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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 Berberian Sound Studio


Directed by Peter Strickland (2012)

Many vegetables were harmed in the making of Berberian Sound Studio. 
And the making of the film within this film isnít too kind on humans, either.

Itís the 1970s and a British sound engineer by the name of Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is hired by Italian film director Santini (Antonio Mancino) to work on the latest in his native giallo genre, which according to the interweb is a kind of stylish but gory horror flick.

This comes as a surprise to Gilderoy who has made his name in English pastoral. Instead of the birdsong and babbling brooks heís now required to demolish melons and marrows and such to replicate tearing flesh, crunching bone and the occasional red-hot poker up the bottom.

His co-workers are a variety of voice artists who dub the screams of terror and ghoulish wailing.

Gilderoy feels a little uncomfortable about this but, hey, itís a job, and at first heís more worried about getting his money back for the flight.

As time goes on, though, the violence seems to seep out of film they are making into the workplace. Santiniís producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) tyrannises his staff, demanding their absolute obedience.

It all comes to a head when professional screamer Elena (Tonia Sotiropoulou) breaks down walks out thanks to the sexual harassment and being bullied into one blood-curdling scream too many.

From here on Gilderoyís own psychological integrity seems at stake. The nightmare of the film heís making becomes his own. He suddenly appears on screen himself, dubbed in Italian. Even the cherished letters from his mother, looking forward to the arrival in the garden of the chiff-chaffs, turn nasty and become part of the screenplay.

Berberian Sound Studio (the name might derive from the American avant garde singer Cathey Berberian) provides much interest for the film buff whoís into giallo. But there is something else going on here.

The action never leaves the the oppressive, claustrophobic studio. Gilderoy never leaves the studio. He sleeps in a room behind the mixing desk. He never gets his expenses, either. Heís told the flight he came on doesnít exist, as if heís always been there and has no past, no life outside.

Like his fellow workers he has sold himself to Santini. Sold not just his skilled labour but his very being. The studio is not simply his prison. He is dissolved into it, into the celluloid, into his own soundtrack.

As an allegory of alienation, Berberian Sound Studio is itself an effective horror.

September 10, 2012

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