Berberian Sound Studio Featured

Sunday, 13 January 2013 15:04 Written by 

Berberian Sound Studio - out on Blu-ray and DVDA reserved British sound mixer called Gilderoy (Toby Jones – “The Girl”, “Captain America: The First Avenger”, Doctor Who) is hired by an Italian film studio in the 1970s to mix and produce sound effects for their latest picture, “The Equestrian Vortex”. The audio technician is shocked and dismayed when he discovers that it is a gory horror movie about witches.

A fish out of water, the longer Gilderoy works on the disturbing film, the more emotionally stressed and disillusioned he becomes. Caught in a claustrophobic environment and surrounded by overbearing personalities like Francesco, the bullying producer (Cosimo Fusco – “Angels & Demons”) and the movie’s charming and morally dubious director, Santini (Antonio Mancino), Gilderoy’s grasp on reality begins to fray.

“Berberian Sound Studio” is a fascinating movie, primarily concerned with craft rather than plot. An homage to the works of Giallo maestros such as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, the film focuses on post-production audio wizardry. Dubbing actors and foley artists (named after sound effects man Jack Donovan Foley) are put through their paces in the studio, the former gurning and screaming for all they are worth, the latter stabbing and stomping on water melons and cabbages with gusto.

We barely catch a glimpse of “The Equestrian Vortex” as this film is all about Gilderoy’s reaction to the increasingly horrific footage; he is forced to watch it over and over again as he mixes the sound tracks and comes up with innovative ways to mirror the action with every-day objects, primarily fresh fruit and veg.

Amazingly, Peter Strickland’s film manages to muster up heaps of tense and creepy atmosphere, partly through the use of moody lighting but mainly thanks to the brief but dreadful written descriptions of scenes on the mixing charts Gilderoy uses, and the bone-chilling sound effects and gothic music.

There is plenty of comedy value in watching a grown man rustle a cabbage (a bat) and yank the stalks off radishes (a witch having her hair ripped out), but at the same time the knowledge of what the studio’s projector is displaying in front of him makes it quite unnerving.

Movie buffs who expect clear explanations and tidy endings will be highly frustrated by this film. Two thirds of the way through it takes a surprising and puzzling turn; I had to resort to the director’s deliberately vague commentary track to make some kind of sense of it. He would prefer not to impose his definition but rather allow the audience to make their own minds up, which is fine by me.

Ultimately, this is a unique, intellectually stimulating and playful film that belongs more in the thriller section than horror. Jones’ performance is superb and you really sympathise with him, stranded in a foreign land surrounded by dominating male colleagues and stroppy starlets. The only source of comfort he has is letters from his mother back in England.

The movie calls into question our demand for graphic, on-screen violence and the potential effects of long-term exposure. It also paints a varied picture of film-making, marveling at the technical craftmanship of post-production audio engineers whilst being critical of the abuse of power by those at the top.

Special features on both formats include:

  • Audio commentary by director Peter Strickland
  • Interview with Peter Strickland (33 mins)
  • The making of Berberian Sound Studio (47 mins)
  • Deleted scenes with commentary by Peter Strickland
  • Production design gallery
  • 'Box Hill' extended documentary (5 mins)
  • 'Berberian Sound Studio' original short film (1 min)
  • Theatrical trailer

There is plenty of content here, albeit it in a rather rough-and-ready form. There is some duplication in terms of talking heads being re-used but overall I was impressed. Writer/director Strickland (“Katalin Varga”) is a humble and apparently shy individual who deserves financial backing for future projects if they are all as original and thoughtful as this one. Finally, the DVD version reviewed is incredibly sharp but suffers in the few (and mercifully brief) dark scenes where it is next to impossible to see anything at all!

“Berberian Sound Studio” (2012) is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Artificial Eye. The main feature has a running time of 92 minutes approx, carries a ‘15’ certificate and retails for £15.99 on DVD, £19.99 on Blu-ray, or less from

Last modified on Sunday, 13 January 2013 15:11

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