Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
  • Time: 92 min
  • Genre: Drama | Horror | Thriller
  • Director: Peter Strickland
  • Cast: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino, Guido Adorni


In the 1970s, a British sound technician is brought to Italy to work on the sound effects for a gruesome horror film. His nightmarish task slowly takes over his psyche, driving him to confront his own past. Berberian Sound Studio is many things: an anti-horror film, a stylistic tour de force, and a dream of cinema. As such, it offers a kind of pleasure that is rare in films, while recreating in a highly original way the pleasures of Italian horror cinema.

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  • Berbarian Sound Studio 2012

    Actors – in order of appearance: Toby Jones – plays Gilderoy. Gilderoy is a small Englishman. He is wearing a cardigan and his sparse, overlong and un-styled hair is awry. Awry in the sense that although it is most definitely secured deep in the follicles of Gilderoy’s skull, his hair has the appearance of a sofa cushion that has been plumped and padded once too often. Probably twice. Gilderoy usually lives at home (in some leafy and neglected suburban street slightly too far from the nearest Tube station) with his mother. Look into Gilderoy’s eyes, and I know that he twitches, and his skin crawls as his mother straightens his tie and strokes his hair flat every morning after breakfast. Gilderoy has a single consuming occupation. A single passion. A single skill: He has found an vocation into which he can daily submerge his consciousness. He possesses a technical ability that calls for a deep understanding of, and a deep caring for, the delicate and temperamental valves that glow orange in the hearts of his machines: Tenderly he dries a condenser and most gently adjusts a rheostat. Like a lover, he uses the tip of his right index finger to ease the faders on his mixing desk as the fingers on his left ease a tape-loop past twin-chromed pickups. These are the lightest of caresses a patient lover uses to drift his fingers over his lover’s skin – until one finger tip gently falls into the supra-sternal notch, to linger and . And Gilderoy is buried in this erotic dance – to the exclusion of people. For the avoidance of interaction. When someone stands in front of him, he slides to the side. Eyes on the floor. Or on his soft brown shoes; or on the paper in his hand. But he is not weak. No. He stands straight because he knows he’s good at what he does. There’s no question for him as to why people need him. What he doesn’t understand is why people should want him. But, he is a reduced man. He has none of the style of his colleagues. His speech falters and his eyes skid around at knee-height. If he is asked or told to do something, then do it he does. For him it is easier to acquiesce than to confront, or disagree, or dissent.

    We are in a sound studio in Italy. Probably late 1960s or 1970s. It feels like it should be raining outside. Dimly lit, gloss-painted green corridors connect the outside with the in. The equipment is analogue – large Bakelite knobs and dials reminiscent of Russian power-stations. Flickering ammeters and flashing bulbs as coarse as the tail-lights on a rusting Fiat. The sound-booths are built of hardwood and glass, and the sound-effect technicians are Leonel and Marco Salamanca’s Italian cousins. Their hooded eyes look deep into Gilderoy’s soul as they slaughter a prodigious variety of vegetables. And there is a beautifully sculpted Italian receptionist. And a suited Sound Director with perfect hair. And his boss, the Film Director is even more perfect. And he brings his dog to work. And they all see a victim in Gilderoy. And they bully him: The receptionist by sulking and being obstructive. The Sound Director bullies him through confrontation and the more sophisticated Film Director by pretending to care. Gilderoy is there for post-production. To create the soundtrack for a film which appears to be a mix of Hammer House of Horror, Don’t Look Now 1973, and The Omen 1976. Not that we see any of the film directly. Indeed, we see the film in Gilderoy’s face and in his eyes. In his ears. Particularly through his ears. There are screams – women’s screams with reverb. There are more screams. And we hear them again and again. He takes tapes of the screams to his flat where he perfects them. And the actors who create the screams are in turn bullied by the directors. And Gilderoy watches their distress, and his social inadequacy leaves him helpless and impotent. And their screams become Gilderoy’s screams. And he replaces the Salamanca twins – slaughtering cabbages and melons with irresolute ambivalence and increasing distress. And because he is a perfectionist and an artist, he has to slaughter more cabbages – in time with the screaming soundtrack. And here, my own distress emerges. I can feel my eyes squinting in preparation for the next stab, the next echoing scream. My shoulders tense as I wait for the next wet and bloody impact as a watermelon explodes on the floor. I am squirming on my chair – sensing and feeling every bit of Gilderoy’s agony. And Gilderoys screams become mine. And I am searching for a way out. For me and for Gilderoy. There’s no help. No hope. No resolve. No future. There’s only acquiescence: And suddenly the film is over. Thankfully. Why do I put myself through this angst. Horror movies are too stressful for me. I don’t seek them out, and if I have to watch one, I do it quickly. And I have to have good reason to watch – I first watched Berbarian Sound Studio because I didn’t realise it was horror. I don’t ‘get’ why people like horror. Commentators have suggested it’s for the buzz – the endorphin rush. The prickly heat as cortisone flashes through the arteries. Which doesn’t answer the question – or at least it raises another: Is it because many people live safe and vacuous lives devoid of risk? Health and Safety regulations insulating them from any hurt. Is it this that makes them seek a virtual excitement in the cinema? Me? I prefer to throw myself off a hill on my MTB. Even though I normally avoid horror, I would watch this film again because I like sound, I like good foley (listen out for the striking clock), and the film is extremely well crafted. Toby Jones is the epitome of ‘small English’, and I love to watch him.
    And I want to watch the receptionist again as she sits in front of that amazing piece of furniture. But I would turn the sound down a bit next time.

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