Movie Discussion: Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage [L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo] (1970)

 

  • bird-with-the-crystal-plumage-1970-posterMonthly Theme: Giallo
  • The Film: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
  • Italian title: L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo
  • Country of origin: Italy
  • Date of Italian release: February 19, 1970
  • Date of U.S. release: June 12, 1970
  • Studio: Central Cinema Company Film [CCC], Glazier & Seda Spettacoli
  • Distributer: Titanus
  • Domestic Gross: ?
  • Budget: $500,000 (estimated)
  • Director: Dario Argento
  • Screenwriter: Dario Argento
  • Adaptation? Yes, of the 1949 novel The Screaming Mimi by Fredric Brown
  • Producer: Salvatore Argento
  • Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro
  • Make-Up/FX: Giuseppe Ferranti
  • Music: Ennio Morricone
  • Part of a series? Yes. The first film in Argento’s unofficial “Animal trilogy,” followed by The Cat ‘o Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (both in 1971)
  • Remakes? No, but Brown’s novel had been adapted previously in 1958 as Screaming Mimi, starring Anita Ekberg, making The Bird with the Crystal Plumage the second screen adaptation.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. British genre actress Suzy Kendall (Torso, Circus of Fear, etc.).
  • Other notables?: Yes. TV star and character actor Tony Musante.
  • Awards?: Best First Feature at the 1970 Italian Golden Globes
  • Tagline: “All the screaming in the world won’t help!”
  • The Lowdown: The most well-known and oft-discussed of Italian horror directors, Argento burst onto the scene with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in 1970. At the time, he considered himself a screenwriter – not a director – and, like Mario Bava before him, took the model of the German “krimi” picture and messed with it, turning what should have been a run-of-the-mill whodunit into a lurid, Technicolor spectacle filled with erotic violence and bizarre setpieces. But unlike Bava’s Blood and Black Lace six years earlier, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was a MASSIVE hit and established Argento as a directorial superstar. It’s the first film in his unofficial “Animal trilogy” (followed by The Cat ‘o Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet), which established him as “the Italian Hitchcock.” The movie’s premise is relatively simple: Sam Dalmas, a frustrated American writer, is living in Rome when, days before he’s about to move back to the States, he witnesses a bizarre crime. A trenchcoated figure and a beautiful woman struggle over a knife in a large, glass-fronted art gallery. The woman is stabbed and falls to the floor, moaning for help, while her assailant makes off. Since the woman’s assault comes during a wave of sex murders in the city, the police revoke Sam’s passport until they can fully investigate the incident. But Sam is plagued with surreal memories of what he saw, and can’t shake the feeling that there’s some vital detail to what happened that he can’t quite recall. When he enlists the help of his glamorous model girlfriend, Julia, to try to solve the mystery himself, both he and Julia find themselves the target of the maniac, who will stop at nothing to elude detection.

If you haven’t seen The Bird with the Crystal Plumage our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.

Sean: Bring in the perverts!

Kristine: Ha!

Sean: There is a t-shirt with that as a logo on it.

Kristine: Is it from Argento’s crazy store in Roma?

Sean: I didn’t know he had a store!

Kristine: Oh yeah. He has a store and museum (wherein lies the Murder Painting from this movie).

Sean: Ha!

Kristine: I might try and go there! [Editor’s Note: Giallo month was inspired by Kristine’s impending trip to the Italian countryside in August 2012.]

Sean: Oh you should! I fully support that.

My mole is watching you…

Kristine: If I can, I will and I will buy you things.

Sean: You don’t need to buy me anything, baby. Just report back.

Kristine: I will pose with every piece of overpriced merchandise in the place and send you the pics. Especially a pose with the Murder Painting!

Sean: So… I am curious if this movie reminded you more of Mario Bava or of Lucio Fulci in terms of style and execution? Or of neither?

Kristine: What this movie made me want to ask you was, what do you think about the differences between American film noir and giallo? I ask because I thought this movie came the closest (of the three films we’ve watched) to an American-style noir picture. But in relation to the other movies, I thought it was much closer to Bava then Fulci.

