On Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio


In a way, this is the entire thesis of Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio. The character of Silvia points to her image projected on a screen and then to herself, and in doing so parses fiction from reality. This is an opposition to which the characters return repeatedly throughout the film. Another opposition is that between Gilderoy and his colleagues. Gilderoy cannot properly parse film from reality, whereas everyone else around him can. Strickland portrays this opposition in several ways, but most often as a culture clash between English-speaking Europe and Continental Europe.

I personally don’t believe in ‘cultural zeitgeist’ (it’s an obsolete, 18th- and 19th-century concept and I’d like to think that society is much more complex than a ‘spirit of an age’) but one could read the opposition between Gilderoy and his colleagues as an opposition in aesthetic choices that developed between the English-speaking world and Continental Europe immediately after World War II -the kind of choices Pierre Bourdieu and Clement Greenberg describe in Distinction and Avant-Garde and Kitsch, respectively. Americans and English (the ‘winners’) began to use taste as a form of cultural hegemony, distinguishing ‘good taste’ from ‘poor taste’ when it came to art, literature, cinema, etc. whereas large portions of Europe (the ‘losers’) were of the mind that most art, literature, cinema, etc. wasn’t very ‘good’ anyway.

It’s fitting, then, that the setting of Berberian Sound Studio is the Italian film industry in the mid-1970s. In a sense, Gilderoy signifies Anglophone film audiences and critics: a preference for realism and authenticity, a desire to ‘identify with’ or ‘relate to’ what’s happening onscreen, and a moralizing, shame-based attitude toward nudity, sex and violence. The characters of Francesco, Silvia, and others signify film audiences and criticism of Continental Europe: film is not reality, and there is no reason to conflate the two since you know logically that what you’re seeing onscreen is fake.

Strickland’s film takes the ‘European’ sensibility seriously, particularly in the last thirty minutes when the film shifts from being explicitly about filmmakers in a sound studio to Strickland implicitly making the film itself in front of us.


3 thoughts on “On Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio”

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