Tuesday, June 20, 2017

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) (Blu-ray review)

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970)

Label: Arrow Video
Region: A/B
Rating: R
Duration: 98 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Audio: Italian and English DTS-HD MA Mono 1.0 with optional English Subtitles 
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno

Synopsis: Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante, We Own the Night), an American writer living in Rome, inadvertently witnesses a brutal attack on a woman (Eva Renzi, Funeral in Berlin) in a modern art gallery. Powerless to help, he grows increasingly obsessed with the incident. Convinced that something he saw that night holds the key to identifying the maniac terrorizing Rome, he launches his own investigation parallel to that of the police, heedless of the danger to both himself and his girlfriend Giulia (Suzy Kendall, Spasmo)...

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) is Dario Argento's first film, and also the first of his Animal Trilogy (Cat O' Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet)of stylish Italian whodunits, in it we have Sam (Tony Musante) an American writer living abroad in Rome with his lovely British girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall, Torso). One night while strolling down the street alone one night when he witnesses the stabbing of Monica (Eva Renzi, Funeral In Berlin) inside an art gallery by a mysterious black gloved stranger in a trench coat. He attempts to enter the gallery to assist the woman in peril but finds himself hopelessly trapped between two mechanical glass doors and can only watch as the assailant escapes. Sam stares on as the wounded woman crawls towards the glass doors but is completely helpless to do anything about it. Eventually he manages to get the attention of a passerby who alerts the police to the situation and woman is treated for her wounds. While not a suspect in the knifing Sam's passport is confiscated by the police who want to keep their material witness from returning to the U.S. as he might still prove valuable during their investigation, tracking down what turns out to be a vicious serial killer. 

Sam is haunted by the notion that he witnessed something important that night at the gallery but it does not present itself to him right away, the idea of something important seen but not quite remembered is a trope that Argento would revisit with Deep Red (1975) a few years later, a story wherein a composer witness a murder and is haunted by the notion that there is something he saw but cannot recall that is integral to the mystery. 

Several other Argento trademarks emerge as the film plays out in a Hitchcockian sort of way, with Sam (the everyman) being drawn deeper and deeper into the dark labyrinth of murder as he sleuths the crime which endangers both himself and his girlfriend. The threats begins with creepy whispered phone calls and ends with what would become another Argento trademark, the deeply twisted shocker finale, and this is one that holds up remarkably well.  

Dario Argento was already a successful screenwriter (Sergio Leon'e Once Upon a Time in the West) at the time he directed his first feature film and he sprinted right from the gate with the skill of a director steeped in cinema from birth, watching this you never think to yourself this guy is a newbie, to this day it is still one of the more remarkable film debuts. This psycho-shocker has some eye-popping visuals thanks to Argento's keen eye for stylistic horror, borrowing the killer's signature attire straight outta Mario Bava's early giallo entry Blood and Black Lace (1964), throwing in some Hitchcockian lensing over a seductive murder mystery that went on to establish the giallo as a world wide phenomena in the 70s. Adding to the film's visual appeal is cinematographer Vittoro Storaro's fluid camerawork, he would later go onto lens Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979), Ladyhawke (1985) and Spielberg's The Last Emperor (1987), but this was an early entry and already he has a keen eye for visuals and atmospheric lighting. With the visual pieces in place there's also a tasty score with plenty of muted trumpet from none other than Ennio Morricone laid over top, making this a wonderful whodunit cocktail of suspenseful visuals and sound, though decidedly not as visually stunning as his later works this is still something very special and one of the most seminal giallo movies of all time. 

Audio/Video: Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow Video with a brand new 4K restoration of the film from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, produced exclusively for this release, and it's a stunner! A few years back Arrow released a Limited Edition that looked great, but was problematic ue to it being presented in cinematographer Vittorio Storaro's preferred Univisium aspect ratio of 2:1 which was a straight-up bastardization of the original 2.35 aspect ratio, the image lost information, particularly on the left side. Fans of the film were appalled, as they should have been, but Arrow have gone back to the original negative and brought this classic slice of Italian whodunit cinema to the masses properly. Detail and textures are excellent, the colors are vibrant and side from a few inherent flaws to the source this is truly remarkable Blu-ray image. Arrow offer up both DTS-HD mono 1.0 audio mixes in both English and Italian with Optional English subtitles, the mix is crisp and fluid, nicely balanced and the outstanding Ennio Morricone score comes through clean and buoyantly. 

As for extras, Arrow do not carry-over any of the extras from the Limited Edition, these include interviews with Luigi Cozzi (15 min), Sergio Martino (29 min), Dario Argento (15 min) and a great commentary with Argento experts Kim Newman and Alan Jones. But we don't walk away empty handed here folks, Arrow come through with some fantastic new extras, beginning with a fun and lively commentary with writer Troy Howarth, the author of giallo book So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films - it's a great listen and loaded with info. We also get a new analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger (32 min), plus a visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study (21 min)which encompasses his entire career, and interview with writer/director himself, Dario Argento, (32 min), and a new interview with actor Gildo Di Marco, who played the pimp(22 min), plus an archival interview with the late Eva Renzi, originally recorded in 2005 (11 min), plus a selection of trailers of the film.

For the sake of this review we were only sent a "check" disc by Arrow Video for review without the benefit of any packaging, artwork or booklet, so we have no comment on those aspects other than to say I can only assume it's high quality stuff all the way around.   




Special Features: 
- New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
- Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis: New analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger (32 min) HD 
- The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study (21 min) HD 
- Crystal Nightmare: New interview with writer/director Dario Argento (32 min) HD 
- An Argento Icon: New interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp)(22 min) HD 
- Eva's Talking: Archival Discussion with the late Eva Renzi, originally recorded in 2005 (11 min) 
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp
- Limited edition 40-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook
- Italian Trailer (3 min) HD 
- International Trailer (3 min) HD 
- 2017 Texas frightmare Trailer (1 min) HD 

For years the long out-of-print Blue Underground Blu-ray of Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) has been fetching exorbitant prices on the secondary market, and the first now out-of-print Arrow Blu-ray was made less impressive by the bastardized re framingby storaro, and VCI Blu-ray was pretty much bare bones and technically deficient, but now Arrow have rectified past wrongs with this stunning new 4K restoration, this is the definitive A/V presentation of the classic Argento whodunit, highly recommended, a gorgeous looking release. 

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