The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (Dario Argento / Italy-West Germany, 1970):
(L'Uccello dalle Piume di Cristallo; Point of Terror; The Gallery Murders)

The title is a poetic non sequitur, one of countless shards of sights and voices brought together in the minds of the investigating hero and of Dario Argento, whose debut is his foundation from which to build, expand, enrich. A half-lit room presents the first instance of obfuscated vision, freeze-frames in the opening credits (a mini-skirted girl furtively photographed) introduce the aspect of voyeurism, or, rather, vision; an arsenal of daggers is contemplated by the maniac, who dons black gloves and trenchcoat and murmurs tauntingly over the phone. "Peace, tranquility... that's Italy," says Tony Musante, the blocked American writer, who in the film's linchpin witnesses a struggle inside an art gallery, encased between glass doors while victim Eva Renzil bleeds on the marble floor from her stab wound -- the incident becomes a loop played over and over in his head, and, as the shredded corpses proliferate, he launches an enquiry of his own. A trip to the police station separates transvestites from perverts, a porcine fop chases Musante around his antique shop before lending him a clue: a painting of a murder, "na´ve but macabre," reproduced in black-and-white until the camera tracks back to reveal the original hanging in the killer's wall as color flushes back into it. Stalled elevators and jabbing blades anticipate Dressed to Kill, with an element of rigorous geometry (triangular dread glimpsed down a flight of stairs) and, later on, a judicious dab of Saboteur. A water pipe ejaculates upon being slashed, a cut from a handheld POV to a close-up comments on Suzy Kendall's resemblance to Monica Vitti, the shaggy Mario Adorf pops up as a painter ("going through a mystical period") with a casserole full of kitties -- the director's most muted work? Argento is too busy to worry about classification, staging vivid mayhem in galleries and studios to ensure that giallo horror can remain an art form every bit as valid as the Gothic modernism on display in them. With Enrico Maria Salerno, Umberto Raho, Raf Valenti, Giuseppe Castellano, and Reggie Nalder.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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