Written by: Michael Den Boer on October 15th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, February 19th, 1970
Director: Dario Argento
Writers: Dario Argento, Fredric Brown, Bryan Edgar Wallace
Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi
DVD released: October 25th, 2004
Approximate running time: 96 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: DTS English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital Stereo English, Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital Stereo Italian, Dolby Digital Mono Italian
DVD Release: Blue Underground
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.95
“The process of writing and directing drives you to such extremes that it’s natural to feel an affinity with insanity. I approach that madness as something dangerous and I’m afraid, but also I want to go to it, to see what’s there, to embrace it. I don’t know why but I’m drawn.” – Dario Argento
Synopsis: Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) an American writer witness the attempted murder of wealthy socialite Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi). Dalmas and his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall) are all set to return to America. When the police who have run out of leads confiscate Dalmas’s passport and force him to help in their investigation. Dalmas decides to help the police in hopes of speeding up his departure from Rome. Can Dalmas uncover the truth before the killer silences him forever?
Very few directors have made the impact that Dario Argento and his debut film The Bird the Crystal Plumage did upon their arrival. Argento like a previous wunderkind Orson Welles would achieve perfection with his first film that he has yet to match with each subsequent films. The plot and narrative flow of The Bird the Crystal Plumage is flawless in every way as the dialog spoken in the film is not only humorous at times it is deeply rich in context to what is going on with in the film. A first glance at the cast for The Bird the Crystal Plumage and one would quickly assume that this is some knock off B-film which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Even at this early stage in his career Argento exhibits his knack for bring out the best in everyone he works with especially his actresses who he films with the utmost beauty that the charges of his films containing themes of misogamy is not only laughable but ridicules. Tony Musante who played the films lead Sam Dalmas had only acted in a few films before The Bird the Crystal Plumage and yet in this film he exudes a confidence that is missing is many of his other films that I have seen him in. Quite possible the biggest surprise of the film is actress Suzy Kendall who general gives wooden performances that never enhances the character she is playing or the films plot. One only has to watch the scene in The Bird the Crystal Plumage in Kendall’s character Julia is being terrorized by the killer as she is trapped in her apartment. The emotion she manages to convey and her screams of terror are genuine and in many respects this scene shows just what a director like Argento can accomplish even with a lesser performer.
Vittorio Storaro like Argento was relatively new to his profession and The Bird the Crystal Plumage clearly benefits from his expert use of the camera. Some of the best examples of his contributions is his use of minimal light in a few of scenes which help obscure details which we are not meant to see. When discussing this film one must one forget the invaluable contribution of Ennio Morricone’s who’s score The Bird the Crystal Plumage very much like Bernard Herrmann’s score Psycho is at least 50% or more of the reason why the film is a terrifying as it is. Since making The Bird the Crystal Plumage Dario Argento’s films have seemed rushed and in many cases obviously lack the funds he needed to do them properly. Also as a writer he seems to have the more fanatical route and as a fan of his films I long for the day he returns to more simpler time when he made films like The Bird the Crystal Plumage.
Blue Underground presents The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage has been released many times around the world included once before in North America by VCI Entertainment. For this DVD edition Blue Underground sources the films original camera negative under the supervision of the films Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. The colors hues literally leap off the screen as they have never looked this strong and vibrant. Flesh tones look natural and healthy. The black levels remain strong through out as detail in the background and foreground look exceptional. There are no problems with edge enhancement, compression or artifacts. This progressive scan transfer looks spectacular as the image remains stable through out. This is simply the best looking transfer for an Argento film to date.
Many times when a film is released there are complaints that the original sound mix or some of mix was left off. If you want variety then this release has it all. Count them seven audio options. There are four ways to listen to the English audio DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital stereo and Dolby Digital mono. There are three ways to listen to the Italian audio 5.1, Dolby Digital stereo and Dolby Digital mono. I sampled all seven audio tracks and for this review I watched the film with the English DTS mix. The dialog, music and effects sound evenly mixed. There are no problems with distortion or any other sound defects. Overall all the sound mixes are in excellent shape and are nearly flawless with the DTS and 5.1 mixes offering the most dynamic sound range. English subtitles have been including that are easy to read and follow.
The extras for this release have been spread over two DVD’s. The first disc includes the following extras the International English language trailer, Italian language trailer and two T.V. spots. The main extra on this disc is an audio commentary with Argento biographer Alan Jones and journalist Kim Newman. The two have a good time through out duration as there is rarely a moment of silence. A few times they go off course and overall it would have been nice if there was more meat added to the analysis they were providing. The bulk of the extras for this release are included on the 2nd disc and they include four interviews. The first interview is with Dario Argento who provides a few amusing antecedents about his debut as a director. The second interview is with the films Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro who discusses the project with great clarity and fondness. The Third interview is with composer Ennio Morricone who discusses a wide range of subjects including his various collaborations with Dario Argento. These first three interviews are all in Italian and come with removable English subtitles. The fourth and final interview is with actress Eva Renzi who discusses the various stages of her career including The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. This interview also ends with an amusing story about one of Germany’s most famous actor’s of the 1960’s and 70’s. This interview is in English. This DVD comes in a black card board slip case that has some rather subdued cover art. The main keep case that houses the DVD’s is another story as it is cover art from one of the films most salacious scenes.
So what is this newly discovered footage that Blue Underground has found? Since its initial release The Bird with the Crystal Plumage has suffered through various forms of censorship and even years later when it was released on DVD all the version before this Blue Underground were missing a few odds and ends that had been left on the censors floor. By going back to the original camera negative Blue Underground every frame of footage as Dario Argento had original intended them to be seen. Pin pointing what is exactly new and restored footage for this DVD is not easily apparent since the footage that has been restored amounts too a few frames here and there and not complete scenes. Blue Underground deliver the goods with their The Bird with the Crystal Plumage SE DVD by giving this groundbreaking film that kind of red carpet treatment normally reserved for art house films. Argento’s debut film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is more then just your atypical genre title it deserves to be looked upon in the same light like other classic Italian films like Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup, highly recommended.