Dario Argento’s first film, the 1970 classic The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, profoundly impacted the world of horror and established his career as a sophisticated auteur of cinema for decades to come. The film’s beautiful cinematography and expert filmmaking qualities make it an integral addition to any film-lover’s home video collection. There have been several blu-ray releases of various quality over the years, but none have come close to giving this important Italian film the level of love and attention as the upcoming limited edition box set from Arrow Video.
Housed in a high quality thick and heavy slip box with gorgeous original artwork, Arrow provides a lovely new transfer of the film across dedicated blu-ray and DVD discs, along with mountains of printed and digital supplementary materials. Great attention to detail is present in the reversible case insert, the reproduction lobby cards, the extensive booklet, and the folded double-sided poster. Opening up the box and browsing through the contents of the packaging reminded me of the old days of album collecting, where interesting bits of content could be found throughout the creative gatefold products of yesteryear. It’s an experience in itself to go through the materials and get lost in the world of the film.
As for the movie itself… what can I say about Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage that hasn’t been said before? Basically, this is essential viewing for all fans of horror and suspense. Argento is a master of cinema. His shots in this film are aesthetically pleasing and sometimes unsettling due to the surreal nature of his storytelling. With Plumage, he simultaneously creates a high brow “whodunnit” along with an array of characters and situations which show it’s not afraid to laugh at itself. The ending contains a twist that’s so effectively pulled off- and so clearly seen from an opposite perspective upon repeated viewings- that I’m convinced no one has come close to achieving something similar ever since. The movie is sometimes unnerving, but it’s always engaging from start to finish.
The film itself has never looked better on the home video format. The disc boasts a brand-new 4K restoration from the original camera negative. This has obviously been downscaled to 1080p for the blu-ray disc, but the advantages of the new restoration are instantly recognizable. The movie is bright and crisp, with many minor details being freshly presented. The transfer has a beautiful, natural representation of that sweet film grain that purists love. I was also surprised with the deep blacks which were presented throughout the film. With HDR being all the range with true 4K UHD releases, there were several instances when I was surprised at this blu-ray disc’s ability to display a sophisticated palate of bright colors against dark blacks. One scene that particularly demonstrates this achievement is about midway through the movie, when a gunman in a yellow jacket stalks the dimly-lit nighttime streets of Italy.
The discs contain the original mono Italian and English soundtracks for the film. The blu-ray’s audio is in lossless format. The hypnotically unusual score by Ennio Morricone reminds us that this virtuoso has enhanced far more films than the spaghetti westerns he’s known for; and it’s presented on the disc with a striking level of crispness and clarity.
The special features on this Arrow Video release are second to none. In addition to the numerous printed materials I’ve mentioned above, the on-disc bonus features provide an intelligent educational perspective on the filmmaking process and on Argento’s work as a whole. My favorite feature is “The Power of Perception,” a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. This twenty-minute feature explores Argento’s exploration of art and perspective in Plumage, and in many of his projects since then. Heller-Nicholas connects his body of work thematically and provides numerous interesting bits of information throughout this engaging clip. Of course there are extensive commentaries and interviews (including a new one with Argento himself), but Arrow Video rises above the competition with its dedication to the scholarly analysis of Argento’s work which can be found in the two critical analyses pieces. These features are self-contained little bits of film school for perceptive viewers looking for approaches to dig deeper into the movie, and they allow this particular release to elevate beyond simply celebrating a great movie into the world of depth and exploration.
It’s clear that Arrow Video loves The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and the work of Dario Argento, and you will too after combing through this excellent release. Stay tuned to Horror News Network for more details and reviews on the work of Dario Argento and on upcoming Arrow Video releases.