James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
We’re in a boutique Blu-ray boom. Since the beginning of COVID, there’s been an uptick in releases from labels such as Arrow, Severin, Blue Underground, and Kino Lorber. These companies, among many others, have been sinking serious money into releasing and re-releasing films in their catalog with new special editions. It can be a bit mind-blowing and wallet crippling if you let it get the best of you.
Last month, Arrow Video released a trifecta of brilliant releases from two of the most celebrated living directors. When I realized that Dario Argento’s THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS, and David Lynch’s DUNE were coming to 4K, something in my brain kind of short-circuited. These films are thick pieces of work that operate at their pacing and visual language. While these films couldn’t be any more different, leave it up to Arrow Video to find a thematic link that appeals to a wide breadth of their audience while keeping it weird and bringing a high piece of art to their audience.
THE FILMS THEMATICALLY: Obsession is at the center of all of these pictures. From the characters shown on screen to the artists who are the puppet masters for the whole thing. Argento’s frenetic first feature, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, meets a writer (Tony Musante) who will stop at nothing to solve a murder he witnessed in an art gallery. Musante plays this would-be detective as someone who doesn’t care how deep they go into the unknown. Argento’s debut would be the breakout success that brought the term Giallo stateside, and for decades he would be known for the hoops he makes his audience jump through and the constant torture that befalls his characters.
This trend continued in THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS, which opened up Argento’s mind, almost world-building in its ambitions. Unfortunately, while Argento’s work is visually striking—both showing elegance mixed with incredibly unpleasant imagery—the story portion starts to fall by the wayside. But with BIRD & CAT, Argento shows a restraint that keeps each film moving story-wise and not revealing too much in style.
It’s a bit criminal only to give Lynch’s DUNE a one-paragraph summation, but there’s been so much writing on the film itself, and on this 4K disc (which is worth the sticker price) there’s no point in diving super deep. DUNE is flawed, but DUNE is unlike many films to ever come out of the studio system. David Lynch famously disowned the movie and desperately tried to flesh the film out in a way that would please audiences and executives alike. Unfortunately, by serving two masters, he served no one, and the film was a flop. Flash forward 35 years later, DUNE has had a critical rethinking, and its star Kyle Maclachlan is now a walking meme. Lynch is obsessed with making a film that could satisfy himself artistically, but no matter how hard he tries, it still pisses him off when people ask him about it during Q&As.
THE PACKAGING: The packaging on all three are top tier (pro tip: buy them quickly because once these collectors’ editions are gone, they are gone. Each comes with evocative artwork commissioned for the 4K releases. Sandwiched in is a 50 or so page colored booklet filled with essays and film stills. As a collector, you couldn’t ask for better care with the presentation. Sitting back looking at these things lined up is by far the greatest joy of being an Arrow Video collector.
AUDIO: The audio on THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS sound fantastic as a lossless mono track. It provides a crisp and pointed sound that allows the dubbed dialogue to come through better than ever before. These are two films I found difficult to watch in the past, but the dialogue boost helps match the visuals’ immersive atmosphere.
DUNE comes loaded with a stereo DTS Master Audio track with 5.1 surround sound. So as you see the rhythm of the worm arrive on screen, get ready because the sound erupts. This release does its best with proper equipment to replicate the theater experience.
VIDEO: THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS showcase color palettes that are otherworldly. Argento is known for being a master of the visual medium, and with these releases, his films have the texture they had upon release with an update that fits well on modern equipment. Each of these releases was transferred into 4K using the original camera negatives.
DUNE is a perfect 4K release and is up. There is possibly the best video presentation of the year. It runs a close trifecta with MY FAIR LADY and Blue Underground’s THE FINAL COUNTDOWN. Even if David Lynch denounced his own film, it’s impossible not to find this to be stunning.
FINAL THOUGHTS: As I said in my introduction, Arrow Video’s special editions are the gold standard of boutique blu ray. Each of these gives the film historical context and brings the audience into the mind of the filmmaker. There’s just something special about Arrow Video providing their fans with this much content to enjoy these timeless artists on their terms.