on December 11, 2003
I really couldn't tell you why I have yet to watch every film in Dario Argento's filmography. A few years ago it was easy to claim ignorance of many of this Italian director's important works because it was often so difficult to find any of them in an uncut form. Fortunately, DVD arrived on the scene and salivating film fans with dollars to spend prodded numerous companies to start churning out any movie they could get their hands on to satiate the masses. It wasn't too long before practically every Argento film arrived on store shelves, with many of these releases being the uncut, unrated editions. Even Troma, the flagship of flaccid filmmaking, released a so-so version of Argento's "The Stendhal Syndrome." People outside of the world of Italian horror cinema have most likely never heard of Dario Argento, unfortunately. These days, more people are familiar with the director's beautiful daughter Asia than with the horror maestro himself. What a shame. Argento's films, at least the ones I have seen, are masterpieces of style injected with truly cringe inducing gore. And to think it all started in earnest with this engaging Hitchcockian thriller, "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage." Argento and his fans never looked back, but this is an apt starting point for those unfamiliar with this director's work.
An American reporter staying in Rome witnesses a truly shattering event one evening when he sees a gruesome assault takes place inside of an art gallery. Barred from interfering with the proceedings due to huge sliding glass doors, Sam Dalmas can only look on with horror as two figures, one clad entirely in black and the other a woman, struggle with each other over a very shiny knife. The person in black flees the scene of the crime, leaving behind the hapless woman with a knife wound to the abdomen. When Dalmas does his duty by calling in the police, his story leads the officers to cast a doubtful eye on the concerned American. The police insist that Sam stay in Rome until the investigation turns up some clues, much to the consternation of Dalmas and his pretty girlfriend Julia. It seems that Sam was planning to leave Rome, but all bets are off as more murders occur that the police suspect are linked to the crime seen by Dalmas. Moreover, Julia and Sam start receiving grim phone calls from an unknown person who almost certainly is the figure behind these crimes. Our hero is in a real fix, with his only supporters being his woman and a friend who works at a museum. At least the cops start to come over to his side as the bodies pile up, especially once they listen to those eerie phone calls. A unique sound in the background of one of these calls provides the break Dalmas needs to identify the killer he saw on that fateful night. The conclusion has more twists and turns than a cyclone.
"The Bird With the Crystal Plumage" helped inaugurate the era of the Italian giallo (Italian for yellow), so named because in Italy cheap paperback crime novels came with yellow covers. These are the films with the anonymous, black-gloved killers toting gruesome looking knives while stalking their mostly female prey. The crimes are often seen from the point of view of the killer, giving the audience the impression that they are part of the heinous murders. Argento plays the giallo for all its worth here, matching this disturbing technique with a great score by the inestimable Ennio Morricone and camera work rarely seen in the horror genre. The cinematography here is simply divine, with the director including a shot from the point of view of a man falling from a tall building and an ultra cool scene where the camera points at a lighted doorway from inside a darkened room. All these elements combine to make this film a taut thriller of enormously entertaining dimensions. Moreover, of the few Argento films I have seen to date, "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage" contains one of his most coherent plotlines.
Gorehounds might find themselves a bit disappointed with the lack of the trademark Argento gore (no sharp corners to bash a head against here!) in this movie, but the stellar camera work, truly creepy scenes of murder and mayhem, and the strong performances from Tony Musante as Sam Dalmas and Suzy Kendall in the Julia role more than make up for the 'PG' rating. Still, that rating made me wonder a bit about what the people at the MPAA were thinking when they viewed this picture. There is upsetting violence here, along with some truly disturbing scenes that hint at where Argento would go in the future. The way the killer caresses those weird looking blades (one of which, I am almost certain, appeared in a later Argento film called "Deep Red") and the participatory effect the audience feels during the killings makes you wonder how this movie got off with such a mundane rating.
The DVD version of "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage" is strictly bare bones: you get the film and a trailer, which is good considering its relative obscurity but could have been better. As others have said, the audio is quite muzzy at times and the picture quality isn't anything to write home to mother about. After viewing this picture and a couple of other Argento films, I must say I really enjoy how these movies mess with your mind. Just when you think you know what's going on, good old Dario throws another curveball. He does this in many of his films, but he does it here for the first time. What a joy it is to watch it today!
