Saturday, September 15, 2012

Berberian Sound Studio

I've never really fully embraced the Giallo genre to be honest. There's a few I've seen and enjoyed ; "The Strange Vice of Jennifer Wardh", "Lizard in a Woman's Skin", the Argento stuff, and for the sheer novelty of it having been filmed in Ireland I went to see and throughly enjoyed the utter nonsense that was "Iguana With A Tongue of Fire" a couple of years back. I like the idea of it - and the film titles most definitely - but the majority of stuff I've seen in the style over the years has left me cold. There are, however, always a couple of great visual or atmospheric moments in the better Giallo films that make even the most tedious ones I've seen bearable.

So there is part of me that keeps trying, keeps watching them in the hope another one will click. And a couple of years back when I began hearing about the movie "Amer" and how it was "a loving homage to the Giallo film" I was sold enough to drag along an utter baffled friend and fellow horror buddy to what was ultimately a visually stunning bit of cinematic fluff*.

I went to see "Beberian Sound Studio" tonight because a couple of similar "homage to the Giallo" style write ups had attracted my interest, the trailer looked intriguing enough, and was a week night and I was at a loose end. I didn't expect much. I was rewarded for my low expectations with one of the best movies I've seen this year.

A quick synopsis: It's the 70s, and Gilderoy is a quiet, unassuming Englishman who is a foley artist working on sound effects from a home studio in his shed, usually for nature documentaries, children's tv, etc. He is summoned to Italy to work on the sound design for an upcoming sleazy horror movie by an infamous Italian director called Santini entitled "The Equestrian Vortex". The film traces his gradual unravelling working on a film he's clearly repulsed by in a claustrophobic recording studio he works in sleeps in, under the direction of the films sketchy producers who clearly couldn't give a shit about his wellbeing. Here's the trailer:

The atmosphere and look of the film is incredible: it's visually a very dark film centred mostly in the workplace of the beleagured, timid Gilderoy - a workplace which regularly suffers from powercuts that leave his colleagues and himself relying on candlelight. The cast seems primarily to be attractive dark haired women dressed in witchy black clothes. The lighting in the film is usually either the aforementioned candlelight, or the light of the projector in the studio. They absolutely fucking nailed the style of the giallo cinematography with the lingering close ups, fades and pullbacks. This genuinely looks like it could have been made at the time. The projectionist wearing black leather gloves, the organ and female vocal soundtrack, and the dimly lit apartment Gilderoy stays in all bring the classics of the style to mind.

The sound in the movie obviously is just as pivotal a character as any of the actors, the way it is played with, its omnipresence - in much the same way, say, the soundtrack to "Eraserhead" is a huge part of that film for me and I can't seperate the audial from the visual. The point of this film is that the two are inextricably linked obviously, the very premise of the movie should should pretty much make it clear to you that the film is going to function that way.

I'm purposely avoiding going into the plot to much in the hope my vagueness will drive you to see this yourself, but I will say that while there is a darkness in atmosphere, visuals and sounds, there is a fantastic strain of well placed black comedy that runs throughout. Watch out for the projectionist's descriptions of each scene in the "Equestrian Vortex" (you hear what's happening but never see it, which works brilliantly), which become more over the top with each scene. The Goblin (you'll encounter him in the trailer) is also hilarious.

Things get a little surreal to the point where the last 20 minutes or so initially catch you off guard, and the ending is a little more vague and unresolved than I'd like, but I guess if nothing else as disappointing this last section is compared to the greatness of the rest of the film, it leaves you as disorientated as the main character in a way. It's frustrating,and a little too "Mulholland Drive" for my liking, a little too nonsensical, but it puts you in his disturbed footsteps. You want to know what becomes of him however and I don't think the vagueness of the ending does the film as a whole any justice.

These flaws aside,I just wanted to watch the movie straight away as soon as I left the IFI.

Amazing soundtrack too - Nurse With Wound and Broadcast feature. And the guy who runs the superb Ghost Box record label contributed the titles too, which are excellently done. Read this fascinating interview with the Director Peter Strickland here.

*Fluff which I must admit, I later bought on DVD and have enjoyed a couple of times since. Still looks amazing, still makes fuck all sense.


  1. You're not down with Giallo? How do you understand the references in lazy HNW releases then?

  2. I read a lot of "Cinema Sewer". And just pick up dvds based on how much they sound like they might be a Richard Ramirez project.