become a trademark of Dario Argento movies. When the police confiscate his passport in the belief that he will remember more about what he witnessed, Musante decides to play amateur 'tec, and goes in pursuit of the man that he saw - now believed to be the serial killer that has been plaguing Rome for months. His investigations take him into the company of some strange and suspicious characters, but also threaten his life and the lives of people around him...
In the midst of much visual and thematic innovation, it has to be admitted that Bird With The Crystal Plumage is weakened by the poor performance of its leading man. The film is widely regarded as the first to create a bridge between cult Italian cinema and Italian culture, set as it is in modern Italy itself (as opposed to more conventionally marketable US locations, 'spaghetti western'-style Spanish locations or period settings), but Musante has clearly been cast because of his association with Metti, Una Sera a Cena, an Argento project from the previous year, rather than on his ability to carry a movie.
But it's not an appalling performance, and in Musante's defence, his character's motivations as written have a naiveté and lack of depth typical of 60s and 70s TV, rather than movies - to the point where the police's complicity with his absurd sleuthing efforts pushes the audience to just sit back and soak up the real value of the movie: the superb atmosphere, characters and psychological claustrophobia that was to hallmark the best of the Giallo genre over the next ten or so years.
Viewers unfamiliar with this work may be surprised at how prescient and avant garde Bird is; it beats Alien to the 'multiple endings' innovation - with which Ridley Scott's SF horror is often credited - by a comfortable nine years. It's also quite obvious how much influence the movie was to have not only on Klute (never far away from the top spot in my all-time favourite movies) but on the gritty and atmospheric style of Alan J. Pakula and the prestige of mainstream 1970s cinema in general. Which was, in turn, to sow the seeds for the style of later classics such as Blade Runner.
To boot, those who have spent decades accusing Brian De Palma of channelling Hitchcock have obviously never seen Bird or any of Dario Argento's other early classics. De Palma got his Hitchcock second-hand, from Argento; he seems to have based years of film-making output on the first scene of assault in the art gallery in Bird.
But let's flip the microscope and acknowledge what Bird owes to Hitchcock, despite Dario Argento's relative dismissal of this popular conceit in the Blu-ray extras section. Voyeurism: check. Borderline misogyny/sadism which conflicts strangely with worship of female beauty: check. Central character is an itinerant, innocent bystander caught up in a web of intrigue: check. But if Bird fits somewhere in the middle of this particular Hitchcock-obsessed strand of etymology, it nonetheless constitutes a landmark in itself. And it remains an engaging work beyond the confines of nostalgia and film history.
ASPECT RATIO & CENSORSHIP
One big black mark against this release is the stunning and literal lack of vision involved in deciding to take a pretty decent hi-def transfer and crop it to a 2:1 ratio, particularly when Blue Underground had already got that detail right in their own Blu-ray release of the movie. Argento and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro took full advantage of the 2.35:1 widescreen ratio in which Bird was shot, and the cropping really embarrasses in certain shots. Absolutely baffling. To confuse matters further, the marketing cites that this release respects Storaro's '...original 2.1 Univisium aspect ratio' - in plain contradiction to both the visual evidence of watching the movie and the general satisfaction with the full-width Blue Underground release.
That said, if you're concerned to see the entire movie uncut, even the Blue Underground release can't help you, whereas the uncut VCI release still has no outlet on Blu-ray. Therefore this classic Giallo may have its definitive hi-def release yet to come.
SUBTITLES & DUBBING
I watched part of the movie with the default English language soundtrack, and then watched the entire movie in Italian. As I speak Italian, I do recognise that the subtitles seem to have been done by an Italian with a 97% fluency in English. Once or twice the meaning of the dialogue is changed quite significantly. Additionally this release has no Italian subtitles, which is a great shame.
As with many 'europudding' productions, the various nationalities of the actors show to disadvantage in both the English and Italian versions of the soundtrack. The dialogue has been originated in at least two languages, so whichever version you watch, there's going to be some mismatch. But that's part of the fun of US-oriented Italian movies...
A good selection of 15-30 minute interview-laden documentaries accompany this release:
- A Crystal Classic: Luigi Cozzi Remembers The Bird With The Crystal Plumage
- The Italian Hitchcock: Dario Argento Remembers The Bird With The Crystal Plumage
- Sergio Martino: The Genesis Of The Giallo
The release also claims a collectors' booklet by Alan Jones, author of 'Profondo Argento' and a fold-out poster, though my basic preview disc did not include these. Those complaining about the garish cover of this release might consider how much it respects the spirit of the Giallo!
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage is released on Blu-ray on 13th of June
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