on October 16, 2002
*The Bird with the Crystal Plumage* is cult-fave Dario Argento's first movie. Horror fans have complained that *Bird* is too tame for their bloody taste; that it's for "completists" only. (Meaning, Argento fans should have it only to complete their collection, and others need not bother.) They're right, in a sense: we certainly don't swim through rivers of blood and gobbets of gore as we will later in Argento's *Deep Red* and *Suspiria*. This 1969 film explicitly tips its hat to *Psycho* -- and the Hitchcock oeuvre, generally -- without straying too far beyond the parameters of graphic violence that had been set by the earlier film. Hitchcock devotees will be familiar with the type of protagonist presented here: an American in Rome who becomes a witness to a murder, finds himself under a cloud of suspicion, is hunted by the real killer, starts an investigation of his own . . . you know the drill. (Tony Musante's inept performance is good for some chuckles. Though to be fair, he's Olivier compared to the amateurs Argento tends to cast in his films.) In any case, there's more to any movie than just blood & guts, all you horror fans out there. This movie has about 6 or 7 set-pieces -- Musante witnessing the crime while trapped within glass partitions like a bug in a jar; a chase through a graveyard for Rome's public buses; our hero getting literally pressed down by a collapsed sculpture that has spikes; the surprising revelations at the end; and especially the cloaked killer's attempt to carve a hole through a door using his murderous knife, in order to get at the hero's girlfriend -- ALL of which are worthy of the deepest admiration.
on July 1, 2002
I am a big fan of Dario Argento's films, and "Bird" is rather different from his later works, but it still packs quite a punch. The story involves an American writer, Sam Dalmas, who witnesses an attack on a woman while he is staying in Rome. Sam thinks there is something that he missed during the attack. If he could just remember he will solve the killer's identity. Sam launches his own investigation, and puts the lives of himself and his girlfriend in danger in the process. Meanwhile the killer conitinues to carve up young women throughout the city. This film is an excellent mystery. The ending took me and everyone I've watched it with completely by surprise. Argento weaves an exciting story. Some scenes were very suspenseful and creepy. The acting was good as well. Especially from the three leads. The DVD is pretty well done. The widescreen transfer looks better I'm sure than it ever has before. The sound was alright, but the volume was a little low in some scenes. Nothing terrible though. Not many special features, but I thought that the seperate soundtrack was a great bonus. Just make sure you get the correct version of the dvd. Supposedly on the original copies the "bedroom murder" was edited incorrectly, and the sound was extremely low. The company,VCI, now makes a corrected version. If you are a fan of Argento, or mystery, or even horror then I definetely reccomend this DVD.
on January 3, 2002
Even those who don't care for writer-director Dario Argento's later baroque extravaganzas may warm to his debut feature "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage" (L'Uccello dalle Piume di Cristallo, 1969), a well-received thriller in which an American writer living in Rome (Tony Musante) witnesses an assault on a woman in an art gallery and is subsequently targeted by the would-be assassin, a crazed psychopath who's been terrorizing the city with a series of brutal murders. Typical of an Argento thriller, the hapless hero's investigation unleashes a cycle of violence which culminates in a climactic unmasking that will take some viewers completely by surprise. Loosely inspired by Fredric Brown's novel 'The Screaming Mimi' (filmed under that title in 1958), Argento's first film is a fairly straightforward thriller with horror asides, anchored by a strong narrative, an increasingly bizarre series of supporting characters, and a strong Everyman hero who slots the puzzle together piece by piece before realizing that the most important clue to the killer's identity was there in front of him all the time. Musante is given excellent support by English actress Suzy Kendall as his girlfriend (the scene in which she's besieged alone in her apartment as the killer hacks through the door with a knife is truly the stuff of nightmares) and Enrico Maria Salerno as the cop charged with finding the killer before he/she strikes again.
Despite Argento's prior screenwriting credits, including significant contributions to the script of Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West" (C'era una Volta il West, 1969), producers were unconvinced of his directorial abilities and wanted to pull him off the picture during the first few weeks of shooting, but Argento persevered under an iron-clad contract and ultimately proved his critics wrong with the finished product, a genuinely engrossing mystery punctuated by scenes of explicit horror. The film puts a late-1960s Italian spin on the kind of movie that Hitchcock had already popularized in America, and is leavened with the same kind of uproarious humor: Salerno gets the best line of dialogue during a police line-up when he despairs: "How many times do I have to tell you? Ursula Andress belongs with the transvestites, not the perverts!" And later, an outrageously camp antiques dealer offers a jaw-dropping description of one of the killer's former victims: "It was said she preferred women. I couldn't care less - I'm no racist, for heaven's sake!" Briskly edited by Franco Fraticelli, and featuring a brief appearance from distinctive character actor Reggie Nalder ("Mark of the Devil", "Salem's Lot") as an assassin-for-hire, "Bird" is arguably Argento's warmest, most humane thriller until "Tenebrae" (Tenebre) in 1982.
