Monday, May 25, 2015

Screams for Screens

We got Berberian Sound Studio (2012) due to a good review on Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. We were expecting a kind of art house horror, and that's sort of what we got - without the horror.

It stars Toby Jones as a gentle timid English sound engineer. Jones has a funny sort of face - he looks kind of like a toby jug, and reminded me a lot of Mel Smith. He has been hired by some sleazy Italians to do the sound for their movie. He assumed it would be a nature documentary, his normal fare, but it turns out to be a giallo - the stylish Italian slasher films of the 70s. The movie is filmed in an opaque, objective, almost documentary style. We see a mild little man listening to hostile people speaking a language he doesn't understand while we hear muffled screams coming from behind closed doors. Then a long abstract shot of recording equipment and spooky sound effects, or men stabbing watermelons on a foley stage.

We never see any of the shocking footage that Jones is doing sound for, but it is bad enough that it begins to affect his sanity. The screams of the actresses, the carnage done to vegetables, the failure to get his airfare reimbursed, it's all too much for his sensitive soul. The movie gets more surrealistic, the letters from home more gruesome, and it doesn't look like they will be wrapping up for a while.

I enjoyed this a lot, for the atmosphere and style, for Toby Jones, for the look behind the scenes at cinema sound production. I'm sure there were a lot of call-outs to other movies, like giallos that I've never seen and Blow Out and The Conversation (saw that one). And -spoiler- nobody really gets horribly killed.

By the way, for fans of Steely Dan's "Her Gold Teeth", Cathy Berberian does NOT show up in this movie, except perhaps as a spiritual guide.

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