Tuesday, January 29, 2013

(June 2012)

"It's like putting tracing paper over the horror movie, taking its highs and lows and getting the same response from the audience without actually showing anything horrific.”
-- Peter Strickland

Writer/director Peter Strickland’s second feature, Berberian Sound Studio is one of those titles whose “horror” status some may question, so I’m mentioning it here, outside of the ¡Q horror!  crush.
In it, we’re transported to Italy, 1976, where Toby Jones plays British sound engineer Gilderoy, who’s been hired to work on Il Vortice Equestre (The Equestrian Vortex), what turns out to be a lurid giallo chockfull of torture and violence, which we quickly discover, is not quite Gilderoy’s cup of tea.

“Horror was the starting point but I would never call it a horror in a million years. I guess the rule was to bounce off that genre – to immediately say, no blood, no murder – but still make it scary. What was exciting about that genre was it has its own history, rules and regulations that you can manipulate and mess around with. There’s something very gratifying in taking a template and turning it into something very personal.”
-- Peter Strickland

Not only does the film, A) send a knowing nod to the heyday of giallo, and B) give a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of old school analogue sound recording (and by extension, display just how vital sound design is to the entire cinematic experience), but also, C) manage to do the job many a full-on contemporary horror movie fails to pull off--build a sense of true disquiet and dread.
And what are some of the weapons Strickland has in his arsenal to achieve said sense? Vegetables, homesickness, difficulties in the work environment, and Jones’ fine performance.
Tellingly, we are never shown a single frame of Il Vortice Equestre, save for its brilliant opening credits (courtesy of Julian House). We’re left to imagine what atrocities Gilderoy is forced to view in order to do his job, the sound of vegetables being shredded and stabbed, and the putrescent texture of their decaying remains exquisitely heightening our fevered imaginings.

Berberian Sound Studio is an enigmatic experience that proves that tone is such a crucial element of the horror genre and can succeed in disturbing an audience far more effectively than gallons of fake blood and gore.

“Genre is a starting point for me, that is my personal taste. I love to screw around with it. Of course, there were many giallo references, but it's more about people making giallo, rather than becoming so itself. We pay lip service now and again in the way we use certain shots, certain zooms, but we wanted to depart from it too. It was the bombastic, rock and roll element that drew me. I mean, I don't see Argento's Suspiria as cinema: it's more like psychedelia to me. I'm not interested in showing horror. But I am interested in the effects of it. Berberian Sound Studio is a meditation on sound as much as it is a meditation on violence.”
-- Peter Strickland

Parting Shot: Berberian Sound Studio took home the following awards from 2012’s BIFAs: Best Director; Best Actor (for Toby Jones); Best Technical Achievement – Sound Design (Joakim Sundström and Stevie Haywood); and Best Achievement in Production.
The film was also nominated for Best Screenplay; Best Technical Achievement – Cinematographer (Nic Knowland); and Best British Independent Film (the award for which was ultimately taken home by Rufus Norris’ Broken).

(Berberian Sound Studio UK quad courtesy of impawards.com.)

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