Trigger warning / Spoiler Warning
Just watched Peter Strickland’s amazing film Berberian Sound Studio. It stars Toby Jones as Gilderoy, a repressed (or is he just normal for his home context?) British foley artist and sound mixer hired by Italian filmmakers to create sound effects for a satanic exploitation flick.
Berberian Sound Studio is a study of male fear and hatred of women.
The horror movie that we hear (never see) being made is about the undead revenge of women who were tortured and killed as witches. The slimey director spouts pretentious bullshit about how his film is an important social document, intended to honestly portray and condemn the abuse of such women, to recognise their suffering, etc… yet his film rests upon the assumption that the women who were accused of witchcraft were, in fact, witches. Otherwise, how could they come back from the dead in satanic rituals?
The torture – involving, at one crucial point, a red hot poker being inserted into a woman’s vagina – is shown lovingly on screen… though, as I say, we (that is, the viewers of Berberian Sound Studio) don’t see it. Gilderoy sees it though. He sees it again and again and again. He has to wait until the crucial moment to come round on a loop so he can drop fat into a frypan, thus creating the appropriate sizzling sound. He has to rip the stalks from radishes to simulate the sound of hanks of hair being ripped from women’s scalps by the priests. The film is comic in the way it shows the sound studio repeatedly ringing with the sounds of the hammering, stabbing and general abuse of various vegetables… yet, the comedy decays as we see the mangled fruit and veg decaying in buckets.
Like the tomato soup that gets splattered all over Gilderoy’s face as he uses a blender to simulate the sound of a woman being carved up with a chainsaw, the rotting cabbages and melons make us think of mutilated human flesh, dehumanized by abuse and then dumped like rubbish. Gilderoy, who spends his normal working life in the UK making gentle documentaries about nature rambling, has never imagined such horrors.
In the studio he is surrounded by women who are working for the men in charge of the picture. It is quite disconcerting to see the women co-operating (if reluctantly, in the probably vain hope of being paid one day) in the production of such a blatantly misogynistic film. The men, needless to say, are unconscious of any such irony… with the possible exception of Gilderoy, who never manages to raise much resistance despite his qualms. The only woman who seemed uncowed by the relentless male dominance in the studio is the surly secretary Elena, whose legs and bum Gilderoy furtively stares at when following her down a corridor. Part of his transformation is when he learns to be rude and dismissive towards her.
Silvia (one of the voice actresses dubbing the dialogue, hired for her ability to scream) is being sexually harassed by the same director who claims to be making an important meditation on the victims of witchcraft trials. …