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May 16, 2011

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970, Blu-ray)

I really think there can be good argument as to who is exactly the "father" of the giallo film. Mario Bava could conceivably claim that mantle just for the sheer fact he got there first with his classic thriller Blood and Black Lace. Blood and Black Lace (1964) is essentially where the giallo formula came into fruition: the black gloved killer, point-of-view angles for our psycho, beautiful woman and lots of sharp objects. Dario Argento made his directorial debut with the surprise hit, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage - came six-years after Bava captivated audiences across the world with "Lace". What did Argento do to separate himself from Bava? He made giallo successful internationally. Now, the UK based company Arrow Film and Video have decided to put out a special edition Blu-ray of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Yes, more Argento on Blu-ray.

Buy The Bird with the Crystal Plumage [Blu-ray]

When viewing the beginning credits sequence one thing that becomes evident - Argento has a talented crew. Who wouldn't want to have Vittorio Storaro ( Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now) and Ennio Morricone work on their film. Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is walking down the street, minding his own business when he stumbles upon an art gallery with large glass windows. There's a beautiful woman struggling with some black figure. He wants to help but the glass doors are locked. All he can do is be spectator to this horrific assault. Being witness to this event only puts a target on his back. Someone’s after him now so he does the smart thing - and goes out of his way to find this psycho even if it puts his girlfriend (Suzy Kendall) in harms way.

Storaro's cinematography is first-rate. The way he's able to capture the streets of Italy and the macabre murders are a perfect match for Argento's vision. Amazingly, one of the more impressive things in "Plumage" is the score by Ennio Morricone. Goblin has made a name as "The" score for Argento's features. Listening Morricone's track with the various "la la la's" and assorted haunting music adds an extra sense of dread that I don't think could be duplicated by too many other composers.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage effectively kicks off what has been called the "Animal Trilogy". "Plumage" is followed not long after by Cat O' Nine Tails and the criminally underrated, Four Flies on Grey Velvet. So much comes together for "Plumage", though. The "Art Gallery" scene is easily one of the most effective scenes in any thriller/horror film that I’ve seen. Also, the way that initial sequence is used to piece together the mystery is pretty genius in its execution.

Arrow Video made a wise move by going all out with their release of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage by lining up interviews with some of the more notable parties in Argento's career. Argento collaborator, Luigi Cozzi (Dario Argento: Master of Horror, Starcrash) weighs in with a few on-camera anecdotes. Cozzi may be Argento's biggest fan - he runs a museum dedicated to the man. Argento's youth on the project and his influence (or creation) of giallo film are talked about here. Sergio Martino (Torso) is also given some time to talk about Argento. Martino expounds on the rise of giallo, his contributions and interestingly enough, how Italy was an out of the norm location for a giallo film.

A commentary with Argento biographer, Alan Jones and writer, Kim Newman is thankfully included. Jones, along with Maitland McDonough are the elite among Argento scribes. Newman adds a nice playfulness to the commentary while adding some interesting bits to go along with Jones' comments. Edgar Wallace and Mario Bava's influences on Argento are covered as well as how actresses really did like working with Argento. You can't really say that about Lucio Fulci (Zombie). One interesting point made on "Plumage" was that there really is no fog in Italy (A key stalking scene has this milky-thick fog). Overall, it's an excellent listen and something to revisit.

Argento is also interviewed about his film. The director goes into a little more detail about his real inspiration, Fritz Lang, and his relationship with a young Storarro. Eva Renzi also elaborates on her experiences during the film. A brand-new booklet covering The Bird with the Crystal Plumage written by Alan Jones and a two-sided fold-out poster are also some nice additions. The lovely packaging that you have come to expect from Arrow here - offering four sleeve art options.

The new High-Definition transfer of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was supervised by director of photography, Storaro, with his original Univisium 2:1 aspect ratio. This eliminates some of the frame. It’s a different look that may be a bone of contention with some, but it's how Storaro wanted it presented. Arrow met his wishes by using this A/R. Overall, the picture quality is pretty solid. It doesn't pop quite as much as Arrow's lovely Deep Red release but I was pleased with the color and skin-tones. The fact that it doesn't have digital noise reduction issues was also a big plus. I didn't notice any damage to the materials, as they appear to have been taken care of appropriately through out the 40 plus years since production. The Italian language track is perfectly audible and the English subtitles are easily readable. Morricone's memorable score sounds excellent to boot.

As a huge Argento fan I find it very encouraging we’re getting so many of his films on Blu-ray. Arrow has put together a great release, chock-full of some very enjoyable extra features. The gorgeous packaging sure doesn't hurt either. Arrow's release is sure to please admirers of the “Maestro”.

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