Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Italy, at the time, was not unfamiliar with the Giallo. Il Maestro, Mario Bava, had created the thriller sub-genre in films like THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and the seminal BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. Others followed the trend throughout the 1960's, but it would be Bava's young protege who would step in to perfect the conventions of this purely-Italian art form. His name, of course, is Dario Argento, and he would pave the way for countless other directors with his breakthrough feature film THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE.

Writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) witnesses an attempted homicide from outside of a small art gallery, but he isn't able to call the police in time to stop the culprit. Now, he must work to piece together the clues from his shattered memory in order to help the authorities catch their killer.

All of the basic blueprints for the modern Gialli are laid out quickly as Sam sets out on his quest, from the mysterious black-gloved killer, to the gradual revelation of forgotten events and the grandiose murders that decorate the convoluted plot in blood. Argento demonstrates the same incredible sense of style and originality in design as his mentor. His fluid camera movements and strategic framing paint a visual tapestry that is able to tell the story without the need for dialog. Having yet to dive into the extraordinary world of color and sound that would later be found in SUSPIRIA, Argento uses much more muted tones, focusing instead on the play of light and shadow against the darkened streets of Rome. If any fault could be found in the film's design, it would have to be in the questionable explanation behind the killer's motives, a common problem that would resurface in countless Gialli to follow.

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE is an intelligent film, it is an important film, but most of all, it is a good film. A very good film, and one that holds a very strong historical significance in reshaping Italian cinema forever.

Rating: 9/10.

If you liked THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, check out:
THE CAT O' NINE TAILS, THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS, ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK.



7 comments:

  1. How weird ... or serendipitous. I was just viewing a clip of this the other day. Back a few years, I submitted a Trauma-fession to Kindertrauma about an old movie I had lurking in my brain. Turns out it was probably "Night of 1,000 Cats" but someone had suggested it might have been this one, "The Bird with the Crystal Plummage."

    Weird.

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  2. Which can only mean its time to watch again!

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  3. Have not seen this one in ages. Definitely going to have to track it down....my list of "to watch" movies is getting out of hand! :D

    Thanks as always for the great reviews!

    Cheers!

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  4. I liked the movie a lot too.

    One thing that struck me as interesting about it was that the film's investigation was built around audio investigation. This was obviously before the time when you could DNA Test everything in a lab.

    Sure, it's kind of a random and serendipitous discovery made with this, but it's still neat.

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  5. Agreed, I really like the Animal trilogy because it is so toned down, my favorite shot in the entire film is the sillouhette cast from the doorway when Sam is chasing the killer. Off-center, stark, moody, the visuals are simply brilliant.

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  6. Yes Argento very much made the giallo an internationally viable commercial proposition with this film. It adds very little to what had previously been established. Histories tend to jump from Bava's GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH/BLOOD AND BLACK LACE to BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. Forgetting that there were some 25 films made prior to BIRD that could be classed as giallo. Not to mention the influence of the West German 'Krimi' films. Looking back now, its difficult for me to see exactly what made BIRD so special and successful. From a generic standpoint it was already old hat, so it must be entirely due to Argento's stylistic choices.

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  7. I think it definitely comes down to style in this case, Shaun. I have only seen a select few films between BLOOD AND BLACK LACE and BIRD, but Bava's influence is entirely apparent here, and Argento's artful crafting of the film must have made the difference. I want to say that Argento took the basic structure and elements of the genre and stretched them further than anyone else had previous, but it is unfair for me to make that call without having the viewing to back it. As it stands, I think the film is an incredibly well made entry into the genre, especially considering it leaves out many of the gratuitous and self-serving excesses that made DEEP RED and TENEBRAE so popular.

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