Friday, October 15, 2010

Bird with The Crystal Plumage [Dario Argento]

The Bird with The Crystal Plumage was the early breakthrough of Dario Argento and while, like some of his other films, won't stand up to any scrutiny of plot and character development it stacks up pretty darn well as a stylish and fast-paced entertainer.

The flimsy plot centers around an American novelist, Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante), who comes to Italy to get over his writer's block and inadvertently becomes the key witness to an attempt at murder by that staple of the giallo, a mysterious black-gloved killer who is into knifing and mutilating young women. Grounded by the police who confiscate his passport, Sam, as with all Argento protagonists, dives enthusiastically into investigating the trail of the killer and is actually encouraged in this by the police instead of being considered a busybody. The killer, who continues with the spree of dastardly crimes, threatens Sam to drop his nosiness or face fatal consequences. Events propel onto the climactic showdown where Sam comes face up with the killer.

While not the most deviously plotted of films, the story moves at a blazing clip and the general flow of events is a lot more coherent than in Argento's supernatural films. The script has some sparkling humor (and I don't mean the unintentional kind). For instance, here's the gist of part of a scene where Sam goes to meet the reclusive artist of a painting related to the crimes:

Sam: I've seen one of your paintings
Artist: Which one?
Sam: The one about a girl being murdered
Artist: Oh, I don't do that crap anymore. I'm into a mystical period. I only do mystical scenes.
Sam: Why?
Artist: Because...I feel mystical, that's why. And it's none of your damn business.

Technically, the movie mostly takes on a gritty real-world look (unlike Suspiria). Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, more famous for his films with Bernardo Bertolucci and Francis Coppola's Apocalypse Now, displays his visual chops with some strongly atmospheric near dark shots and some audacious moves including one where the camera takes a first-person view of a man falling from a building. Another scene showing a murder in an elevator seems an obvious inspiration to a similar scene that Brian De Palma shot for Dressed to Kill. The performances by the actors are pleasingly apt and razor sharp editing keeps one's attention constantly held to the on-screen proceedings.

While gore-hounds may be a bit disappointed by the relative scarcity of the red stuff (especially for an Argento film), it is more than made up for by a taut narrative executed with admirable flamboyance.

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