Berberian Sound Studio (2012)


Lobby Poster Art


Toby Jones, Antonio Mancino, Guido Adorni, Susanna Cappellaro, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Chiara D’Anna, Eugenia Caruso, Fatma Mohamed, Lara Parmiani, Hilda Péter, Katalin Ladik, Kata Bartsch, Layla Amir ..  /  Cinematog. Nicholas D. Knowland  /  Art Dir.  Sarah Finlay  /  Music  Broadcast  /  Producers  Mary Burke & Katherine Butler  /  Wriiten & Directed by  Peter Strickland

When timid Foley & Sound Engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) arrives at the Italian ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ to begin work, he brings with him an innate self-effacing, parochial Britishness, which is immediately at odds with the demonstrative, fiery latins who surround him. His world is that of the Radio-Shack, spent in relative, meditative isolation amidst industrial banks of spooling tapes, flickering dials and arcane sound charts. Though expressly invited, and more than qualified for the work at hand, Gilderoy is a quiet, reclusive person, not at all equipped emotionally to deal with impassioned creative types in close quarters.. let alone the psycho-sexual world of Italian Giallo Cinema. The Berberian Sound Studio explores the tradition of dubbing and Foley work in Italian cinema, the creative process of applying voice and sound effects in post-edit.. but on a deeper level we are drawn into the clash between British and Italian sensibilities, as well as that eternal debate on the effects of violence in Cinema.

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Although there is a clear tradition of the ‘film within a film’, which goes back to the very beginning of cinema with Chaplin knocking through the fourth-wall of his Keystone set, the concept of the filmmaker himself becoming affected by his own machinations is much more a part of Sixties introspection. In 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni’s ‘Blow-up‘ followed David Hemmings imitation of Photographer David Bailey around Swinging London, whose ‘camera never flinches’, capturing ‘love without meaning.. murder without guilt.. the dazzle and madness of youth today.’ Not so much stealing souls with his camera, as intruding upon their private selves. The notion of capturing people on film becoming an inherently sinister activity, with Vanessa Redgrave’s insistent cry – “What are you doing? Stop it! Stop it! Give me those pictures. You can’t photograph people like that!”

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With Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom‘,  the filmmaker himself turns killer, impaling female victims on the end of a phallic, spiked tripod, only to revisit his recordings time and time again in the cozy sanctity of home projections.. “Whatever I photograph I always lose.” mournfully muses our killer. Roll forward to the early 80’s, and we arrive at Brian De Palma’s ‘Blow-out‘, essentially a reinterpretation of Antonioni’s ‘Blow-up‘, though this time around focusing on Sound rather than image.. here we have John Travolta accidentally capturing a highway accident on sound-tape, only to discover that it is actually an assassination. De Palma takes us into the world of Foley effects, with particular attention to the tenuous line between art and an actual snuff-film, as Travolta seeks the perfect female victim scream for his Horror Movie assignment.

“That’s a terrible scream. Jack, what cat did you
have to strangle to get that?” (Blow-out (1981)

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To this creative cine-spring, Director Peter Strickland pours in a generous helping of Italian Giallo, with his cast of Argento style female victims, and laces the whole piece with the arcane world of Sprechstimme, an esoteric vocal explosion of speech, singing, growling, screaming, shouting, whispering, panting and hissing. Foremost in this tradition, and inspiration behind the film’s title, is Cathy Berberian (1925-1883), an American mezzo-soprano who released a series of bizarre experimental albums (‘Visage’ in 1961 and then in 1965 ‘Sequenza III, per voce femminile’) in collaboration with her then husband composer Luciano Berio. Strickland cast a fascinating collection of vocal talents, including the 70’s year old Hungarian poet & performance artist Katalin Ladik, and the intriguingly emotive voice artist Lara Parmiani.

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This feminised world of sound reminds us of the haunting one-man-band (or one-woman band rather) Delia Derbyshire, creator of many of the strange sound effects and themes for the 60’s Doctor Who serial.. willowy, elegant, and other-worldly.. exploring dreamstates and rippling sonics tucked away in her BBC cupboard. In some senses woven into the character of Gilderoy himself. Of course, we have to add both Dario Argento and of the Italian electric band Goblin to proceedings, since it is Argento’s cult film Suspiria that is being heavily referenced throughout. Argento films more than any of his contemporaries utilised American and English stars alongside his Italian cast, to contrast and to compliment in comparison. From David Hemmings in Profondo Rosso (Deep Red), to Jessica Harper in Suspiria, and Jennifer Connelly in Phenomena.. each with that rather curious double release, one with the whole cast dubbed into Italian (the Italian speakers re-dubbing themselves), and then the same in reverse. Though this may seem strange to those uninitiated into the world of Argento’s horror work, it is nonetheless immediately familiar to most, recalling any of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns.