Sean: I agree. Yeah, it has got a lot of noirish elements for sure. I think, at the end of the day, gialli are just batshit police procedurals really. And they share the same basic milieu as film noir. They take place on rain-slicked city streets, in bars, small apartments, etc. But the aesthetic universes are so different. Where film noir is dark, gialli are Technicolor. Where noir uses shadows to frame the landscape, gialli use bursts of color (but shadows also). Where noir sticks to grimy dens of iniquity, gialli go to some relatively glamorous places: model houses, fashion salons, upscale antique shops, art galleries, etc. Though I can think of at least one film considered a classic film noir – Carol Reed’s The Third Man – that is absurdly similar in its basic premise to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. An American writer travels to an Old World European capital, encounters a mysterious death about which he just has a funny feeling something’s not quite right, and he then takes it upon himself – with the help of a woman – to solve the mystery. In both films, the bulk of the narrative is the protagonist going around interviewing people with information related to the mystery. In The Third Man, there’s just no ghoulish murder scenes. He’s also working in opposition to the local police in The Third Man, not in concert, which is also an interesting difference. But anyway, I’m very curious just to hear if you liked The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. What were your feelings about it?

What started out as a friendly chin massage began to horribly wrong…

Kristine: I liked the movie a lot. I liked all the police procedural aspects and I liked how the policing aspects of the plot were undercut. I mean those investigators are all essentially impotent, in terms of them being able to take control of the narrative and make sense of it. They don’t function as great detectives. I mean we’ve been talking about RIMAs [Rational Inquiring Masculine Authority] this month a bit, and I think here we’ve got another nice undercutting of that Rational Inquiring Masculine Authority. [Editor’s Note: For the backstory on RIMA, see our discussion of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy.For all their (ridiculously outdated) computer systems (that print out pictures of suspects that are really just giant dots in the vague form of a person) and recording technology and rooms full of spinning gears and whirring trinkets, they don’t do a great job of solving the crime! I also liked all the grimy sex and voyeurism and general creepiness of the movie. And did you notice how Sam wore boner pants nonstop?

Sean: “Boner pants”?

Kristine: Yes, boner pants! He looked like he had a boner in every scene. It was RIDIC! How could you not notice???

Sean: I did NOT notice. Probably because I thought he was skeevy and not sexy.

Kristine: Oh, I thought he was sexy. I am disappointed.

Sean: Sorry love.

Kristine: He was a jerk to Julia, though.

Sean: There’s something hateable in his face. But in reference to what you were just saying about the RIMA thing, I thought Sam was an interesting case study. Unlike Inspector Morisini and all the rest of the police staff, Sam is the character around whom the investigation coalesces. His character drives the narrative. And he’s not quite “rational” right?

Kristine: What do you mean?

Gorillas in the Mist.

Sean: I’m thinking about his mental “block” on the details of the crime he witnessed. He’s a hero with a psychological flaw – the inability to recall or interpret what he saw. There’s something unstable about his psychology, I think. And that’s a very Argento kind of hero. Though he totally inherited the archetype from Hitchcock (think about Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo or Gregory Peck in Spellbound). And remember that he’s all ready in psychological turmoil at the start of the movie – he’s been in Rome two years trying to write a book and has failed. His writer’s block prefigures his investigative blocks.

Kristine: I agree, his mental block is one of the things that provides momentum to the narrative, and it is a kind of psychological flaw. I still think he qualifies as rational, though, especially in comparison to Julia. Remember when the killer tries to storm the apartment and she just like, collapses in a sobbing heap? Sam is much more in control in comparison, more “rational.” Also, Julia was a very “Sharon Tate” type, I thought.

Sean: I think she is lovely. Very mod and beautiful.

Kristine: Well, Sharon was the loveliest and mod-est of them all, so there you go.

Sean: Right.

Kristine: I did think that Sam and Julia’s public displays of affection were creepy. They were hypersexual, which was kind of awesome, but they channeled it in a sort of shocking way.

Sean: Yeah, like when they were having sex while his friend Carlo was in the room and it was gross.

Kristine: Didn’t you think Carlo was a total red herring? We were meant to think that he might be the killer and that he was committing the crimes out of sexual jealousy? He just gave off a skeezy vibe.

See, my hair’s not red! THIS is red!

Sean: Oh totally. He was there in order to be suspicious, that was his purpose. But in reference to Sam and Julia’s creepy sexuality, I think they were supposed to be all “free love 1960s realness.” I think their behavior was meant to indicate that they were bohemian and free-spirited. We were supposed to admire them and be kind of turned on by them, right?

