Starring Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Umberto Raho, Renato Romano, Giuseppe Castellano, Mario Adorf, Pino Patti, Gildo Di Marco
Directed by Dario Argento
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is the directorial début from Italian horror legend, Dario Argento. Prior to watching this I had only a limited experience with his films, mostly from catching short glimpses of scenes in Top 100 Horror countdowns. I did see his 1982 film, Tenebre, in its entirety about ten years ago, but at the time I was unimpressed with just about everything about it. I may enjoy it more if I saw it again but as it stands now, the only thing I really remember about it was the incredible score composed by Italian prog-rockers Goblin. Easily one of my all time favorite film scores. Despite being less than impressed by the film, Tenebre intrigued the hell out of me and made want to watch some of Argento’s other films. It only took me ten years but I’m finally making good on that wish, and the wait has paid off. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a stunningly shot film, filled to the brim with unforgettable imagery and suspense. It definitely is a flawed film overall, but it still packs a pretty sizable punch and I am happy to report that my decision to review four Argento films over the course of October seems like it will be a good one.
The girl survives the encounter, but that doesn’t stop the police from questioning Sam with vigilance. He becomes a top suspect and in order to clear his name, he begins an investigation of his own. From here we follow his logic down the line as he tries to connect the dots between the different killings. Watching this in 2010, tons of the things in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage have since become genre standards. This doesn’t take away from the film at all though, as it’s clear that this did it before the imitators could get their hands on it. Like the often-imitated Django or A Fistful of Dollars before it, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage sent the Italian film industry swirling into a frenzy that led to the shift from Westerns to Giallo (Horror / Thriller) pictures. There were films made within the genre prior to Argento, but it was only after this film that they caught on like wildfire. It is with good reason, as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage managed to keep my attention throughout and throw Sam and me into tense situations of genuine suspense.
But I had previously mentioned that this was ultimately a flawed film, so I would be remiss not to own up to why the film isn’t everything it could be. First off, the story starts to drag in the later part of the second act, with a couple of needless scenes (mainly the scene with the painter) that only serve to draw out the film’s length and let some air out of the balloon. I actually really liked the scene itself, but I don’t know overall how it contributes to the film. Secondly, and I question myself listing this as a flaw, but Argento’s style is at times off-putting. At the same time it is a big reason why the film is important and is still regarded as a classic today, but aspects of his style are more pretentious than they probably need to be. Some of this can be chalked up to youth, but I won’t know how much until I go through more of his work. Specifically, his editing style with occasional, unnecessary jump cuts is what bothered me. In one of the final scenes, images of a plane taxiing on the airport runway are cut together feverishly for no apparent reason other than to look cool.
The film also features an Ennio Morricone score, but it is unlike any score I have ever heard from him. There aren’t many melodic lines in any of the tracks and it mostly consists of ambient, mood music and slightly dissonant jazz. It works perfectly for the film and still features Morricone flourishes like the use of non-lyric based vocal choruses. It’s just important to set your sights for a different type of Morricone score if you are a fan, as this is a score completely its own.
Ultimately, the film is a success. There are tons of inventive uses of the camera and the framing is excellent. Unfortunately, it stumbles a bit by being slightly slow and boring at times, and the acting from some of the players might leave a thing or two to be desired. This is all forgivable though when the filmmaking surrounding these flaws is so vibrant and passionate. Argento truly knows how to shoot a film and I greatly look forward to next Wednesday’s film, his sophomore effort The Cat o’ Nine Tails.