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  /  Written & 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)


Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)



David Warner / Vanessa Redgrave / Robert Stephens / Irene Handl / Bernard Bresslaw / Arthur Mullard / Newton Blick / Nan Munro / Peter Collingwood / Graham Crowden / John Garrie / John Rae / Music John Dankworth / Art Direction Phillip Harrison / Costume Jocelyn Rickards / Editing Tom Priestley & Victor Proctor / Cinematography Larry Pozer / Producer Leon Clore / Director Karel Reisz


Despite a rousing reception upon it’s release in the mid sixties, a nomination at the Oscars, a Bafta win, Best Film at the Locarno International Film Festival that year and a Best Actress win for Vanessa Redgrave at Cannes, ‘Morgan’ has found himself somewhat sidelined these days. Written off as a confusing experiment by modern film critics, drifting into a sort of footnote limbo, usually reserved for disposable toot that missed the mark. Morgan dropped out of view while no one was looking, and lost it’s place among the key movers and shakers of the British New Wave. ‘The Knack’, ‘Blow-up!’ and ‘Billy Liar’, all share similar visual styles and surreal approaches, but all have stood the test of time unscathed by the decades since their release. I’ve a sneeking suspicion that Vanessa Redgrave may be one of the causes. Though a stunning woman back in her 60’s incarnation, and exuding much sexual alure in Antonini’s Blow-up!’, she is a far softer, less complex character in Morgan, more sweet than sexy, and ‘Blow-up!’ had a veritable parade of pulchritude before David Hemmings lens.. as with the Iconic opening of ‘The Knack’, with it’s near infinite flood of cloned feminine perfection. The loose nature of these films are held in place by a solid linchpin, like the beautiful girl in a farce. Now of course I’m not saying that Miss.Redgrave isn’t a beauty, far from it, but her elegant, willowy appeal doesn’t seem to arrest those used to such femme fatales from the period as say.. a Monica Vitti, or a Bardot.

Billy Liar’, had alot in common with ‘Morgan’ really, but Billy was a far less complex character than Morgan, Tom Courtenay’s Walter Mitty persona fails endear or engender much pity, and the kitchen sink elements seem a little clumsy in comparison to the likes of ‘The Family Way’ and ‘A Kind of Loving’. Both films were billed (somewhat loosly) as comedies, but ‘Billy’ succeeds only in making us uncomfortable in his lies.. a sort of Ricky Gervais without the funny bits. Whereas Morgan has a black humour with a perspective that reflects the new satirical comedy of Peter Cook & co. What does ‘Billy Liar’ have? It has Julie Christie. For fifteen minutes only of course, but that doesn’t really matter, her presence elevates the film considerably. Tom Courtenay was a fine actor, but David Warner (in his only substantial non-villain role) is far more interesting, and so are his fantasies. Lies catch up with Billy Liar, forcing him to deal with the consequences, accept the illusion of his dreams, and consign them to a lesser role. Morgan is in far more danger, his madness is the free will of the new generation in friction against the establishment. Morgan is fighting for the future of youth, for his very soul. A soul hidden beneath the hairy skin of an ape costume. As The Revenger’s Tragedy so elequantly puts it‘Surely we’re all mad people, and they whom we think are, are not; we mistake those, tis we are mad in sense, they but in clothes.’

A central motif of the ‘Morgan’ experience is that of the intercut wildlife footage, in a sort of reverse anthropomorphic comparison between the civilised world, and that of the animal kingdom. A beautiful, graceful girl seen gliding down an underground escalator becomes a majestic Peacock. Freedom is the ape, swinging among the topmost branches.. The legal system, with it’s predatorial Solicitors and bewigged, antiquated Judge are transformed into a pack of hunting lions dragging down the majesty of a regal Giraffe. ‘Have you nothing to say’ asks the stuffy Judge.. ‘I don’t recognize this Court’, replies a bemused Morgan in the dock. One other small stylistic flourish is the occasional freeze frame not uncommon in the 60’s visual lexicon, but a devise that seems to cause irritation among modern reviewers of the film. ‘Blow-up!’ clearly utilises the freeze frame to greater effect, and with greater resonance, being a film principally concerned with photography and the capture of static images. And it is quite true also that Morgan’s visual appeal isn’t in the same league as those jewels in the New wave crown by Godard, Malle, Vadim, Polanski etc. etc.. but it certainly is far from dull, and really does deserve at least a nod of appreciation for it’s bold visuals, and quirky innovations.

