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Berberian Sound Studio by Peter Strickland

September 22, 2013

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Gilderoy (Toby Jones) – an English sound engineer – goes to Italy to work for Berberian Sound Studio‘s production of The Equestrian Vortex the new film by master of giallo Santini (Antonio Mancino), the reason why the studio has chosen Gilderoy is unclear when you consider that Gilderoy’s previous work regarded naturalistic documentaries, but the Englishman will be slowly and inexorably absorbed by this experience in a foreign territory. Foreign territories are quite a common occurrence in the cinema of English director Peter Strickland whose debut feature – the noteworthy Katalin Varga – was set between Hungary and Romania and being an outsider and having to work hard to understand new habits to make yourself a member of your new community seems to be a central theme in his work, but the first thing you notice watching Berberian Sound Studio is the hommage it pays to the giallo genre of Italian cinema in the Seventies: the plot of The Equestrian Vortex- its opening titles and soundtrack are the only things we’ll ever know of it – is inspired by Argento’s Suspiria and Bava’s Black Sunday, and one of the dubbers working in the studio is Suzy Kendall whose voice we can hear in Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. We can find another Italian influence in the name Berberian, since the late Cathy Berberian‘s – marvelous singer and wife of famed composer Luciano Berio – performance of Visage constituted a source of inspiration for Strickland.

berberian

Hommages and quotations apart Berberian Sound Studio is a highly personal and original work by Peter Strickland, people who compare it with some Lynch have been too lazy during and after the screening, Strickland is a director who requests active viewers, if we really wanted to find a comparison then we should follow multiple and different (surrealistic?) routes leading to a Resnais and a Buñuel. Peter Strickland had already shown interest for the use of sound in the past, but this new film operates an a whole different level, during eighty years of talkies very few directors have paid so much attention to the sonic world of their films, and I guess the real reason behind Strickland hommage to Italian cinema has to do with the typical Italian habit of creating the entire soundtrack in the studio and not on the set, such practice – now abandoned – allowed a lot of space to artistic creation in the sound department. Our guide into this sonic voyage – Gilderoy – is a stranger at first, but the world of sound and sounds created in Berberian Sound Studio will bring to life a blend of life and – of course – sound where it will be very uneasy – for the protagonist as well as the viewers – to distinguish (artificial?) sounds from reality. While Strickland affirms himself as an important voice in today’s cinema, Toby Jones deserves a mention for an exceptional acting performance.

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