September 16, 2013

Sound effects

Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012). Viewed on flawless, digital Blu-ray, this is a tribute to analog imperfection. In the early 70s, introverted British sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) travels to Italy to work on a horror picture (technically, a giallo). We see the Italian film’s lurid, black-and-red credits – an excellent simulation of 70s occult-themed Euro-horror – but we have to imagine the rest of the action from Gilderoy’s repetitive work in the recording studio. Actresses scream and scream, watermelons are smashed and stabbed (it sounds like dismemberment) and, in an anachronism given the medieval storyline, the sound of a chainsaw is made by a food processor. The dour spirit of Peter Strickland’s mostly mysterious second film is that of the reserved Englishman abroad, constantly paranoid and intimidated – a mood somewhere between Kafka and Barton Fink. His frustration risks becoming our own as a promise or threat of actual horror is never entirely fulfilled, but we can luxuriate in the carefully reproduced retro-fetishist detail of the era’s typed labels, tapes and film. As in Persona, breakdown or body-swap is signalled by film burning in a projector. All is artifice, including personality. But it needed to be weirder.