Kristine: I guess. But it was inappropriate. Also I think when they start getting busy in front of Carlo we’re meant to be creeped out. But in terms of Carlo even being in the movie at all, I’m not sure he was necessary. This movie was a bit overstuffed: the man in the Yellow Jacket chasing them with a gun, the stuttering pimp, etc.

Sean: Right. Yeah, often the “plots” of giallos are pretty convoluted and make no sense. This one was decently linear, I thought, but “overstuffed” is totally on the money. But delightfully so, for me. Also, since we’re talking about Carlo, I just wanted to point out that I think he’s the most rational of RIMAs in the movie. He has a lot of authority just by being a member of the intelligentsia. Remember, he’s a professor and he also pays Sam at the beginning for some public appearance. So Carlo plays an editorial or supervisory role in relation to Sam. Most importantly though, Carlo is the one who recognizes the birdcall in the background on the tapes of the threatening phone calls. He’s the one who provides that essential bridge to the final confrontation with the killer, and I think it’s very significant that Monica murders him but is defeated by Sam. A highly rational man like Carlo cannot predict the wild, unstable femininity of Monica – but Sam can! He is feminized (psychologically) and that makes him a match for Monica!

Kristine: I like all that, but I think it’s a stretch to say Monica is “defeated” by Sam. She like, throws a gigantic painting on him and menaces him with a knife until he is rescued! As heroic confrontations go, Sam’s is pretty passive (which I actually think supports your argument that he is psychologically feminized by the story). Monica would have killed Sam if the police hadn’t burst in… led by Julia! So I love that it’s actually a kind of “girl Friday saves her man” ending but also, the rational forces of masculinity (i.e. the cops) do wind up winning. Sam and Monica’s unstable psychologies could only bounce off each other like pinballs. It takes the rationalizing force of the police to bring resolution to plot and to contain/overwhelm Monica. But can I just add that during the scene when Sam is trapped under the gigantic sculpture and Monica is crouched on top of him? I had wicked Audition flashbacks! With her weird noises and baby talk? I was dying.

A shadowy evening in the local Z Gallerie.

Sean: Oh my god, I had blocked that movie out. But you are totally right! It was wicked Audition.

Kristine: Right? I was squirming and dying.

Sean: I loved Monica being all a gibbering maniac fashionista.

Kristine: Me too. I had a clue that the killer was a lady because in the very first scene when the killer is arranging knives and looking at photos of the next victim she does this weird giggle.

Sean: Wasn’t she awesome? But then the voice over the phone?

Kristine: I know! She used the Castle Greyskull microphone.

Sean: Hahahahaha! You win so many points for that reference.

Kristine: Yay!

Sean: But, like Blood and Black Lace, the plot “cheats” by having two people responsible for the crime rather than just one. Monica’s metrosexual husband is the one making the phone calls, and the one who hired the Man in the Yellow Jacket to kill Sam. And I think he’s the one who takes a swipe at Sam in the fog with the meat cleaver. So the clues are all scrambled and contraindicating – the feminine giggle you reference at the beginning, the hissing but masculine voice on the phone, etc.

Kristine: You’re right, that is straight out of Bava.

Sean: The art world/gallery aspects of the plot were making me die. I am super curious to hear your reaction to them, since that is your professional world.

Kristine: Oh, of course I loved all that. It is a complete cliché (but such a fun one) that “art” people are decadent and crazed. I loved how Monica fed her trauma through disturbing art because of her vocation. So because she’s an art lady, there’s this Murder Painting she bought and fixated upon and identified with, and these violent sculptural behemoths in the gallery, with spikes and chains and what have you. It was Psych101-greatness and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And any discussion of the art world in this movie is not complete without mention of… Consalvi, the cat-eating artist, and the Antique Dealer!

No, you don’t look like the Happy Hooker at all, Julia.

Sean: Yes, I want to talk about them. But first, wasn’t the gigantic artwork in the gallery like 1/2 Beetlejuice and 1/2 Mesopotamian folk art?

Kristine: Ha ha ha yes!

Sean: The spikes?

Kristine: Maybe also a dash of German Industrial art…

Sean: The gargoyle sculpture? It was fucking Pizuzu from The Exorcist.

Kristine: It was totally all from Hellraiser, too.

Sean: Frank!

Kristine: Pizuzu!