VCI's region-free DVD runs 95m 47s (not including the UMC logo at the beginning, which wasn't part of the original film) and restores all of the violence that was cut from the initial US theatrical release. The restored material is derived from a separate source - possibly VHS - and is of lesser quality than the bulk of the film, which offers a bright, colorful rendition of the Cromoscope image, slightly reframed to 2.20:1 (from the original 2.35:1), anamorphically enhanced. VCI were forced to issue a 'corrected' version of the disc when it was discovered that one of the restored sequences - the bedroom murder - had been edited incorrectly. However, both versions offer an unnecessary two-channel stereo 'enhancement' of the mono original which sounds more than a little forced and unnatural, made worse because the dialogue is badly out of sync for the duration of the movie, and while the film relies primarily on Vittorio Storaro's widescreen visuals, the audio blemish provides a hideous distraction during prolonged conversation sequences. Ennio Morricone's lilting, melancholy music score is cut off at the end, just as the last credits disappear from the screen, whereas it continued for almost another minute in the theatrical version. There's a letterboxed trailer and an audio-only soundtrack option, but no captions or subtitles of any kind.
on November 30, 1999
While not up to the impressive standards set by such later works as Suspiria and Deep Red, this is an impressive directorial debute from on of the best directors working in the horror genre today. The cinematography by Vittorio Storaro is very good and the musical score by Ennio Morricone is excellent. The story follows an american living in Rome with his girlfriend, played by Suzy Kendall, who witnesses a woman being brutally attacked in an art gallery. The attacker flees and the police arrive on scene, but something is wrong with the situation. The murders continue and soon the American, played by Tony Musante, is being stalked by the killer. He believes it has something to do with a mysterious painting, but he is not sure exactly what. Questions arise, why won't the police believe him, why is he a suspect, why does the police officer who comes to the house seem to recognize his girlfriend, Suzy Kendall, even though she insists that they have never met. I wouldn't dream of giving away the ending, the twist is great and almost impossible to see coming. There are a few minor complaints, the dubbing, the fast zoom-ins,common in films of the 1960s, and some plot twists in mid-section of the film are a little hard to swallow. However, this is miles ahead of most thrillers made today and any Argento fan will definitely want to own this one.
Beautifully shot by Vittorio Storaro, this is a stylish and fun Hitchcock-like thriller. (To me it feels more Hitchcock than gaillo). But I can't put this in prime Hitchcock territory, since the underlying themes are more heavy handed, and yet shallower, and less care is taken with character, acting and storytelling than by Hitchcock.
There are some terrific set pieces, and lots of tension. but also logic holes big enough to drive fleets of trucks through, and acting that ranges from lifeless to over the top, and all the performances are dubbed (even the US actors post synced their voices).
Historically important and clearly influential on many later directors and films (from DePalma to 'The Shining' to John Carpenter), I still can't quite see this as the masterpiece a number of critics make it out to be. But it is certainly great looking, tense fun, and well worth seeing.
on October 19, 2002
Work number one by Dario Argento, this movie is also referred to as the original matrix to the Italian Giallo Movies. Check out the reason why. Excellent plot, good acting, sensational atmosphere, black gloves, hats and raincoats, knives, razors, screaming good-looking girls, sex traumas, violence, gore, and that flash, burnt in the protagonist's memory, which is the key to the solution (and what a solution!) to the entire plot. This is enough to recommend you the purchase of a DVD which, unfortunately, is quite disappointing. The video format is partly disturbed, the audio is unbelievably in mono and no extras are available rather than the theatrical trailer and (good choice) the original soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. But we're talking about a masterpiece, and I suggest this purchase anyway.
on July 4, 2000
This is the first film that Argento directed and it shows a lot of his traits already, but is still not up to par with his later masterworks like DEEP RED, SUSPIRA or the recent THE STENDHAL SYNDROME. But if you like stylish thrillers, check it out. Argento's traits like his style, his brillant use of music and his trademark-violence are all already there, but much more subdued than in his later works. The DVD is servicable, although not as satisfying as the titles from the Anchor Bay collection. The picture is below today's standards (off course) but still the best print of this film I've seen (and I've seen a lot) and besides a seperate soundtrack there are no extras worth mentioning on this DVD.
on August 7, 2000
This Argento mystery isn't bad but I enjoyed SUSPIRIA and TENEBRE much more (they were more colorful, gorier and crazier!). Much of what Argento became famous for is found here, his first directorial effort: characters who say and do bizarre things inappropriate to their circumstances (the day after Suzy Kendall is attacked in their apartment, she and her lover are there going about their business with the door unlocked!), a convoluted mystery, good-looking women victims. All that is missing is the intense, colorful gore. Finally, let's not leave out the unintentional hilarity of the detective bringing along the writer on the investigations!
on December 12, 1999
Having seen Argento's directorial debut many times on laserdisc, video, film screenings and television broadcasts I have to say that it has never, ever looked this good. The colors are no longer washed out but crisp and vibrant and the anamorphic widescreen is clear, rich in detail and free from digital artifacts. Though the film is presented in its uncut glory, a few seconds of the once edited murder scenes are in noticeably poorer shape than the rest of the transfer. It's not very distracting and shouldn't prevent you from getting this otherwise fine disc. Viva Argento!