Dario Argento's seminal giallo flick The Bird With The Crystal Plumage
gets another Blu-ray release this month through Arrow Video. With a history of doing justice to Argento's catalogue, it's something of a disappointment then to discover that the Arrow disc contains only Vittorio Storaro's cropped 2:1 aspect ratio version.
The famed cinematographer has a habit of meddling with aspect ratios due to a somewhat out-dated notion of creating a universal presentation format for all films, regardless of the format in which the were originally shot.
No doubt many Argento-philes will bemoan this release and dismiss it outright, but for my money Arrow have earned enough credit to at least take a brief closer look.
First off, the framing of the picture is clearly compromised and distractingly so in some scenes, where the left hand side is rather obviously 'missing' part of the image. There's more than enough discussion of this elsewhere on the web so let's leave it at that.
The picture quality itself is impressive with remarkably few artifacts and little grain. The colour palette is vibrant without being garish and seems to be consistent with the period and genre.
Sound is the Italian (with English subs) or English mono and that's your lot. It's perfectly serviceable and you can sit back and imagine you're watching it circa 1970... just with better speakers.
An area where Arrow have made an effort as always. The commentary can be found elsewhere on the Blue Underground release, but that's no bad thing. Alan Jones (of Frightfest) and Kim Newman are both formidable guides when it comes to genre films and they make for an entertaining if not especially polished pairing. Bursting with an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre they ramble through anecdotes and shoot off on more than a couple of tangents, but remain engaging throughout.
Aside from the commentary there's three other newly produced extras to get stuck into, all nicely presented with High Rising Productions' natty animated titles...
"A Crystal Classic: Luigi Cozzi Remembers Dario's Bloody Bird" (15 mins)
This will be familiar to anyone who's seen Arrow's other Argento releases - frequent collaborator and effects man Luigi Cozzi sitting in the dingy basement of Argento's Profondo Rosso shop in Rome. It's nothing to look at but Cozzi is an amiable source with plenty of first hand tales to impart. "Sergio Martino: The Genesis Of The Giallo" (29 mins)
The most substantial offering here, and certainly the most informative, has veteran giallo director Sergio Martino trace the history of the genre and the role Argento had in gaining it international recognition. It's a 'talking head' affair but an interesting one, especially for those less familiar with giallo."The Italian Hitchcock: Dario Argento Remembers The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" (15 mins)
Again, as with other Arrow releases of his work, there's a short interview with Argento. Here he acknowledges the 'Italian Hitchcock' label as a marketing ploy as much as anything, whilst not denying the legendary director's influences on his own work.
If there's a glaring omission here it's the lack of input from Storaro in the extras - a shame given the print the disc comes from, and the controversial nature of his cropping decisions. If you're going to release the Storaro version of Bird, then build a Storaro-centric package of extras to go with it.
Whether or not this disc warrants a purchase will undoubtedly depend on your view of the cropping issue, but otherwise it is a typically well presented release with some unique extras.
Please note this assessment is based on a pre-production screener copy of the disc, so I can't comment on the packaging or other physical extras detailed below in the official press notes.
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage will be released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video on 23rd May 2011.
Brand new High Definition restoration of the film from the original negative presented in director of photography Vittorio Storaro's original 2:1 Univisium aspect ratio; "A Crystal Classic: Luigi Cozzi Remembers Dario's Bloody Bird"; "Sergio Martino: The Genesis Of The Giallo"; "The Italian Hitchcock: Dario Argento Remembers The Bird With The Crystal Plumage"; exclusive collector's booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by Alan Jones, author of "Profondo Argento"; four sleeve art options with original and newly commissioned artwork; two-sided fold-out poster; original Italian and English LPCM mono audio options."
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