Berberian Sound Studio Review

by William Burns

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Movies about making movies are a tricky proposition. For every Peeping Tom or 8 ½, you may have to suffer through Bowfinger or Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Berberian Sound Studio is a tribute to not only the creation of classic Italian horror, but also to the importance of the aesthetics of sound to the filmmaking process, brilliantly traversing the philosophical and psychological domains of Bergman, Antonioni, and Argento.  Pasty Brit milquetoast Gilderoy is a renowned sound engineer hired to come to Italy and work on Giancarlo Santini’s The Equestrian Vortex, an ultraviolent supernatural horror film (though the director would disagree with that classification) about a witch haunted riding academy made in the style of Bava, Freda, and Polselli. The clash of languages, cultures, styles, and sensibilities further alienates Gilderoy, and as the Foley effects and dubbing become more graphic and bizarre the confusion extends past artistic expectations and working habits to perception and identity.  Strickland explores the consequences of recreating reality when the fictional and the genuine overlap, a deceptive transformation of organic realism into manipulated fantasy (I never realized how intrinsic fruits and vegetables were to the making of Italian thrillers).  Though we never see the actual film Gilderoy is slaving over (except for the pop art Gothic opening credits), the lines of dialogue, the soundtrack, and the horribly suggestive sound effects all conjure up repressed desires and sexualized violence, the influence of which can be read on Gilderoy’s face and deteriorating sanity. The performances are uniformly excellent: Toby Jones as Gilderoy, Cosimo Fusco as a bullying producer, Fatma Mohamed as a tortured ingénue, even Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg’s bit part as The Goblin, Italy’s answer to Michael Winslow, is outstanding.  The score to the film within the film is expertly realized by Broadcast, invoking an early 70’s European vibe, like if Bruno Nicolai and Krzysztof Komeda recorded together at Lee Perry’s Black Art Studio.  The film is saturated with Euro-trash, black gloved ecstasy (even the movie poster copies the graphics of Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet) and is only marred by Strickland’s use of the ubiquitous horror cliché of unnecessary close-ups of random objects to suggest some chilling significance.  Berberian Sound Studio joins the ranks of other classics of the “Is it real or is it Memorex” genre of movies like The Conversation and Blow-Up, and may be the finest film to interrogate the subjectivity of sound.  Now if only some brave, intrepid filmmaker would make The Equestrian Vortex an actuality…


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