the bird with the crystal plumage

Starring: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, and Enrico Maria Salerno

Written by: Dario Argento

Directed by: Dario Argento

Like much of Dario Argento’s early work, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a thing of beauty. It is a piece of cinematic art. It boasts gorgeous set design and beautiful cinematography. Moreover, the wardrobe and styling are a perfect encapsulation of the era in which the film was shot. 

Sam (Tony Musante) witnesses the attempted murder of a gallery owner. After the fact, he learns the assault was one in a string of violent crimes going on around Rome. Previously planning to return home to America, Sam now finds himself certain he holds the key to solving the mystery.

Similar to Argento’s Deep RedThe Bird with the Crystal Plumage sees its protagonist witnessing something crucial at the beginning of the film that he spends most of the feature’s runtime trying to recollect or piece together. That’s such a delight as a viewer because we witness the pivotal detail as Sam does. However, it unfolds so quickly that most first-time-viewers are likely to overlook it as Sam does. Being given the opportunity to solve the mystery before the protagonist (however unlikely) adds an additional layer of excitement. 

One thing that stands out to me after repeat viewings of this seminal work is how interesting and colorful the characters are. Not just the leads. Even the secondary and tertiary players are storied and worthy of note. Case in point: The pimp that Sam visits in jail who must say ‘so long’ to avoid stuttering. Or the artist that has blocked off the door to his home ‘to keep out the busy bodies’. These quirks pull the audience into the world of the film’s characters, which is something I admire about Argento’s work. He has a way of allowing the audience to get lost in his dream-like visions brought to life. 

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage features all the typical giallo trimmings, complete with a red herring and ample attempts at misdirection to keep the audience in the dark. The film also expertly encapsulates the sense of total paranoia and obsession viewers have come to expect from a giallo We see Sam become so invested in solving the case that even when presented with the chance to return home to America (all he originally wanted to do) he chooses to stay in Europe and play amateur detective because he has become singularly focused on solving the crime. 

Speaking of giallo conventions, the hazy, dreamlike score from late, wunderkind composer Ennio Morricone accentuates the tension and punctuates key sequences in the film. Scoring is often an under-recognized component in filmmaking. But the importance here cannot be overstated. Morricone’s music is one of the most memorable and powerful elements of the film. 

Related Article: Dario Argento Not a Fan of 2018’s SUSPIRIA

But that’s enough about the intoxicating powers of the feature, itself. Chances are you’ve seen it many times and are here to get a feel for the collective merits of the Arrow Video 4K re-release. Well, I am pleased to say that Arrow has outdone themselves with the care and finesse put into this loving tribute. It is jam-packed with bonus content and a fifty + page booklet that includes essays on the film, a series of images from the picture, and notes on the process of converting the flick to 4K.

One of the standout features for me is the featurette with Kat Ellinger breaking down the film’s themes and the inspiration it took from The Screaming Mimi, the novel upon which it was unofficially based. But it doesn’t stop there, the featurette delves into a really interesting aside on Argento’s tendency to subvert conventional gender roles. Ellinger is a scholar of Italian cinema and a brilliant film historian. 

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas also contributes a video essay digging further into gender politics in horror, Argento’s storied filmography, his filmic inspirations, and so much more. Nicholas takes us through the director’s library from his debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, all the way through The Stendhal Syndrome. 

Additionally, we get a legacy feature from a previous release of the film that sees Dario Argento opening up about his directorial debut and the powerful career it inspired. He elaborates upon writing the script and feeling drawn to go beyond penning the screenplay to actually bringing the film to life as the director. He continues with anecdotes about how he ultimately felt haunted by the project and the need to share that sensation with the world. 

Another legacy feature sees Gildo Di Marco (who plays Garullo, the stuttering pimp, in the film) remembering his first encounter with director Dario Argento. He fondly looks back on his experience working with the Master of Horror and remarks on the creative leeway Argento afforded him during their time together. It’s fascinating to learn how down-to-earth and approachable Argento could be.  

Also included is an archival interview from 2005 with the late Eva Renzi. She gives a fascinating account of how she felt the film effectively ruined her career by excluding her from a number of future opportunities. By her account, studios didn’t want to work with her after she’d played that part. Her candor is refreshing and it’s fascinating to watch and listen as she recounts some less-than-fond memories of the production. Renzi weighs in, not just on her experience making the film but also her observations and opinions regarding the industry. 

The picture and sound on this re-release are crisp and clear. The colors are vivid and almost seem to pop off the screen. For a film released in 1970 to look and sound this good, more than fifty years later is a testament to the dedication of the team at Arrow Video. 

This release will require a 4K player. There is no standard Blu-ray disc included. So, if you have been on the fence about upgrading to a UHD player, perhaps this will be all the more encouragement you need. 

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage 4K re-release is now available via Arrow Video. If you’re a fan of this flick, this is sure to be considered the gold standard. I’d strongly suggest picking up a copy while you can. 

  • The Bird with the Crystal Plumage


The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a cinematic work of art and a standout effort in the giallo subgenre.

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