Toby Jones stars in Peter Strickland’s hymn to the art of sound and alienation. John reviews the UK blu-ray…
Toby Jones’ reserved and thoroughly English sound engineer is unimpressive, unassuming and completely lost in Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio. That is apart from one moment when a power cut strikes and all present are bathed in the dim light of a single candle with only Jones’ virtuosity with sound effects to entertain them. A washing drainer becomes a space ship to the delight of his huddled audience, but then the lights return and this dull Englishman loses his European companions as they rush forth to all the places they should be.
Berberian Sound Studio reminds us of the neglected relative of images in the cinema family, sound. Whilst never showing any of the excesses of Santini’s film of tortured witches and butchered women, we hear the snapping of vegetables, the hatcheting of water melons and the frying of fat, and experience the intensity and brutality through the shamed and disgusted eyes of Jones’ Hugh Gilderoy. The gentle little man worn down by cruel images and a type of cinema he doesn’t understand, translates the violations into the medium of audio with ingenuity and a terrorised decency.Gilderoy has been called to Italy, away from nature documentaries in the shires, to contribute to what he believed was an equestrian film. Arriving at the titular facilities, he meets indifferent secretaries, a bullying producer and an almost-conspiracy to render him controlled and impotent. Off balance, away from home and out of his interpersonal depth, Gilderoy witnesses the chaos of the production and the occasional transcendent moments of artistry whilst wishing himself back to his comfortable home.
Peter Strickland’s film is evidence of a strong affection for the kinds of movie that Gilderoy finds himself appalled by. Whether direct references to Dario Argento or a celebration of the imagination involved in many of the more exploitative entries into Italian Horror world, Strickland knows too much about this genre to merely be a tourist. A factor that will add to many of the audience’s enjoyment as they link the action to the unsavoury likes of Giallo a Venezia whilst enjoying an altogether more serious work. Sound Studio isn’t simply a walk down genre lane, it’s a tale of quiet madness, a hymn to aural power and an invitation to remember what a treasure Toby Jones is. Here his domesticated and timid Gilderoy unravels only to find resignation, alienated to his core and wholly confused by the world around him. Stripped of genre affectations and guided by Jones’ performance, Berberian Sound Studio is a very slight story, a simple character study but an immensely rich one that exists to throw a little light, and sound, onto the creative industry of magic and excess.
Artificial Eye give the film nearly 2 hours of extras and a commentary on a region B locked BD25. The extras are very heavy on writer director Peter Strickland who is a quiet, technical sort whose own personality seems to mirror Gilderoy’s on this evidence. This makes for an informative, pretty technical commentary where the challenges of the production and the film’s references feature more than entertaining anecdotes from the production. He is also interviewed for another 30 minutes and features as one of the talking heads in the making of documentary, along with Jones and two producers.
The making of documentary has about 25 minutes of onset footage including short interviews with the cast, which is prefaced by the talking heads I mention above. This is followed by a very dry narration from the director of the sound plans and clever production designs of the film, accompanied by images of the same.
The deleted scenes, some narrated by Strickland, add some more rows with the producer and more excess from some of the voice artistes. A longer version of one of Gilderoy’s fictional documentaries is included and a trailer completes the 1080P special features.Returning to the main feature, the presentation needs to manage the deliberate dinginess of the scenes within the studio and maintain the largely muted palette of the film as a whole. This it does well, with little to complain about around boosting edges or filtering of the image – flesh tones are very natural and the detail in and out of light is commendable.
Allied to the strong treatment of the image is the choice of two lossless tracks. I chose the master audio 5.1 mix to enjoy the great care spent on the audio of the film with excellent mixing of effects, voices and music. Optional subs translate the non-English dialogue in a fine A/V presentation overall.
A really good package with a fine transfer will please fans of the film.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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