May 6, 2016
VHS Week Day 5: THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970)
"Bring in the perverts."
Yes, that is obviously my everyday rallying cry, but it's also a line from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, the auspicious directorial debut from the one and only Dario Argento. It bears many of the hallmarks of Argento's later, more famous works–the intermingling of sex, death, and art; the disconcerting camerawork–but it also proves what a boon restraint can be for an indulgent filmmaker.
After living and working in Italy for several weeks, American writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is set to return to his native land when he witnesses an attempted homicide through an art gallery window. Sam becomes embroiled in the investigation, first as a suspect, then as an amateur sleuth. Several young women throughout Rome have fallen victim to the same knife-wielding maniac from the gallery, and Sam is determined to suss out his memories from that fateful night. Of course, the knife-wielding maniac enjoys all the killin'...will Sam take a bite out of crime, or will it take a bite out of him (by stabbing him right to death)?
What we've got here, my friends–you guessed it–is a giallo. It's a mystery thriller! It's stylish! It's full of bizarre characters! It's got intense sequences! It's got some touches of black comedy and it's got black gloves! It's also shockingly subdued when you consider this is a Dario Argento film. Granted, it's his earliest work and after all, I did watch a VHS copy which may have been hacked up like one of the women in the film...but I'll be damned if the whole thing doesn't make sense. How unexpected! It's not just the storytelling that's restrained, however, as the murders are largely bloodless and decidedly untheatrical. You won't find the psychotropic, candy-colored wonderment of Suspiria here, but you will find coherence alongside the thrills. Surely that's some sort of a tradeoff?