Sean: Hahahaha! So the Antique Dealer was ridiculous predatory gayness.

Kristine: Oh God, I ate him up with a spoon. Sean. The pursed lips? The cat that ate the canary coyness? I can’t. He was… a coquette.

Sean: Haha.

Kristine: More like a cockette, actually.

Sean: Was he the most offensive gay stereotype we’ve seen in a movie yet?

Kristine: Hmmmm… If by offensive you mean fabulous then yes.

Sean: I mean he was like, lisping and fondling antique map cases like they were engorged penises.

Kristine: Ha!

Sean: Right?

First of all, those plumes aren’t crystalline at all. Second of all, it’s just a crane with an afro.

Kristine: Right. Oh my God. Well, is he really more upsetting that the homicidal lesbian in High Tension? Or the boy-raping gay demon in Jeepers Creepers!? Or the masturbating she-witch dykes from The Sentinel?

Sean: Touché. Kristine, I’m learning that horror movies are just not the place you want to go for flattering representations of gay people.

Kristine: Well, if I have to hang out with antiquated stereotypes of faggotry, then the Antique Dealer is exactly the guy for me.

Sean: Ha! Okay. The whole thing was just hilarious and over-the-top, right down to the painting itself. Do paintings like that really cycle through galleries? Like a 10-year-old’s interpretation of a slasher movie?

Kristine: I think that was part of the point… that Monica didn’t see that in a gallery. It was in an antique shop, which is decidedly below the art gallery in terms of status. I think it is meaningful that she is this sophisticate that had this brutal thing happen to her, and now she relates to this piece of outsider art, this primitive painting done by a rural man-child. Right?

Sean: Yeah, that makes sense. Her psychology is sort of complex when you think about it, though also lurid and exploitative.

Kristine: I think her embracing the role of sadist instead of victim and targeting other beautiful young women is interesting, but of course you are right, it is lurid and fits into the film’s desire to show young ladies being hunted and quasi-raped.

Sean: If you had drinks with someone and enjoyed their company and then you went back to their place and that painting was hanging on the wall with a spotlight on it, would you leave?

Kristine: I would not leave. Would you?

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: What would your parting words be?

Sean: No words. I would just throw my drink (which would probably have Rohypnol in it anyway) in their face and storm out. Then a giant red velvet curtain would fall across the scene and an unseen audience would give me a standing ovation. Do you know that when I started dating my boyfriend he had this like, sci-fi fan art portrait of an alien cyborg woman on his wall?

Two bros sittin’ down for some Moo Goo Gai Kitten.

Kristine: I am dying.

Sean: And then I found out that (a) he’d bought it at a street fair and (b) he had paid like $400 for it!

Kristine: Illegal.

Sean: I know.

Kristine: Stop it.

Sean: I was flabbergasted.

Kristine: Was he high on crack cocaine?

Sean: It was like, the promo art for Milla Jovovich’s character in The Fifth Element. That’s what it was like.

Kristine: Why?

Sean: I still, to this day, do not understand what possessed him to buy it.

Kristine: Well, that’s the thing about art. He saw it and it spoke to him and he had to possess it. This is the whole deal.

Sean: I guess….

Kristine: People who truly figure out the ‘why’ of that equation can make billions! Also, in my lovely and amazing boyfriend’s dining room/living room area there is an 8×10 of his parents in the 1950s. So, deal with that.

Sean: Back to the movie: Consalvi, the cat-eating artist with the Boyd Farm. [Editor’s Note: Boyd is the name of Kristine’s beloved cat.]

Kristine: You are horrid.

Sean: Hahaha! It was!

Diane Lane found a new lease on life in Under the Tuscan Sun. Russell Crowe did it too in A Good Year. And neither of them even got stalked by gender-bending psychopaths.

Kristine: I loved how Argento just went for it with that character. Jeez.

Sean: He was ridiculous in the opposite direction of the Antique Dealer: this comically cretinous heterosexual man-beast.

Kristine: I actually loved how he was waxing poetic about “I’m in my such-and-such period now,” but then turned into a desperate capitalist when he thought Sam was leaving without buying a painting.

Sean: I saw Consalvi’s begging for Sam to buy something as part of his hucksterish, puckish character. Like, he’s got pluck! But don’t you think there’s an inference here that artists are manly, virile animals driven by divine inspiration and that collectors/dealers are insipid, effeminate morons? Alberto Ranieri, Monica’s gallery owner husband, was also fey.

