Saturday, November 30, 2013

First Impressions: Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012)

Apologies for the lack of recent updates people... free time and more importantly energy have been in short supply these past few weeks. I haven't forgotten about the yellow stuff and will be getting back to all that in due course, but in the mean time I just wanted to share some of my initial thoughts about a recent British movie I watched for the first time last week, and it just so happens to be heavily concerned with Italian horror cinema...

Sometime during the 1970s, Gilderoy (Toby Jones), a soft-spoken, seemingly sheltered English sound engineer travels to Italy to work on a curiously titled film, The Equestrian Vortex. Upon arriving, he is immediately made to feel ill-at-ease thanks to a chilly reception from the eponymous studio's secretary and an overly warm one (to this rather reserved chap) from his producer and, a bit later on, the director. All this social anxiety and travel-induced discomfort is just a prelude though, as Gilderoy soon discovers when he finally lays eyes on some footage of the film he will be working on. We don't see any of this ourselves, but from the scene descriptions delivered to the performers before each session and the sound effects the Foley artists are creating, it's fairly obvious what sort of movie this is. To offer an admittedly reductive and frankly somewhat inaccurate comparison, it seems like it would be something akin to the crazed, bastard offspring of an unholy union between Dario Argento's Suspiria and Ken Russell's The Devils. 

I really don't know where to begin with this one, and to be honest I'll need to re-watch it before I can start to get a proper handle on it... but nevertheless, I'll attempt to give you my current thoughts. To cut to the chase, I think it's probably a stretch to call this a tribute to Italian horror and gialli. Now don't get me wrong, Strickland and company certainly demonstrate an awareness of and perhaps even a slight appreciation for these movies, but there seems to be much more going on here than mere genre riffing, and one wonders if the makers actually like the films they're referencing or not...

A fairly apt label that has come up quite a few times in reference to Berberian Sound Studio (and one that might even have been banded around it its PR material, if memory serves) is "anti-horror film"... and while that doesn't fully sum up the film either, it certainly strikes at the heart of what I found somewhat troubling about it. In short, it seems to suggest that for the right or wrong people (depending which way you look at it), certain types of films can be potentially destabilising and perhaps even poisonous (a proposition that will no doubt strike a particular nerve with horror fans). Writing these words I realise that sounds potentially hyperbolic, but when you look at what happens to Gilderoy throughout the narrative, this is pretty much exactly what occurs... although past the half-way point and into the third act, the movie seems to go somewhere else entirely... 

As a slight side note, the film reminds me of an equally disturbing book I read a few years back, Flicker by Theodore Roszak, which treads some similar territory. Both are highly recommended to cinephiles and horror fans, but be warned... you'll never be able to watch a film (and especially a horror one) in quite the same way ever again.

As I've suggested, I'm still chewing on and digesting the intellectual/philosophical meat of this film, and I'll most definitely be returning to it when I've had chance to dig a bit deeper. But all this aside, I have to say I think it's undeniably well crafted and acted. Hats off especially to Toby Jones (son of Freddie) for a compelling, believable and highly affecting performance. The man is an extremely prolific character actor and more often seen in supporting roles, but he gets a real chance to shine here... and for me, the sheer strength of his performance really made the movie, though credit is certainly due to all the other artists and technicians who worked on it as well... every element, from direction, through sound design and music to cinematography and production design (and so on) is superlatively handled.

I'm looking forward to revisiting Berberian Sound Studio in the none too distant future so I can hopefully gain some further clarity on the issues I raised earlier. At any rate, film buffs, and especially Italian horror and giallo aficionados should definitely give this a shot, but I'm not sure I'd really recommend it to anyone else. If anyone reading this has seen it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Halloween Hootenanny - Belated Postscript & Coming Attractions...

Just a quick post to both make sure I can still operate a computer keyboard and also to assure anyone who's checking this blog periodically that I haven't died/been shanghaied etc. 

As with last year's October blogathon, the month just gone was a highly enjoyable ride but also somewhat exhausting (especially by the end), so after Halloween I frankly needed a bit of a break.

Many thanks to everyone who stopped by and read anything/commented etc. And special thanks are especially due to two particularly generous gentlemen. Firstly, to Brad Hogue of Yellow Razor... I am truly in your debt sir; last month's 'thon would have been vastly different and no doubt much less interesting without your assistance. And secondly to Kevin J. Olson of Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies for organising the Italian Horror Blogathon (click here to find links to all of Kevin's own contributions)... I had a blast tagging along and am looking forward to next year's already, so thank you for taking the time to oversee the proceedings again. If y'all haven't already, head on over to Kevin's site and check out the veritable cornucopia of Italian horror goodness posted by him, yours truly and many other fine bloggers. 

I'll be returning with a proper post sometime in the next few days, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it looks like I'll be staying in Italy for another couple of weeks. I went on a complete giallo bender for the best part of a week at the beginning of this month (which is one of the other reasons I haven't posted), so I've got quite a few notes that now need writing up. But before I get to those, yet on the same subject, I'll finally be covering the second part of my Italian Horror/Giallo Double Dayer moviethon (click here for part one).

So to get us all in the mood, here's some random pictures of some good ole' genre staples... and for all the J&B pictures I'm indebted to the J&B in the Movies webpage... I swear, this stuff probably has even more screen credits than most prolific actors and actresses!