Reading the scream in Peter Strickland's 'Berberian Sound Studio'

Melia, Matthew (2017) Reading the scream in Peter Strickland's 'Berberian Sound Studio'. Frames Cinema Journal, 11, ISSN (online) 2053-8812


Peter Strickland’s 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio is a post modern horror film about the mechanics of film itself, as well about the fraught relationship between sound and image. It channels the influence of not only its namesake, the post-modernist voice artist Cathy Berberian, but also the dissident surrealist, writer, artist, practitioner and creator of the Theatre of Cruelty Antonin Artaud (in particular the later experimental work for radio, To Have Done With the Judgement of God, 1947) whose presence in the film is felt in the prominence the scream in the film, both within the narrative and as part of the film’s mise-en-scene and score. The film is about a British sound engineer, Gilderoy, who travels to Italy to the Berberian sound studio to work on a film about horses but instead finds himself involved with a violent Giallo film, The Equestrian Vortex. The paper will discuss the role and presentation of screaming and glossolalia in the film. Screaming in Berberian is disembodied and isolated, it punctures the narrative suddenly and is juxtaposed with ‘silence’ and images of decay and evanescence (a la Samuel Beckett) . It is associated within the text with the fracturing and break down of identity just as the identity of the film itself breaks down along with the ‘identity’ and form of the horror film itself (and more specifically the Giallo film). My paper will offer a close analysis and reading of the film, discussing the use of sound, score and screaming, alongside Strickland’s use of editing and image and the deconstruction of both space and identity.

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