Kristine: See, yes, I do think that. But I also think that gets turned around when Consalvi starts grubbing for cash. I do think the inference overall is that art is dangerous but art world people are not… which is why Alberto ultimately was not strong enough to stop Monica in the first place, right? He was not “man enough to control his woman.” I mean, it’s a sexist attitude, but I think the movie has it.

Sean: Right, I’d agree. Though he’s “man enough” to go after Sam to try to protect Monica. And “protecting your woman” is a pretty essential detail of male heterosexuality, no? Plus, its once that “rational” organizing masculinity is gone (Alberto’s death) that Monica goes fully batshit and the final confrontation can happen. So there was something ironclad about their heterosexual contract with each other. Once the marriage is dissolved with his death, the jig is up and she’s defeated by the forces of civilized society (the police).

Kristine: I thought it was significant that one of Monica’s final acts is to murder Carlo and truss up Julia in bondage ropes.

Dario Argento’s fifth-grade dioramas must have been so fucked up.

Sean: Ha! I mean, I think the lesbian stuff in this movie is not even subtext (i.e. the panties-ripping and other sexualized elements of Monica’s murders).

Kristine: Oh my god with the panties being cut off with the big knife.  It was crazy. This came after Blood and Black Lace, correct?

Sean: Yes, this came out in 1970 and the Bava film was 1964. So it’s six years later.

Kristine: I ask because I was struck by how much more lurid this was, in terms of the see-through nightie and the ripped panties and… wasn’t there an implication that the first victim got knifed, um, in the vagina?

Sean: Yes, she totally got knife-raped.

Kristine: I mean, the whole convoluted Freudian explanation of Monica’s transference of rage after her own rape is… disturbing and weird. I think it’s fair to say that it borders on male fantasy: a beautiful young woman is raped and so… she goes around in a fetish outfit (vinyl trench, fedora, black leather gloves – which I loved by the way, I loved the nod to Bava there) and assaults other beautiful women to work out her frustrations! I’m sorry but no, that is not how female rape victims react to their trauma.

Sean: Yeah, it is pretty gross. On the one hand, those details like her cutting the panties off in such a rapey way makes the viewer think that the killer is male.

Kristine: Well, this movie was definitely taking it to the next level (compared to Bava) with the sexual violence, panties-ripping and all.

In women’s self-defense classes, they call this the “useless shrieking technique.”

Sean: I feel like Monica ripping off the panties in that way could indicate two things: 1) lesbian desire or 2) misogyny, just total hatred and disgust of the feminine. But she herself was so femmed out! I mean, this is part of what I love about Argento, is that his logic and imagination are so twisted and dark that you never know where it might take you. Few writer-directors would have the sheer balls to imagine this sexed-up glamazon female misogynist former-rape-victim. It’s like she’s Batman, but a completely S&M, woman-hating, kink murder version.

Kristine: I agree with that, and I also think Monica is both an agent of lesbian desire and also a total misogynist and that it doesn’t make sense but there you have it. It just is.

Sean: What about Tina’s murder? The girl who gets killed in the bathroom stall with the razor? And that amazing shot of the triangular stairwell?

Kristine: I loved her walking up those stairs and looking up through the stairwell. It reminded me of that amazing stairwell scene in American Psycho, actually.

Sean: See it reminded me of Vertigo again!

Kristine: She was my favorite girl victim.

Sean: Whyfore?

Kristine: She was so plucky and girly.

Sean: I just want to point out that those kinds of strange, bombastic details (the triangular stairwell) are classic Argento, as is the whole setpiece that kicks off the movie of Sam trapped in the gallery lobby while Monica and Alberto are struggling over the knife.

Kristine: That was Hitchcockian to me, that whole big setpiece. Sam being trapped and forced to watch.

You can’t look both glamorous AND intelligent. Everyone knows that.

Sean: Amazing, right? Just so totally cinematic, how it’s such a spectacle.

Kristine: I did think it was weird when Sam like, got bored and crossed his legs, and was like, thumb-twiddling to pass the time at the end.

Sean: Hahaha! He sits down, remember? Once the cops show up he sits down and is all “Ho hum.”

Kristine: I would still be desperately trying to get in the gallery or out onto the street! I mean, right????? He is like, over it.

