Wednesday, 5 September 2012

berberian sound studio (w&d peter strickland)

There's a man who works for BBC films  who recurs in my life. He came to give a talk where I work, he was at EEFF within which we participated. He's a recognisable type, integral not just to the British film industry, but also British culture per se. A figure out of A Dance to the Music of Time, for example. He probably looks younger than he is, which gives him the air of a precocious child. He has a slightly distracted air, and spends a lot of time in public, from what I've seen, apologising for the shortcomings of his employers, and then apologising for apologising. As though he knows there's a bright rosy future out there, if only we knew how to access it. If only our socio-cultural mindset wasn't quite so trapped within the parameters of being British. I always get the impression that he's an intelligent soul and that we'd get on OK if we went for a drink. However, there's also a weary cynicism that hangs over him, which makes me sure that he'd soon tire of my Jesuitical neo-idealism. Which would not be an unreasonable response. I tire of it too.

It did not surprise me that he was in the Curzon Soho yesterday afternoon for a screening of the film and it didn't surprise me that he didn't seem overly beguiled by Strickland's effort, no matter what he says later, leaving in a hurry. What did surprise me was that if this is the case, we were in the same camp. Berberian is one of the few British films I had been looking forward to. The trailer held out the promise of something strange and wonderful. On first viewing, and I suspect that this film merits a second, it didn't quite work for me. The ending is very Lynchian (specifically Lost Highway), with its character inversion/ transformation, but it all felt somewhat mannered and arch; an idea more interesting in theory than in practice. The same goes for the film overall. I was possessed with a strong desire to enjoy it which was never quite fulfilled. Too often it felt like the work of an overly gifted child. Riddled with a presumptive brilliance but lacking the necessary human touch for an audience to do much more than go: Oh, isn't he clever!

Which is the sort of remark I might find myself making in a report for my sometime employers, who are also the employers of the man sitting in front of me. The sort of comment I don't enjoy making because it seems to sit within the confines of the establishment's notions of dramatic orthodoxy. To which I'm inclined to want to say to those who wish to rip up the rulebook: Go for it, do what you like, take the risk. Which is why I wanted Strickland's film to affect me in ways I cannot say it did. To discombobulate, or terrify, or unhinge. It did none of these things, rather it felt ultimately as though it was a theoretical study in how to do these things, like the charts the sound mixer analyses. The notes without the sound.

Having said this, I shall watch it again, probably in the Southern Hemisphere, and re-evaluate. Anything that employs the resources of this industry and attempts to explore rather than retrench deserves to be given a little slack. As I'm sure the man from the BBC would agree. 


As an addendum the following quote from the director seems informative and gives a strong indication of how to watch his film:

"For me, if you approach the film not as a narrative but as you would a piece of music, or a spell almost, something to be experienced, it’s just something sensory, it’s visceral, it’s just on that level, that is how I get off on the film." 

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