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It’s ever been a supreme irony that exploitation cinema has tended to employ more actresses per quota than in the mainstream, whilst at the same time being shamelessly guilty of blatant sexism.. and yet, somehow Peter Strickland with Berberian Sound Studio, and his second feature ‘The Duke of Burgundy‘, has managed to explore the genre, yet elegantly critique at the same time.. Fatma Mohamed, the central female lead manages to turn the tables on Berberian’s male aggressors, and exit the fray before any retaliation for her sabotage. What we have is a melting pot of Latin femininity, filtered through a British perspective. Even the production itself depicts a fictional Italian Sound Studio on film, though in reality was filmed at The Three Mills Studio in Bow, East London. This fascination with duality that Strickland toys with, no doubt originates from his own dual heritage of both Greek & British. To twist us into a further eddy of confused location, Gilderoy is queasily sucked into the very fabric of the melting celluloid, taking us with him as the bubbling and melting filmstrip resolves itself into a 1970’s documentary about the rolling countryside of Box Hill, in England’s Surrey. This too is a double illusion, since the incredibly believable short film is in fact another Strickland forgery, with a flavour of Robin Hardy’s seminal 70’s Horror piece ‘The Wicker Man‘, peppered with Pagan symbolism.

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Ultimately all sense of reality vapourises, as Gilderoy loses his own voice entirely, Italian force-fed through his lips, quite literally dubbed out of character, his Englishness overridden.. helpless to the dictates of the Director. If it seems familiar, this loss of control to the author.. a voice in the back of your head may be whispering Dennis Potter..

“You just don’t know writers. They’ll use anything, anybody. They’ll eat their own young.”

(‘The Singing Detective’ by Dennis Potter)

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Toby Jones   Fatma Mohamed   Eugenia Caruso

Lara Parmiani        Katalin Ladik          Susanna Cappellarom photography by Joerg Brunsendor

Chiara D'Anna Hilda Péter Tonia Sotiropoulou



Cathy Berberian



BROADCAST – Earlier work: Ha Ha Sound (2003)


In Collaboration with Peter Strickland:

THE SONIC CATERING BAND – A Gourmet’s Slumber (2012)


Katalin Ladik - Phonopoetic

KATALIN LADIK – Phonopoetica (1976)


Delia Derbyshire 0

Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001)





The White Bus (1967)




Patricia Healey, Arthur Lowe, Stephen Moore, John Sharp, Julie Perry, Anthony Hopkins, Victor Henry, Fanny Carby, John Savident, Malcolm Taylor, Allan O’Keefe, Jeanne Watts, Eddie King, Barry Evans, Penny Ryder /  From the short story by  Shelagh Delaney  /  Editor  Kevin Brownlow  /  Music Score  Misha Donat  / Cinematography  Miroslav Ondricek  /  Producer & Director  Lindsay Anderson 


 Emerging from the Trümmerfilm rubble of a still scarred postwar British North, wanders Patricia Healey, a suicidal brunette with angelic, ethereal eyes deeper than a well. More a ghost, than a fully fledged character, she radiates a sense of disconnection, fascinated by those around her, cut from the same cloth, yet at a passive distance. Her purpose is to represents us, both as moving camera, and the objective gaze of the viewer, allowing us to study our own world with anonymity.

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To some extent this wandering angel is familiar, from both the Beatnik culture of the day, and the wandering, somnambulist  characters of French New Wave Cinema (Jeanne Moreau’s midnight stroll in ‘Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud’, and in ‘Cléo de 5 à 7’, Corinne Marchand’s  endless lilting wander, from Parisian Doctor’s office, to boutique, to cafe). Here though, we have some degree of order, travelling the city with a Civic Bus Tour, pointing out what we should be interested in,  establishing some degree of direction upon our meandering nomad, providing a beginning, a middle and a clear end to proceedings. The Documentary maker as tour guide.

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What does predominate within the heart of ‘The White Bus’, is this sense of the secret insider.. since both the Director Lindsay Anderson, (born in British India), and the author Shelagh Delaney, (born in Lancashire, though of distinctly Irish heritage), express a love and a sense of belonging to English culture and the landscape, but perhaps unintentionally bring an unbiased objectivity too. Along with the film’s author and Director, the sense of a fresh eye, is further given by it’s Czech Cinematographer, Miroslav Ondricek, adding elements of the Czech New Wave to his angles and treatment of the cityscapes.. bringing a sense of ethereal Prague, to the British landscape. Ondricek eventually answered the call to Hollywood, and went on to shine ever brighter behind the camera on such notable pieces as ‘The World According to Garp’, ‘Silkwood’, and ‘Amadeus’.

