Nightbirds (1970)

Director: Andy Milligan

Fucking Andy Milligan on blu-ray from the British Film Institute. That doesn’t seem right somehow, on multiple levels. It’s not a bad achievement for a film that was never actually released in the UK—apparently none of Milligan’s UK productions ever actually showed in their country of origin—and I think it was barely released anywhere else. His other English-made films were horror jobs that had a good life on the grindhouse circuit; Nightbirds… wasn’t. The story of how the film came to be rescued is a particularly good one—the purchase of the only 35mm print by Nicolas Winding Refn (yes, the Drive auteur is a major Milligan nut) and him convincing the BFI to release it in their Flipside series is just the start—which is told comprehensively here; but what of the film itself? Apparently it was Milligan’s last b/w film and, unlike almost everything else he made, it was also a basically straight drama (I think the early short Vapors is the only other thing like it in his filmography). A young girl called Dee comes to the aid of a young man called Dink; he’s basically run away from home and, as we eventually find, she’s done something similar, albeit for much darker reasons. Young love or something approximating thereto blossoms. Nightbirds is an extremely slow burner of a tale that takes a long time to build up, and you have to wade through the usual dodgy Milligan technique to get far with it; once it does start to heat up some, though, I think it’s not without its rewards, as Dee is gradually revealed to be something more than just the slightly eccentric girl she initially appears to be. I suppose the presence of Nightbirds in the BFI’s nicely assembled package is kind of like those rediscovered H.G. Lewis features I reviewed ages ago; the film itself may be of dubious worth (I ended up with a certain regard for it, though I wouldn’t recommend it at all to anyone not familiar with Milligan even in theory), but it’s still kind of nice to know it’s out there at all, and that someone thought it merited the effort to restore it that it rather badly needed…

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