Thursday, 21 May 2015
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
An American novelist witnesses the attempted murder of a woman by a black-clad assailant and risks his and his girlfriend's lives in trying to track down the killer and break his writer's block.
With the Bird with the Crystal Plumage Argento cemented the giallo framework laid down by Mario Bava in The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace.
The staples of giallo are present both as internal factors (insanity, fear, perversion, obsession) and external (voyeurism, violence, J&B whiskey, spiral staircases, blades, black gloves).
Filled with tension and mystery, the Bird with the Crystal Plumage has superior cinematography, plot, dialogue and performances. Even the police are a cut above the usual bumbling idiots portrayed in gialli. Light touches of humour temper the tension (I nearly wet myself laughing at the cat scene). Apparent clues are dropped hard and fast. The film really wants you to try and work out who the killer is and red herrings are laid down with logic and cunning, meanwhile Argento's smiling, safe in the knowledge that he is holding a hand of aces dealt from a stacked deck. I always think a good "whodunit" makes you think that every little thing is a clue and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage accomplishes this with aplomb. It seemed like I was accusing a different person every 10 minutes!
The Blu-Ray was great and had an excellent picture with light grain and vibrant but not harsh colours. With the caveat that I have no understanding of Italian, the sub-title translations seemed natural and accurate and were a cut above the usual ham-fisted attempts, and what a difference an Italian soundtrack makes! The discordant score and an almost childlike main theme drives the film along nicely without being intrusive.
Argento may be known as a "style over substance" director but Bird with the Crystal Plumage proves that, early in his career, he also had a real talent at storytelling.
Original letterboxd review