Now, I know there’s been an awful lot written about Berberian Sound Studio and it has been heaped with many a selection of praise but to be honest… well, the first time I watched it in the escape and darkness of a once celluloid emporium, I enjoyed it for about 45 minutes but then… well, I just became restless and it felt like a conceit that had gone on too long.
But still I was quite excited and intrigued by it as a piece of culture, the surrounding cultural connections and so forth.
So I bought it on shiny high pixel count disc the first day it came out for home perusing and watched it in wide-screen glory.
And the same thing happened. After about 45 minutes it lost me.
Move forward to approximately a year and a half later and for a third time I watched it again. This time on a tiny (for these days) non-widescreen television screen, briefly interrupted by adverts throughout, in the hours after midnight, having been up until the wee hours the night before taking photographs…
And this time it got me and drew me in. Maybe it helped because I was able to share it and its cultural connections with an also somewhat tired companion. I’m not sure.
And boy oh boy does this have some cultural connections. It’s hardly a hop, skip and jump before you wander into an unsettling pastoralism, lost celluloid, Ghost Box Records, the design of Julian House, the music of Broadcast, discarded recording mechanisms, past genre films within films…
In part I think what drew me in this time was the visual imagery, experimentation and atmosphere of the film.
In that and a wider sense it may not have the ragged energy that something like Videodrome does (with which it shares a number of similar themes – the stepping into an altered reality via recorded media, the degradation of its listeners/watchers/participants and so forth); it’s still quite a slick and polished presentation but it’s good to see a contemporary film which plays with presentation and form.
So many leftfield/independent/mainstream films are actually very conservative in their use of imagery, a shame in a cultural form which should be able to lend itself to flights of visual fantasy, ones that aren’t merely rooted in an attempt to provide ever more technical drawing accurate attempts at digital simulacra realism.
So, anyway, I don’t intend for this to be a review, more a few points of interest or questions accompanied by a bakers (devils) dozen of images from and around the film:
1) Julian House’s (Ghostbox Records/Intro/Focus Group) film within a film intro sequence. Lovely stuff (well, in an unsettling way), I can hear the score as I type.
2) The studio manager (?) looks as though he has genuinely fallen from a 1970s Italian giallo film. His presence, physiognomy and physicality are just right.
3) I love soaking in the tape boxes, edit sheets etc, knowing that Mr House designed them all… and the ferrous technology, its physical form and noises become such an intrinsic part of this story and it’s world.
4) Where was Toby Jones characters bedroom before it becomes adjacent to the studio?
5) Favourite part: where the film breaks through into the English countryside. A brief break into and relief via greenery and daylight, in contrast to the corridor, studio, bedroom, and night-time courtyard where the remainder of the film is set.
6) It’s a genuinely saddening film due to this being the last (?) piece of work that Trish Keenan of Broadcast worked on. It’s hard to shake that sense when watching the film. Hard not to wander what other fine pieces of work she would have brought into the world. A tip of the hat to you Ms Keenan.
Oh and the plot/setting… Well, basically a gentle, garden shed based British sound effects expert travels to Italy to work on a disturbing horror film and once he’s there life and art implode and fall into one another, his sanity possibly crumbles and he becomes increasingly part of/implicit in a culture and celluloid of misogyny which is masked/masquerading as art.
It is set in 1976 and in many ways is an homage to (comment on?) that period’s giallo genre (essentially stylish/artistic/left-of-centre gore/slasher films).
Watch The Equestrian Vortex trailer here (and then if you’re like me, watch it again a few more times and want to see the whole of this film within a film).