The Bird with the Crystal Plumage:Dario Argento’s first masterwork comes to deluxe Blu-ray via Arrow Video
It’s no wonder the world fell under the cinematic spell of Italian maverick Dario Argento after the release of his 1969 directorial debut The Bird of the Crystal Plumage, with critics tripping over themselves to call the future auteur the “Italian Hitchcock.” And while many cite Argento’s 1975 shocker Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) as his first masterpiece, Bird is a tighter, dreamier affair and most assuredly set the tone for the glut of similarly-plotted Italian mystery thrillers that saturated the 1970s.
All the hallmarks of Argento’s Hitch-fixated work and the very blueprint of the giallo film itself are here unsubtle and fetishized. The film stars actor Tony Musante as Sam, an ex-Pat American writer living in Rome who accidentally witnesses a spectacular murder at an even more spectacular Italian modern art gallery. Naturally, like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window or David Hemmings in Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Sam becomes obsessed with the horror he has seen and, propelled by the fact that he was totally powerless to intervene, he begins his own amateur investigation. Running afoul of the law and putting his own super hot girlfriend at risk (played by the delicious Suzy Kendall), Sam gets deeper and deeper into a clandestine mystery as he tracks the fedora-wearing, black-gloved killer and the hyper-stylized murders pile-up.
After toiling as a film critic and boasting a prominent story credit for Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (though reportedly he didn’t do much), Bird betrays Argento’s inexperience as a director. It’s a stunning, disarming debut, pulsing with energy, designer murders (though they are relatively bloodless, something Dario would rectify in Deep Red), staggering sets and scenic natural locations and lush photography by Apocalypse Now DP Vittorio Storaro. Musante is an appealing lead, Kendell is tasty sidecar eye-candy and the mystery itself is fairly — by Argento standards — comprehensible. Best of all, Bird marks the first time Argento would work with the great Ennio Morricone, who composed the score for this and the next two Argento “animal” giallos (Cat O Nine Tails and Four Flies on Great Velvet; later they would collaborate on Phantom of the Opera) and it sits high amongst the Oscar-winning composer’s best works. It’s jazzy, atonal, melancholy and melody-driven work that also works just fine on its own as a psych-jazz music collection.
Arrow Video has poured their soul into this new release box set, with the film itself being exclusively 4K scanned from the camera negative and bells and whistles like a perhaps too-academic commentary by author Troy Howarth, an amazing visual essay by Argento scholar Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, an on-camera interview with Diabolique magazine editor Kat Ellinger and a feature-packed book with amazing photos and essays and so much more. It’s the de facto release of a landmark Italian horror film and ground zero for the vision of one of cinemas most interesting artists.