A quick survey of Twitter, Facebook and a few real ‘meat people’ within sniffing distance reveals that this DVD cover for Peter Strickland‘s really rather good Berberian Sound Studio is widely considered rather misleading.
Indeed, Strickland himself has made a “restrained post” on his blog about the artwork:
Nobody would dream of packaging quince jam in a spam tin, so why should Berberian Sound Studio be packaged in such a way that promises the unrelenting gore normally associated with the ‘Saw’ franchise. It’s not about being an arty purist, it’s simply about the ethics of misleading fans of gore/horror who might buy the Berberian DVD in good faith. It’s not fair on them.
Which takes it for read that anybody still assumes a DVD cover tells us something, anything much of value about the film inside. I’ve not believed that for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure if this makes me naïve or cynical.
Still, it’s an ugly cover. I understand it’s an ASDA exclusive – ASDA being the UK supermarket chain that’s owned by Walmart. They’re only part of the chain that lead to this coming into play, however. The film’s distributor, Artificial Eye, had to take some part in this too.
Here’s the main cover for the film, the one that will sit on most copies. It’s based upon a poster from the cinema release.
It’s less like the cover for a typical, shovelshow lowest common denominator horror film – largely thanks to the colour scheme change – but more like… what exactly? The photo cut-out look harks back to a time before photoshop and that evokes the 70s setting, sure. And Toby Jones doesn’t really come with the same baggage as, say, nondescript screamy face.
Still, I think anybody who expects the cover of a DVD to accurately convey the tone and subtlety of a film, or expects certain design types to denote different degrees of quality probably deserves to miss out on all of the gems they’ll doubtlessly overlook.
It might even be said to be a bit of an elitist argument – “Oh, the plebs who’d jump at a cover like this just won’t appreciate this film. Spam eaters would want to watch this, not connoisseurs of fine quince jelly.”
I do understand, however, that a fine poster or cover can go some way to evoking a feeling, a mood, and definitely a genre. Of course, none of those things are markers of quality, just of type, and I also resist the idea that any member of the audience will turn their nose up at quality because it’s not quite the category of film they were expecting.
Berberian Sound Studio is, for the most part, an engaging, atmospheric and thoughtful film. I really liked it, and I know loads of folk who agree – and a good handful who don’t. And not a DVD cover in the world could tell you which of those camps you would fall into.