The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
In 1970, young first-time director Dario Argento (Deep Red, Suspiria) made his indelible mark on Italian cinema with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage – a film which redefined the ‘giallo’ genre of murder-mystery thrillers and catapulted him to international stardom.
Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante, We Own the Night), an American writer living in Rome, inadvertently witnesses a brutal attack on a woman (Eva Renzi, Funeral in Berlin) in a modern art gallery. Powerless to help, he grows increasingly obsessed with the incident. Convinced that something he saw that night holds the key to identifying the maniac terrorizing Rome, he launches his own investigation parallel to that of the police, heedless of the danger to both himself and his girlfriend Giulia (Suzy Kendall, Spasmo)…
A staggeringly assured debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage establishes the key traits that would define Argento’s filmography, including lavish visuals and a flare for wildly inventive, brutal scenes of violence. With sumptuous cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now) and a seductive score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone (Once Upon a Time in the West), this landmark film has never looked or sounded better in this brand new 4K Ultra HD presentation from Arrow Video!
Arrow Video upgrades their 2017 Blu-ray edition for Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage to 4K UHD, presenting the film in full 2160p/24hz resolution with Dolby Vision in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a triple-layer UHD disc. Arrow is reusing their 4K restoration they also used for their prior Blu-ray edition, which in turn was sourced from the 35mm 2-perf Techniscope negative.
Their previous high-definition release looked plenty impressive already and to be honest, when considering the 2-perf source (a technique to save on film stock by using half of the available frame for the widescreen image, almost doubling the amount of footage you can shoot per reel) and the limits that brings to the amount of detail available, I wasn't expecting this 4K edition to offer up much of an upgrade, yet I'll be damned if there isn't a significant improvement to be found here. And it's not just in the HDR grading (which is great and I will get to in a moment) but also in the level of detail and the overall sharpness. Film grain especially looks so much better, despite not being at all shabby on the Blu-ray. It's so much finer and more natural looking within this presentation, which in turn leads to improved fine-object detail, allowing strands of hair, fine fibers and more to be better defined. This also leads to an early scene in the fog showing a far more natural look with a cleaner gradient; it really looks like fog, no digital anomalies present at all. The opening credits can look a bit fuzzy and soft still (probably related to the photographic process that went into creating the credits) but outside of that the image is razor-sharp throughout the rest of the film.
Next, throw in the HDR/Dolby Vision grading, and you've got yourself something special. Colours do look better, the bright reds of the blood splatters, the bright yellow jacket of that hitman that just randomly shows up out of nowhere midway through, even blues and greens, all of them popping with more distinct shades. Dynamic range is also incredible, the bright lights and highlights in the film's many darker shots just leaping out of the frame, in turn leading to better shadow details. This aspect alone gives the image such an incredible boost and a far better projected look.
It doesn't look like Arrow has done any further restoration, not that it was really needed: a few minor tram lines and a few specs still show up, though they're a little more noticeable, probably due to the increased resolution. That said they're still very minor.
In all this looks great, really exceeding my expectations and providing a significant improvement over Arrow's previous high-definition presentation.
(The SDR screen grabs below come from the source disc. They were taken as uncompressed PNG files at 3840x2160 and then compressed and shrunk down to JPG files at 1920x1080. While they should still offer a general idea of quality they should not be used for reference purposes.)
The disc presents the same two audio options in DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono: English and Italian. As with most Italian films of the time, actors spoke in different languages while shooting and then dialogue was dubbed over during post-production in whatever language for whatever market. Because of this, both tracks have a dubbed feel, lip-synching being a bit of crap-shoot for either one. That being said, both presentations are about the same quality-wise: dialogue can be flat, but music can offer a decent bit of range and sound effects sound clean. Both tracks show some background noise but there is no significant damage otherwise. In the end it will really just come down to one's personal preference.
Arrow ports over most of the material from their previous Limited Edition Blu-ray, replacing a couple of things and adding on. In relation to disc content, Arrow does port everything over. From the original Blu-ray review:
[The features start off with an] audio commentary featuring Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films. It’s a fairly fun track that manages to cover a lot of ground around the film and the giallo genre. He gives a highly detailed overview of the film’s production (interestingly, for me at least, Argento had no plans to direct his script for the film) and gives wonderful detailed backgrounds to the actors that pop up in the film. He then talks about Argento’s career as a whole, admitting that his current films are nowhere near as good as his older ones, providing some examples. Impressively Howarth keeps the track going and nicely moves from one topic to another naturally. It’s a good track.
Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis is a new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger, offering a look at the film and how it fits into the giallo genre, as well as its relation to a story by Frederic Brown called The Screaming Mimi. Ellinger makes comparisons to the novel, pointing out the similarities and what has been changed, and other than some character motivations the book and film are really close to one another, at least according to this. It even brings up another adaptation of the book. Ellinger also goes over some of the common giallo elements, including archetypes, and even points out aspects uncommon for the time, particularly the film’s treatment of homosexual characters. It makes for a rather engaging 32-minutes.
