REVIEW: Berberian Sound Studio
By Lee Fisher on September 10, 2012 in Film
What the hell IS Berberian Sound Studio, other than the finest film of the year? It’s not a horror film or thriller, not really – nothing especially horrible or thrilling occurs, at least not that you see. It’s barely a drama: Toby Jones’ Gilderoy is a Home Counties nebbish tempted out of his garden shed studio to work as a soundman on a grisly giallo movie called The Equestrian Vortex, thrown into a claustrophobic world of Kafkaesque expenses claims and shrill Italian stereotypes, but nothing much really happens.
Instead, this astonishing and original work is ultimately about the power of movies, a love letter to foley artists, and yet is more easily compared to music, to the kind of albums coming out of the esoteric and unsettling world of artists like Coil or Nurse With Wound (who contribute treated screams to the movie) and the hauntology of the Ghost Box label (indeed the bulk of the soundtrack was provided by Broadcast, presumably their last project following the tragic death of Trish Keenan).
So, while there is nothing ostensibly horrific or dramatic, things unfold in an entirely gripping and disturbing manner. Humiliated by the egomania of the film’s director and producer, bested by a cruel, disinterested secretary, horrified by some of the scenes he’s expected to soundtrack, Jones – in surely a career-defining role – starts to buckle. And as he buckles, reality begins to slip, to jump cut and slide, calling to mind the mental collapse of Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion.
As an ever-more bizarre array of professional movie screamers pass through the vocal booth, Gilderoy becomes more shambolic, his sleep more disturbed, his behaviour odder and more obsessive. Scenes seem to repeat or appear out of sequence, Gilderoy is suddenly speaking Italian (or is he dubbed?). By the end, the viewer is utterly unsettled and acutely aware of the insidious, rarely noticed power of the foley artist.
Director Strickland’s debut, Katalin Varga, was a strangely bucolic revenge movie, but this couldn’t be more different – dark, menacing, without a single external scene. Which isn’t to say it’s without humour –Julian House’s incredible credit sequence for the otherwise unseen movie is brilliant, and some of the characters in the studio – the Goblin, Massimo e Massimo – are a delight.
Perhaps it helps to have seen some gialli movies – something like Suspiria or The Beyond maybe – to pick up on some of the stylistic references and in-jokes, and to understand quite why the Italian characters are quite so overblown and wooden, but even without this, Berberian Sound Studio is a brave, challenging and entirely powerful film and unlike anything else you’ll see this year.
- Film Review: The Artist