Sean: Sam’s reaction there is just part of the movie’s overall ridiculousness. There are many moments where he comically under-reacts. After the killer tries to maul him with a medieval axe on the street? And that old woman screams?

Kristine: Yeah! And he’s like, “I’m okay. Thanks.”

Sean: Afterwards he’s like, “Ho-hum, bye!” Not shaken up at all, like he merely tripped over a crack in the sidewalk or like, got panhandled.

Kristine: Exactly. What about when he is rude to the street sweeper who tells him which way Julia went. He’s like, “This door? Hello?!”

Sean: Sam is a total fucking freak.

Kristine: Is that supposed to show that Americans are dicks? Or, I don’t even know what?

Sad yoga.

Sean: I guess.

Kristine: Bizarre.

Sean: It’s so weird.

Kristine: And after Julia is almost murdered, Sam’s reaction is, “Glad you’re okay. Well I’m here now, so let’s do it!” Not shaken or stirred, just straight up weird.

Sean: I think that Argento thinks it’s like manly or something of Sam to be always nonplussed.

Kristine: Well, it’s sucky and weird. Okay, so we need to talk about the scene when Monica comes after Julia alone in the apartment.

Sean: I loved that scene.

Kristine: So scary and frustrating. I love the killer coming in through that mammoth door with her tiny knife, scrape-scrape-scraping away. Relentless and patient.

Sean: Yes, the shots of the knife boring through the door were awesome, as was Monica putting her eye up to the hole. Scary! But it is annoying how Julia becomes a limp, crying ragamuffin.

Kristine: Julia’s nervous breakdown bugged, but it was scary and I was glad she at least made one feeble try to defend herself before utterly giving up.

Sean: Yes, I loved when she was stabbing the hole all limply with her weapon. I was like, ‘Fucking fight back!’ But then she just throws a lamp at the window and collapses in tears.

Kristine: I would have blinded that sucker so fast.

Sean: I would have thrown open the door and attacked. Gone on the offensive.

Kristine: Then Sam gets back and she is like, over it.

Wasn’t this a scene in A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon?!

Sean: I know!

Kristine: Sam, who put her in the situation. That’s the other thing. I didn’t appreciate how he is made to seem… better then Julia because she doesn’t want to get involved with investigating the murders and he does.

Sean: Sam is a sexist asshole, but but in the early scenes they’re trying to figure it out together, right? Like James Stewart and Grace Kelly in Rear Window?

Kristine: True.

Sean: I liked Julia the most in those early scenes. She becomes utterly useless later on.

Kristine: Um, she saves him! She escapes and gets the cops or something like that. I remember Inspector Morosini says something like, “Thank god for Julia” and Sam smiles.

Sean: She just runs for help. She’s just Freckleface Michelle from The Burning.

Kristine: So this movie brought us back into the city after our sojourn to the country in Don’t Torture a Duckling. Do you think this movie has have an urban setting? Is the city intrinsic to the story?

Sean: Yes, I think so. First off, a maniac being loose in the city is just a thing. I also think so because of the noir roots.

Kristine: I agree. The city is a great setting for noir and for thrillers like this because of the availability of victims, right?

Sean: Well, sure. Remember how the cops keep talking about how many people live in Rome? It makes the killer that much harder to find, being in the city. Also, remember Sam’s a bigshot writer there to enjoy the Roman vibe and get inspired? There’s something about the literary and arts culture that Bava and Argento explore that’s tied to urban spaces.

Kristine: Agreed and, hearkening back to Maniac, the city is a place where you’re going to find a lot of young, single women living alone and, therefore, vulnerable. I don’t think it’s coincidence that it was children being murdered in the giallo that took place in the countryside.

This is my friend Zulu Godhead, and he agrees with me: we don’t like you.

Sean: Plus, Ursula Andress ain’t living in Fulci’s countryside. [Editor’s Note: The cross-dresser who is hauled in for the police lineup goes by the name Ursula Andress.]

Kristine: Ha!

Sean: I just want to point out that Andress was the first Bond girl, and I don’t know why but that seems important.

Kristine: You are fun. Why do you think Argento made the leading man an American?

Sean: Well, I will tell you that many of Argento’s movies are “An American abroad…” Both Tenebre and Phenomena, my two favorites of his movies, are like that.