There’s another visual essay, this time by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, called The Power of Perception which focuses on a common thread in Argento’s films revolving around characters looking to solve something they see or misinterpreting what they see. The 21-minute segment is nicely put together but it is loaded with spoilers not just for this film but a number of Argento’s other films including Cat O’ Nine Tails, Four Flies on Gray Velvet, Suspiria, and Deep Red, so if you’re planning on checking those ones out and haven’t yet I highly recommend skipping this one.
Dario Argento provides a new 31-minute interview for this edition under the heading Crystal Nightmare. Argento talks specifically about this film and its production, from his script to the film’s multiple releases (its initial release didn’t do all that well after being buried by the studio). This being his first film all of the execs behind the film were unsure of him and he came close to being fired at least once. His inexperience also could make things tense when working with others as demonstrated in his story of suggesting to Ennio Morricone that he should listen to music samples to get an idea of the score he wanted (apparently Morricone wasn’t impressed by this suggestion). The film was mostly a learning experience, with Storaro helping him a lot along the way and that stigma of him being a newcomer more than likely led to the film being buried by the studio before being rediscovered. Argento isn’t the most energetic speaker but he manages to keep it engaging and he comes off very forthcoming.
An Argento Icon is a bit of an out-of-left-field interview addition and I’m seriously impressed Arrow went to the trouble of getting it. In his commentary Howarth mentions one actor, Gildo Di Marco, who he couldn’t track down much information on since he disappeared from the movies shortly after this one. Well, Arrow has found him and we get a rather wonderful interview out of the man. Di Marco talks about being discovered and making his way into a couple of Argento’s films before explaining why he disappeared from the movies. He shares a few stories about this film and others he worked on. Despite being a bit of an outsider and not much of a career outside of a handful of films Di Marco still offers a rather wonderful account of what it was like working with Argento and within the Italian film industry of the time. Really great addition.
The next feature is an interview with actor Eva Renzi, recorded in 2005 just before her death. This interview really blew me away. It’s only 11-minutes long but it is easily one of the best interviews I’ve seen. It starts out sounding like a fairly basic career spanning discussion but Renzi doesn’t sugarcoat things at all, talking about the mistakes she has made, how she has been screwed over in the business (from her [manipulative] husband talking her out of one role to Harry Salzman blocking her career after she decided she didn’t want to be a “fucking Bond girl” in one of his films), and how she feels The Bird with the Crystal Plumage probably killed her career. Though she actually has wonderful things to say about Argento she was not impressed with her costar, Tony Musante (comments in the included booklet seem to confirm he was a bit of an ass to everyone so), and she even shares some unkind words about Klaus Kinski, who she describes as “very unpleasant” (this is mentioned after the main part of the interview, added as a sort of Easter egg). The best part is that while Renzi is being completely honest she’s not being mean spirited in any way and never comes off bitter, [just pointing] out how difficult it can be for women in the industry. It’s an absolutely fantastic interview.
The disc then [features] a number of theatrical trailers for the film, including the Italian trailer, and international trailer (which I think is the same as the Italian but is missing a narrator) and then a 55-second trailer made for the 2017 Texas Frightmare media event.
New to this edition is an extensive image gallery featuring production photos, posters, video art, and more. There's also an Easter Egg here: pressing the right arrow on your remote when highlighting the gallery feature brings up a 34-second alternate opening after the credits: it's basically the same, it just has an alternate English title card. I also discovered that the previous Blu-ray does have the same Easter Egg, you just click the right arrow on the remote when highlighting the "return arrow" on the supplement menu.
Arrow changes up some of the physical aspects of the release in comparison to their previous Blu-ray. We yet again get a sturdy cardboard sleeve that houses the 4K Blu-ray case (both with different artwork) and booklet. The release also comes with, yet again, six postcard-sized lobby cards featuring the same artwork (with the new cover-art on the opposite side). The 58-page booklet ends up differing in content: it features the same essays by author Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook, covering the film alongside other giallos and as an adaptation of The Screaming Mimi, but replaces Michael Mackenzie's about Argento being the "Italian Hitchcock" with a new essay by Robert Nisbet, covering the dualities found in the film, whether they be around "preconceived notions of gender" or "reality and artifice," and how the film was reflecting the social changes of the time. I'm not sure why they dropped Mackenzie's essay but Nisbet's makes for a decent analysis.
In all Arrow's edition still provides a solid set of features, covering the film's production and impact to a satisfying degree.
Arrow's 4K UHD edition for Dario Argento's influential classic surprises by actually delivering a noticeable and significant upgrade over their previous Blu-ray edition thanks to the improved resolution and HDR grading. The film looks absolutely great.