Repost of an old tumblr entry, prompted by exchanging some mild pleasantries with Toby Jones this morning at the local market.
berberian sound studio was the best film i’ve seen in years (and I like it even more this morning), because of
- its spatial and physical representation of sound to create a tangible psychic landscape within which the events of the film take place.
- the remarkable way which the film allows its sonic & psychical content to constitute the reasoning and plot of the film. yes, the clue’s in the title, but it still seems an artistically daring thing to do (the film is rather runic) and requiring exceptionally brilliant execution to
work, which it gets.
- its mapping of the whole frigid anglican male v
catholic kitsch schlock v genuine evil. i did half wonder whether the whole virginal and pure anglican male thing was slightly played out or in danger of being trite (wicker man, yes, but also wolf solent by john cowper powys, arthur machen’s earnest young post-victorian men, disorientated in fin de siecle aestheticism). But
for several reasons this isn’t the case. Toby Jones is great, for a start, with his mole in wind in the willows features, also, the film avoids triteness by playing the role subtly, its only an element of the film, not the point. there’s also a scene… no, that’s another point. but there is that always interesting exploration of the
strength of purity against corruption, and how
puritanism itself is intensely corruptible, more so than more pragmatic spiritual states, which in fact, by being less corruptible, are more secure. just with regard to that point about ‘genuine evil’ by upping the tangibility of sound in the film, something to the appreciation of evil, itself intangible or difficult to capture. it’s as if the viewer’s radar has been readjusted to appreciate the taste of things in a film that would not normally be portrayable. there is a subtle sense of how madness comes creeping in on the back of evil, how they work together. i’ve since seen reviews which say that gilderoy goes ‘mad’, i think that’s an exceptionally simplistic approach to take to this film – it’s also taking a non- literal film very literally – nevertheless, madness, or rather mental unhingeing, plays its part.
- the documentary of box and leith hill. a brief and wonderful scene that played straight to my heart and mind. my heart, because it’s some of the countryside i love most (was it cobbett who said that dorking was reputed to have the sweetest air in england – before
the M25 of course). my head, because of the way it located the battles going on in the sound studio and in gilderoy’s head in english pastoral – it was both a moment of sweet respite, and a representation of the malign or sinister pastoral of john cowper powys, machen, also john ireland – the dismembered rural, the something nasty in the woodshed, the rustic earth as inimical to human civility. so yes, this was pure catnip to me. maybe i’m overplaying it as a consequence, but this is a very associational film (brief memories or
moments of reality flash up in gilderoy’s head,
stimulated by momentary verbal or imagistic
- it being, in my experience, a very accurate portrayal of how italians and english work together.