Shelf Space: "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" Blu-ray Review
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
Director: Dario Argento
Writer: Dario Argento
Starring: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall
Company: VCI Entertainment
Struggling young writer, Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante), has decided that the inspiration in Rome has run dry. Just days before his return to the states with babely girlfriend, Julia (Suzy Kendall), Sam sees something very strange on his walk home. Across the street in an (almost) empty art gallery, a woman is being chased and attacked by a man in black. Sam rushes to the window in hopes to aid the wounded girl as the black figure makes an escape before the police arrive. While the gallery woman manages to recover after her encounter with the cloaked killer... others aren't so lucky. A string of murders has left Sam to try and connect the dots in an effort to unveil the murderer's identity. Sam may find himself in over his head as he quickly realizes that his curiosity is putting not only his own life at risk, but Julia's as well.
"The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" was the first directorial effort of then up and coming screenwriter Dario Argento- A figure who went on to become synonymous Italian genre film. *No one is allowed to bring up his later work* Although Argento didn't exactly re-invent the wheel with the 1970 Giallo, he heavily stylized it in a fresh new way that captured all demographics with its fine-tuned balance of thriller and artistic elements-- Thus creating an undeniable new standard for Giallo film. This work doesn't go with out help of course; Argento admits to many scenes paying homage to the Mario Bava film "Blood and Black Lace". And although it's uncredited in the film, it's been noted that story elements were drawn from author Fredric Brown's pulp novel "The Screaming Mimi." "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" became Argento's first piece of the loosely connected "animal trilogy" along with "Cat o'Nine Tales" and "Four Flies On Grey Velvet". Both films came out the following year.
VCI Entertainment had put this out on DVD somewhere in the early 2000s but an out of sequence death scene caused for a repressing. After that, Blue Underground had a go at it in 2005 and then later, on Blu-ray, in 2009. Now the ball is back in the VCI court with this all new Blu-ray release.
Any HD dorks can talk until they're blue in their faces about FILM GRAIN against DIGITAL NOISE. Where is the line drawn between cinematic authenticity and something visually distancing? I found myself really wrestling with this for "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage". After giving myself a jackknife power bomb through my coffee table, I decided I just couldn't fully get behind the restoration. This transfer does't seem to be taken from the original negative- leaving a lot of room for a pretty noisy picture. Artifacting also makes a small appearance when Sam is traveling through the fog-- I didn't notice it anywhere else. That's not to say there were no redeeming qualities in this. Far from it! A lot of detail can be found in the close-ups of this 1080p viewing. Skin tones remain natural and a good white balance is maintained throughout. I loved the sensible levels of saturation used for the bold colors (red especially). I've read complaints about it being "too saturated" and I couldn't disagree more. This aggressive color pallet is something very important to the visual style of 70's genre films. A lot Argento's most widely known works are recognized for their recurring use of bold reds. This release is presented in a 2:35:1 aspect ratio.
Balance and clarity are strong on this audio. The English as well as Italian dub tracks cut through with no distortion or otherwise. Don't expect too much dialogue dynamic from films of this generation, though--as majority of the lines are all completely recorded in post. The beautiful Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad, The Ugly- Once Upon a Time in America) score is given according levels that match perfectly with the action on screen. I'd describe the film's music as a sort of hyperkinetic lullaby- It seriously puts my stomach in knots. This edition of "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" is mixed in a modest PCM 2.0 audio, so I wouldn't throw this one in to show your girlfriend how much you needed that surround sound. Being that PCM 2.0 is what audio CDs are recorded in, I think this was chosen with the feature of the separated sound track in mind.
-Complete Original Music Soundtrack
So this is where it starts kind of coming off the rails here. Unfortunately, VCI offers little supplements- Especially in contrast with Blue Underground's now out of print release from 2009. The Blue Underground release has such a massive amount of extras that it's hard to look at my "complete OST" and feel even close to satisfied with it. VCI just must not have the weight that BU owner Bill Lustig is able to throw around in the cult film medium. But as I said before, the score is not to be ignored, and this is a neat feature all the same.
Should I buy it?
I'll get it out of the way and say that this VCI release definitely pales in comparison to its Blue Underground predecessor. Unfortunately, the BU version is out of print and can sell for as high as a $100 on Ebay. That can buy me so many snacks from the party store. For those of us who
are fat snackers have to budget our love for cult film, the $16 VCI release will suffice; Especially if the other option is not owning it at all. Those loyal to the Giallo genre should not go without having this crucial film on the shelf.