17 January 2013

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (Dir. Peter Strickland, 2012, UK) - Interminable Dread


I haven’t seen Katalin Varga (2009) so its hard for me to make a judgement on director Peter Strickland’s status as an emerging British auteur. His second feature is effectively a mood piece that creates a deeply unsettling, if not, heavily interiorised look at the subjective perceptions of a sound designer/editor working on an Italian Giallo horror film. Unfortunately, my encounters with Giallo have been minimal - a handful of films come to mind so it was problematic reading this film as a postmodern construct since much of the intertextual discourse sadly bypassed my so called cultural capital. However, the figure of the sound designer/editor is familiar to me through films such as The Conversation and Blow Out, which both present a tragically lonely rendering. Gilderoy (Toby Jones) reiterates such sentiments of alienation as he seems entirely disembodied throughout the film and acts completely out of step with the world around; it’s as if he is a ghoulish spectre haunting the studio corridors - an interminable figure of dread. Much of the narrative intrigue Strickland initiates is predicated on a strange sense of ellipsis in which Gilderoy is treated with open hostility from everyone he encounters. Given his worrying passiveness, Gilderoy observes and absorbs such hostility, refusing to react to the provocations from his contemptuous artistic superiors. Strickland mocks the often over inflated egos of artistic types in the film industry and the film director is one source of self reflexive criticism. At one point when Gilderoy refers to the film he is working on as a ‘horror film’, the director Santini is offended by such seemingly prejudiced cultural demarcations, instructing Gilderoy that his film is much more than just a type. Such a moment finds a strange parallel in the marketing which positioned the film as a psychological thriller, yet in reality it is a work that seems to defy such categorical norms since conventional narrative storytelling methods become relatively obscure as Gilderoy’s displacement merges with a filmic one. Primarily it is constructing a pervasive sense of unease that interests Strickland the most. Such grimly consistent unease recalls the atmospheric industrialist soundscapes (Alan Splet) of films by David Lynch, especially Eraserhead. By the end of the film, Strickland has succeeded in creating a hypnotic, trance like quality that ensnares and discombobulates Gilderoy into a cipher of contemporary social sickness. 

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