The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
“The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” (1970), Directed by Dario Argento, Rated PG(!)
Ah, the Italian giallo film. Quite a bizarre genre, and one that doesn’t receive much attention here in America outside of film geek circles. Why? Well, by and large, the giallo genre (or, more correctly, subgenre) is known to be sleazy, exploitative, and trashy. At least, that’s the way it seems to us over here in uber-conservative America; in Italy, it’s just another rip-roaring night at the movies.
Giallos (Italian for “yellow” — they are called this because some of the first giallo films were based on pulp mystery novels with trademark yellow covers) are essentially whodunits, but Italian style. Think Alfred Hitchcock if he were into gore. You have your murder mystery plot, you have your Average Joe who becomes obssessed with the crime and risks his own life to solve it, and you have the sadistic, black gloved killer who tends to dispatch his victims in very excessively gory ways. The motives of the killers usually revolve around some weird psychological problem or sexual repression or a combination of both.
So, this brings us to this little film. Most people who have heard of Dario Argento usually think of the film “Suspiria”. “Suspiria” will probably be the film he is most remembered for, but “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” is by far his most successful film overall. As Argento’s career progressed, he became more concerned with style and effects than coherent stories. Sometimes this would work to his advantage (like in the aforementioned SUSPIRIA or it’s sequel, INFERNO), but most of the time, not. It’s almost shocking to watch a film like BIRD and see that it does indeed have a relatively tight script, assured direction, a beautiful score by the always-awesome Ennio Morricone, the works. Argento even got the great Vittorio Storraro to shoot this thing for him!
Bird has a fairly straightforward, Hitchcockian-type plot: an out of work writer living in Rome with his supermodel girlfriend casually witnesses the murder of a woman in an art gallery while on the way home one evening. He tries to save the dying woman but becomes trapped inside of the lobby. The police are suspicious
of him but let him go. This would be the perfect time to pack up and get the hell outta Dodge, yeah? Well, before he can do so, the poor guy is
attacked and nearly killed by the same sadistic, black gloved killer. From this point, he becomes obsessed at solving the mystery — a mystery that is a fun ride and leads to a rather clever twist ending.
If approached in the right frame of mind, this film is a lot of fun. This type of film is definitely an acquired taste, and some of you, if you watch it, may not like it at all. That’s fine. But if you’re interested in Giallo films, I can’t think of a better place to start.
Trailer time, yo:
Haha, kinda cool of them to drop a quote from Hitchcock in there…
A NOTE ABOUT THE RATING: Yes, when this film was originally released, it received a PG rating here in the US. While this film is far less gory or overtly sexual than many of the giallos that followed in its wake, this film would definately NOT get a PG today. This would be a straight R-rated film all the way. I don’t really know if this would matter to any of you, but just in case some of you plopped down to watch this with your kid sister…you should be forewarned.
RANDOM BIT OF TRIVIA: Whenever Argento shoots a close-up of the killer’s hands in his films, he always insists on the hands being his own.
I may throw in another giallo or two later in the month, so if you check this out and like it, keep your eyes open. Until next time…don’t let your meat loaf.