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Lindsay Anderson initially hit his stride with some remarkably poignant Public Service style ‘kitchen sink’ documentaries made during the 1940’s & 50’s, centering his keen focus upon the ordinary inhabitants of schools and society’s working institutions.. Covent Garden Market.. Dreamland’s amusements.. a school for the deaf.. an anti-nuclear march.. all served up in a thought provoking and accessible form. From here, Anderson advanced to full length films, though continuing to concentrate on familiar ground. With ‘This Sporting Life’, the violence of a rugby player boils over into life beyond the confines of the field.. and in the iconic ‘If..’, a Public School erupts into chaos, as the students murderously ‘take over the asylum’. ‘The White Bus’ is no less subversive a piece, but by keeping it’s central character mute for much of film, the audience is carried along for the ride with the same sense of disconnection as it’s protagonist. The result is one of fascination with society ‘from without’, neutral and scientific, rather than overtly critical. Both we, and our central character are but a ghost in the machine. Neither affecting, nor affected by the world, merely observing, or offering a bemused smile.

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‘The White Bus’ was originally intended to be released as part of a trilogy of films, collectively titled ‘Red White Zero’, each adapted from short stories by Shelagh Delaney (‘Sweetly sings the donkey’, published 1963), but neither subsequent film reached production. Delaney’s particular vision of a vibrant, cynical North characterized her literary style, and through her two screenplays for ‘A Taste of Honey’, and ‘Charlie Bubbles’, firmly established the North Country as a key locale in the British New Wave.

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It is quite tempting to believe that perhaps Lindsay Anderson had Delaney herself in mind when he selected actress Patricia Healey for the lead. There is a decided similarity in look and posture between the two women, and after the success of ‘A Taste of Honey’, Delaney was becoming a notable creative in the public eye. The long dark hair, solemn expression and soulful eyes match almost too well for coincidence.

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In addition, Delaney’s short story contains many personal elements, not only in superficial terms of location, schooling and general attitude, but autobiographically, since her father worked for some years during her childhood as a Bus Inspector, and the trip to a state school during the ‘The White Bus’, feels achingly personal. We write about what we know, of course, and Directors take more than mere words from a writer when they set images and ideas to screen, even more so when they share something of the same perspective.

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Shot primarily on moody, atmospheric b&w film, ‘The White Bus’ is peppered with short scenes of almost lurid Eastmancolor, which never fail to shock and surprise whenever they appear. Lindsay Anderson used the same effect in his later film ‘If…’, though in reverse, favouring mostly colour film, dropping in sporadic b&w scenes. It’s often assumed that the expensive nature of colour film was the determining factor, causing the majority of scenes in ‘The White Bus’ to be shot on b&w, where funds were unavailable, and limiting the colour filming in ‘If…’. It does seems far too deliberate a choice at times though, especially in ‘The White Bus’, where the use of colour appears more an avant-guarde motif. Fritz Lang faced similar concerns with his 1st Sound film, the ground breaking ‘M’, juxtaposing between Sound film and pure Silent scenes to keep under budget.. but he somehow made these cost cutting necessities part of the German Expressionist style, by focusing on the visuals for chase scenes, and saving his precious Sound film for close-ups. In neither ‘The White Bus’, nor ‘If…’, is there any clear reasoning behind colour or b&w selection, other than  artistic or random whim. The overall effect is bold and original, so I suppose the intention, or lack thereof, doesn’t really matter anyway.

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As the film progresses the inhabitants of this dream-like landscape seem to become less and less connected to reality, and the sense of documentary intent merges with that of surrealism, bringing to mind aspects of Dali’s ‘Un Chien Andalou’ (1929), and mysterious Maya Deren’s ‘Meshes in the Afternoon’ (1943). Different subjects for documentary are laid out before us, as the Bus Tour shifts from location to location, passing through State School, newly completed blocks of flats, the wheels of industry, anthropological glass cases of stuffed animals on display, and elaborate war reenactments over scrub land.

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At one point, in full glorious colour, we have elaborate tableau set out before us in park scenes, as we parade through reconstructions of famous paintings by Goya, Fragonard and Manet, later to be imitated rather beautifully by those clever Guinness adverts in the early 90’s, with a wry Rutger Hauer interrupting the classics.

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Ultimately the passengers themselves are reduced to mere dress dummies, as the dream of the Bus Tour loses solidity, and dissipates on the air, leaving only our protagonist to wander off once more. Eventually even she becomes a less and less noticed by those around her, a ghost sat in a chip shop at closing time, while chairs are stacked on tables around her. She and the audience must go home. Turn the lights off please.

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Ascenseur pour l’échafaud  (1958) / À bout de souffle (1960) / A Taste of Honey (1961) / Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) / Billy Liar (1963) / The Knack, and How To Get it (1965) / Morgan, A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966) / Alice in Wonderland (TV 1966) / Blow-Up! (1966) / Bedazzled (1967) / If… (1968) / The Bed Sitting Room (1969) 

The White Bus 1967     The White Bus 1967








Shelagh Delaney - Portrait



A Taste of Honey (Pub. 1956)

The Lion in Love (Pub. 1960)

Sweetly Sings the Donkey (Pub. 1963)

The White Bus (Adapt. 1967)

Charlie Bubbles (Screenplay 1967)

Seven Faces of Woman (1974)

The House that Jack Build (TV 1977)

Find me First (TV 1981)

Dance with a Stranger (1985)

Three Days in August (1992)



Shelagh Delaney