Tuesday, August 28, 2012
A Berberian Ripper
Berberian Sound Studio is a very peculiar picture, and I sat there for a good chunk of its run time not really knowing what on Earth the whole point was. It was interesting, definitely, but I was waiting for something to happen. I mean, film generally dictates that stuff kinda has to happen. Even if at a film festival the potential is much lower. Still, waited patiently I did and while I was certainly getting a kick out of all the creepy, atmospheric ways that the director was able to utilise the art of sound editing I was eager for something, you know? By the time Strickland's film played out its magic dance around the maypole of looniness in its final act, I was in quiet awe. Not only was the film's final act something that the film needed in order to make its lasting impression, but it was something I personally needed.
I'd longed for a film all festival long that would give me the unnerving sense of the unknown. None of the "Night Shift" titles (essentially those devoted to genre elements, of which Berberian feels like a natural fit, alas...) really did that for me this year. At least none of the ones I saw. My friends and I basically all exited the cinema with a state of perplexed wonder. The rabbit hole of madness that the characters appear to collapse into throughout the second half are so fascinating to watch play out that I ended up having a hoot of a time. You'll never look at British nature documentaries the same! Also, it must be said, it was so great to experience a film and help turn it into one of the must see films of the festival. It's my understanding that people were promptly trying to make subsequent screenings after hearing about the success of the film from us early birds. Berberian Sound Studio is sure to be one of David Lynch's favourite films of the year!
The movie does have a local distributor and I hope for audiences' sake that it gets a theatrical release (those in Sydney will apparently get the chance to see it at the Sydney Underground Film Festival) because - for rather obvious reasons - it is a film that utilises sound design in such a manner that demands a cinema viewing setting. From the crunching of a watermelon with an axe, to the bloody-curling scream of an Italian dubbing actress, Berberian Sound Studio is a film to be enveloped by. It lives and dies on its sound design, and it passes with flying colours. The film itself will prove a confounding wonder for many and a boring mess for others, but its evocation of a very specific time and place had me enraptured. Loved it.
Initially banned in Australia, New York Ripper follows a city entangled in the vice-like grip of a depraved killer. It certainly takes a more tourist-like look at the city than, say, William Lustig's Maniac - rarely does an establishing shot go by that doesn't feature an NYC landmark or sunny postcard shot, although the majority of the film was clearly not filmed on location ("grindhouse tourism" nails Slant - but that lends it a disconcerting atmosphere that works a treat. Where it doesn't succeed is in Fulci's troubling representation of sex and fetishes, which are treated as more or less demonic, deserving of punishment. There's certainly a filthy leery-eyed old man aesthetic to the whole thing that is rarely comfortable to watch. And then there are scenes where nipples are cut in half by razor blades. Yeah, make up whatever meaning you like for that. Various strands strain for relevance and others have genuine tension. It's a strange movie like that.
I guess it makes sense that I should follow up something like Berberian Sound Studio, itself little more than an expertly crafted technical display, with New York Ripper. Fulci's film is hardly scary, but there's still skill to be found to make it an involving experience. If somewhat limited, obviously.