Morgan’s obsessions are derived and expressed principally through film, a most modern preoccupation hitherto the domain of the filmmaker and cine-artiste, now a universal means of expression and common cultural knowledge with the advent of the videotape, DVD and Digital Age. In this, ‘Morgan’ is decidedly ahead of it’s contemporaries, who utilise theatrical asides (as in ‘Billy Liar’) to represent inspirations and abstract connections. The modern audience has a wealth of cinema and TV to plunder and dissect as never before. Favourite scenes, clips and montages are uploaded and shared with an inexhaustable appetite for the moving image.


– ‘What’s all this?’

– ‘It’s an island of sanity this car. An island in a world of pain. I’m an exile waiting with an ice-pick. You do know about the ice-pick don’t you?’

-‘It’s ‘im that got it..Trotski..right there. Right in the back of ‘is skull. Leon Trotski: co-founder of the Russian Revolution, creator of the red army, great revolutionary thinker..’

‘Then BINGO! Right on the top of ‘is nut. Joe Stalin kicked Trotski out of his Mother Country..seventeen years in exhile he was.. that wasn’t good enough for Joe. No, he wanted Trotski dead.’

‘Now then, that’s Trotski (hands an egg to the policeman) This, is the ice-pick (brandishes a razor) A burning ‘ot day in Mexico, Stalin’s agent has wormed ‘is way into Trotski’s ‘ouse among ‘is wife and friends, and they’re both alone in the great man’s study.’

‘Trotski is sitting behind his desk..’

‘..quietly the killer creeps up behind ‘im and.. (crushes the egg with his razor) ..’


– ‘You’re a class traitor Morgan, that’s what you are.’

– ‘Them’s fighting words Ma.’

– ‘I mean we brought you up to respect Lenin, Marx, Harry Pollitt. You was a Firebrand when you was sixteen, and you were clever. At Party meetings they always used to say to me, ‘You got an intellectual there Mrs.Delt, ain’t always the middle classes that’ve got all the brains y’know. It’s lads like Morgan that are gonna take over this country one of these days.’ Yees, now look at you. I don’t think you’ll take over anything Morgan.’

The one image that has managed to seep into the public conciousness, is that of Morgan done up in his gorilla costume speeding across London on a motorbike.. perhaps I should mention he’s on fire too. In any other film this would be a scene of farce (the sort of thing Spike Milligan would have done before breakfast each morn), but the donning of the Gorilla suit is far more disturbing than the comical scenario initially suggests. The suit itself is a fairly typical fancy-dress outfit, but the intense close-ups and almost mournful expressions that the cinematographer Larry Pozer manages to extract from the rigid mask are hypnotic. Morgan melds with the suit, and his sanity buckles and warps in a scene of abject horror, where he struggles to remove the mask.. wild eyed and raving.

Morgan’s fractured mindscape transforms those around him into a firing squad of communist freedom fighters, attacking him as a rogue element, dangerous to society, reminicent of No’6’s fight with for and against the individual in McGoohan’s iconic 60’s series ‘The Prisoner’.

As with the best of these stories that deal with inner turmoil and confused realities, nothing is ever truly settled. In the final scene we see a calm, collected Morgan meticulously arranging shrubs in a the garden of a Sanitarium. He is visited by a now pregnant Vanessa Redgrave, who telling him the child is his, tosses her head back and laughs in a slightly manic manner, in stark contrast to the now conformist Morgan. An ambiguity hangs in the air.. an uncomfortable judder that, were we standing, might necessitate a step backward. An element of comfort arrives in the final shot though, as the camera pulls back and reveals what Morgan has been so engrossed in.. a flower bed, in the shape of a hammer and sickle. Viva la revolution.

‘Then raise the scarlet standard high.
Within its shade we’ll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.’