Kristine: Interesting. But why?

Sean: Um, well to be honest it makes sense from an international marketing perspective to have a protagonist that is not native, and can thus be a proxy for non-native audiences.

Kristine: Right, sure.

Sean: But I actually don’t think Argento did it for that reason. I honestly have no idea why, I’ve never thought about it before.

Kristine: Don’t you think it’s also easier for a foreigner to present a cultural critique? I mean, about the police being impotent, and taking his passport and putting him in danger for their own purposes. Remember, Julia says, “He’s not even Italian!” and sort of hates Inspector Morosini.

Sean: Yes, and also them confiscating his passport simply keeps him in the story.

Kristine: So much of the movie is just Sam confronting all these different Italian “characters.”

Sean: That disgusting imprisoned pimp: “So long.” That’s another time when Sam comically under-reacts, when he gets up to leave and the guy is like, “That’s just something I say so I don’t stutter.” Who would just immediately get up to leave after you went through all the hassle of getting into the prison to talk to him?

Kristine: Oh god, the pimp! He was just unnecessary weirdness. That was great.

Sean: The entire chase sequence with the Man in the Yellow Jacket was also kind of unnecessary weirdness, but I loved it. When they chase him into the conference full of men wearing yellow jackets, that was such a Hitchcock moment. Something right out of North by Northwest. That was Hitchcock’s droll sense of humor, to a t.

Leave it to the Italians to have a SEXY, velvet-lined murder satchel.

Kristine: Completely. The Man with the Yellow Jacket and the stuttering pimp were just totally random. I love how in this movie, anything goes.

Sean: Which brings us back to Ursula Andress, the transvestite. “Bring in the perverts!” I think it’s weird how much queerness is in this movie.

Kristine: Here we go.

Sean: Open, visible queerness. And Ursula is sort of treated with respect. Like when Morosini is shouting, “She is not a goddamned pervert! She’s a tranny! Get it right!”

Kristine: I loved that scene. Do you think Carlo is a queer?

Sean: Hmmm… I just want to say that other Argento movies (like Deep Red) have the exact same character of the red-herring bestie and in some cases, he IS queer.

Kristine: Interesting.

Sean: Argento has a lot of faggotry in his movies

vlcsnap-2011-09-27-23h20m26s33
Equilateral death area.

Kristine: Sean, I want to see Deep Red.

Sean: It is fantastic.

Kristine: I want to watch them all. Let’s have giallo month for August, too.

Sean: I am so happy you love these. I am going to cry…

Kristine: I love the style and glam.

Sean: Waves of validation and excitement are sweeping over me.

Ratings Roundup

The Girls Rating: Masterpiece!

The Freak’s Rating: Masterpiece!

19 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage [L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo] (1970)

    1. Agreed, they need more on Netflix.
      BUT I can recommend these Italian movies that ARE on Instant Watch:
      Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (considered a key precursor to Ridley Scott’s Alien) and Black Sabbath (a WONDERFUL anthology film with Boris Karloff, though this might be the edited version)
      Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling (a classic giallo and one of the ones we covered for the blog)
      Dario Argento’s The Cat ‘o Nine Tails (one of his lesser giallo movies but still good, with Karl Malden) and Inferno (the second of his Three Mothers trilogy – after Suspiria – and a VERY weird ride). One of his masterpieces, Deep Red, is also streaming, but it is the edited version. I would strongly recommend seeking out the uncut version instead.
      There’s also some very fine minor gialli on there: The Black Belly of the Tarantula, Short Night of Glass Dolls, Who Saw Her Die? and The Perfume of the Lady in Black are all worth checking out.

  1. Old co-worker of mine once told me that for this film, Argento had lifted/taken a lot of cues from a 50s noir film called The Screaming Mimi. He even hypothesized Crystal Plumage might’ve been made as some kind of homage to the Screaming Mimi.

      1. No, but I’d love to! How was it?
        After reading this blog entry I ordered ‘The Bird With…’ on BD, which arrived today.

  2. Finally got around to this – I agree, masterpiece! Probably the best Argento I’ve seen, so far. Was expecting the style and the glam, but the dry humour was a pleasant surprise. The set pieces were terrific and the art gallery was an amazing set. The attempted murder was like watching someone watching a film – very effective.
    Next up, Argento wise, is Tenebrae.