Giallo-a-go-go: Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) – Blu-ray review
One of the most perfectly realised prototypes of any director, as Argento commits to honing florid style over substance.
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage
(Dario Argento, 1970)
The first film of any director is a calling card. For Dario Argento, that card is designed to as stylish and memorable as possible, splattered in red and crafted by industry titans. With the help of ace cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and legendary composer Ennio Morricone, Argento was out to grab the thriller from Alfred Hitchcock and create something lurid and spectacular.
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage is a film that is all about its surfaces – elegant, seductive and exciting. There’s a remarkable interest in the texture of things: décor, costume, colour and design, captured from arresting angles. The set-pieces have a strutting pleasure in creating tension through sound and image, disconcerting in their voyeurism, but also a pleasure in their geometric precision, especially a chase sequence in a deserted bus station or the visual puzzle of Sam (Tony Musante) being trapped in a glass chamber, unable to intervene in an attempted murder.
Argento was part of a generation of Italian filmmakers who broke from neo-realist traditions and tackled American genres – don’t forget that he co-created the story of Once Upon A Time In The West with Sergio Leone and Bernardo Bertolucci. The difference is that Argento is much less political than his peers, preferring a near-abstract aestheticism that shuns deeper meaning.
That arguably leaves it slight, or misjudged – its bonkers twist somehow deepens the sense of misogyny. The biggest flaw, though, is that it simply doesn’t make sense. The arrival of an assassin is never fully explained, nor is it clear how many victims were killed by the husband, or why. But it coasts on pure movie logic, the sense that nobody should be safe and everybody is a suspect. The film boils down the murderous impulse to a set of symbols – knives, black gloves – that became an iconic template for Argento and his peers to develop.