Birdy - Birdy(Blu Ray) [Powerhouse - 2019]Birdy is one of the more original, thought-provoking and at times equally powerful & moving dramas of the 1980s. It’s a blend of bittersweet 1950’s come of age friendship movie, post-war hospital drama, with later darts into brutal/ troubling war footage. From Powerhouse films here we have a recent Blu Ray release of the film- featuring a new print of the film, and a good selection of extras.
Released in 1984 Birdy was the 6th film directed by English auteur Alan Parker. Coming just a few before the doubly impactful( for different reason) most notable/ respected films 1987’s noir horror film Angle Heart, and 1988’s powerful civil rights drama Mississippi Burning. Birdy starts off slow, quirky charming & kind of melancholic- before building to a powerful & affecting story of friendship, dreams, and the devastation of war- both physically & mentally. Sadly the film is one of Parker's lesser-known films- which hopeful this new region free release will change.Roger Batty
The film focuses in friends Al Columbato( Nicollose Cage) and Birdy(Matthew Modine)- the pair meet as teens in 1950’s Philadelphia, bounding in a strange sort of lopsided relationship- with Al following around & taking part in Birdy’s obsessions with birds- going from pigeon catching & keeping, wanting to literal fly like a bird, and his final deep obsession with all things bird bound. For much of its runtime the film darts back & forth between two timepoints- going between the pairs meeting & quirky relationship in the ’50s, and their later re-meeting after the Vietnam war- when Al has face damage, and Birdy is in a military hospital psych ward due to his catatonic state. In its last quarter, we get very hallowing & brutal war footage that certainly rivals the disturbing level of gore/ horror in Angel Heart.
Both Cage & Modine are perfectly cast- and really act their young hearts out- Cage is cocky, self-assured, yet somewhat lost. While Modine is initial quirky & boisterous, before turning troubled & finally catatonic crouching like an oversized pigeon. The supporting cast is all good-to-great, and the camera work goes from flighty, playful to more claustrophobic and confined. The only real issue with the film is the soundtrack- this is by Peter Gabriel, and in places it’s a bit too mawkish & bright, yet equally, there are some effect more brooding & off angular moments, as well a effective world music percussive flourishes in the war flashback moments. This Blu ray release is the first time I’ve seen the film- and I must say I was most impressed, and it easily stands with Parkers' more known/ celebrated films.
Moving onto this new Blu Ray- and first off the picture quality of the new print is crisp and defined- been bright-yet even when it needs to be, and balanced and moody in the more claustrophobic indoor shots. On the extras side we get a new commentary track from Alan Parker, and Justin Johnson from the BFI- this is a fact backed & interesting track- moving from talking about how the lead actors where cast, and a few more bizarre/ crazy Cage related stories like he removed several teeth for the film, supposedly without pain killers. The track moves on to talk about the book the film was based on, and how it changed for the screenplay. Moving on to discuss shot choice, locations, and the film's legacy- all making for a great commentary track. Next, we get three stand-alone on-camera interviews with the cast & crew- first & longest of these is with Matthew Modine- this comes in at the twenty five minute mark. The next one is with the film's screenwriters Jack Behr and Sandy Kroopf- this comes in the fourteen-minute mark. The third interview is with Peter Gabriel- unlike the other interviews, this is not recent & comes from 2000- this runs for six minutes. Next, we get an interview with director/ actor Keith Gordon- discussing the work of William Wharton- who wrote the original book the film was based on, and Gordon himself has made films from his books. We get an early film from Parker No Hard Feelings- this is from 1976, and follows a troubled young man in wartime London- this runs at the fifty-five-minute mark. We get image galleries, promotional & publicity material included unseen/ rare items from Modine personal archive- oh and we get an original trailer. So a great bunch of stuff.
Once again Powerhouse have uncovered & reissued another lesser-known gem. Sure Birdy starts off slow, but hang in there & give it time to grow on you- as it certainly is a very well made, acted and conceived film that really does stand as one of the more distinct & at times very moving dramas of the 1980s.