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NYFF: Director Peter Strickland Talks 'Berberian Sound Studio,' Toby Jones & The Forced Digital Revolution

Photo of Christopher Bell By Christopher Bell | The Playlist October 13, 2012 at 1:03PM

Aspiring filmmakers should take note of British helmer Peter Strickland -- with few shorts under his belt and a small wad of cash (about £25,000 which was spent mostly on film stock), the director headed to Hungary and shot an atmospheric, deeply nuanced movie and spent the next two years tweaking the edit and soundsphere. “Katalin Varga” was born, and though its distribution left something to be desired, the movie itself was one of the most impressive feature debuts in a long time -- cheaply shot on celluloid and highly masterful, absent were the hiccups or generous shots of people-talking-in-apartments that are contained in most first feature attempts.
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Berberian Sound Studio
There’s some misogyny in the film among the film crew, and on the opposite end, it seems like Gilderoy can’t even hold a conversation with a woman.
In hindsight the film could be in danger of being against Italians, but it wasn’t intended to be like that. In our movie it was only the producer and the director that were behaving badly. It’s not specific to horror directors, because a lot of those directors when you hear about them you just hear that they’re big gentlemen. In my mind, Santini’s not even a director, he’s just a playboy.

It’s just a cool thing for him.
He’d rather be at a fashion show than on a film set. So to me he’s just an asshole. [laughs] Not a great thing to tell an actor. I don’t know why, but men relating to women just interests me. You have two very different sides to it, Francesco treats women in a very degrading manner, but he’s very hands off. I guess the misogyny in horror kind of feeds into that. It is there, but it’s something, I don’t know where it comes from, but it has to be addressed. But the whole thing that kind of fascinates me, when Santini says he has to address these terrible things that happened to these women in his film, in a way he’s making a critique of misogynism, but he’s fueling it even more. That’s my issue. ‘Berberian’ isn’t against horror, it’s against horror directors trying to defend all of these horrible things.

Berberian Sound Studio
Right. Sometimes very lazily; less of an intent reasoning and more of an excuse.
It’s like when newspapers talk about a certain violent event and put in bold lettering "stabbed three times" and "battered" in bold letterings, what they’re telling you is really terrible but they’re sensationalizing it. And I love Fulci because he doesn’t defend his work at all, he says it’s horror and entertainment, he doesn’t excuse it at all. It’s more an arthouse film when directors defend the horror. It’s kind of arrogant to say that you’re high-minded about violence because you can’t control how your audience interprets your images. No matter how serious Michael Haneke might be about his films, I’m sure that, sadly, there’s enough people getting off on his images and appropriating them for their own sick reasons. Even with ‘Berberian’ I’m sure some people get off on that sound of torture. It’s just saying, you can talk all the baloney you want about making a serious film, but none of us can control how our images or sounds are appropriated by an audience.

What’s next?
Next one is a love story, I’m doing it with Andy Stark and Pete Tombs who do Ben Wheatley’s films. I was going to do it this year but I’m tied up with ‘Berberian’ and doing the extras for the DVD and the soundtrack. I don’t want to say too much because I feel I might jinx it. There’s something else I’m doing with Alexandra Stone from CMP (Creative Management and Productions) but that one’s not until 2014. The other one was very tempting to do this year because I kinda like the idea to keep moving, but I didn’t want to rush it. I’m really into it, though, it’s a very low budget and I like that way of working. For me, strategy and career paths... what’s the point? We’re not doing it for that. If you have a career plan, you should be doing something else. How can you know what is ahead?

Berberian Sound Studio
Something can fall apart very quickly.
It’s kind of weird for me. Obviously you have to pay bills, but within that, try to do something that’s interesting for you. Just practice, really. I remember Hal Hartley talked about this in an interview, and honestly I’m not a big fan of his films, but I really enjoyed what he said: forget the pressure, just better yourself every time. He loves the idea of practicing. I guess also it comes from music, the bands that inspired me were Sonic Youth, Stereolab. They have their albums and in between are split singles, tracks they give away... I find that very liberating, the sketches that lead up to bigger things, you can follow that path. I love that, I’d love to continue doing short films. I hate the idea of them being a business card or calling card.

I don’t think that works any more, really, aside from a certain specific few that are moreso sizzle reels.
It all depends what you want to do, really, and it all goes down to personal taste. I just caught the Quay Brothers exhibition at MOMA and it blew my mind completely. They’ve done feature films but so much stuff in between: posters, short films, book covers. I could spend a whole week in there. It’s one of those occasions that you come out completely inadequate as a filmmaker, but at the same time so liberated and so inspired, and so full of the idea that there’s a world of possibility out there to do stuff. What I love about their films is that it’s a world you enter, it’s not about a narrative it’s about existing in a climate. Kenneth Anger does his films like that as well, just atmosphere. So many films just lack atmosphere at all.
 

This article is related to: Peter Strickland, Berberian Sound Studio, Interview, New York Film Festival


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