The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) movie poster

director Dario Argento
viewed: 06/12/2014

Not at all long ago, I decided to begin a delve into giallo film, a genre of which I cannot fully explain my limited experience.  I went back to what is described as the “first giallo” in Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) and decided as well that I should look into the films of the master of the genre, Dario Argento, whose films I was familiar with, but perhaps didn’t fully appreciate as a younger person.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is Argento’s first.  And from the get-go, it’s immediately clear that this is a much more finely-crafted piece of cinema than the other films I had seen so far.  Argento began, like the members of the Nouvelle Vague, as a critic before turning film-maker, and he brings an eye to cinema already well-developed before he shot his first frame.

The film opens with an American in Rome who witnesses an attack.  He is stuck behind a glass wall, ultimately between two glass walls, unable to assist the bleeding beauty in the art gallery.  Thus begins his venture into the doings of a serial murderer, committing brutal crimes against women.

The film is loosely based on a Fredric Brown novel, The Screaming Mimi, and features plot twists so pretzelly that you’d hardly believe it.  And that’s fine.  This is pulp stuff, suspension of disbelief is sometimes easy to attain.

The whole thing is much more artful overall, not utterly lacking in some goofy oddnesses.  The titular bird, supposedly an arctic oddity, somehow alive in the Rome zoo, is a recognizable African bird that doesn’t remotely look like it’s described.  Of course, that’s one of the appeals of the genre, these extremely tortured titles of artistic vagary.

All in all, it has already begun to shift my thinking about Argento, which was no doubt highly overdue.

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