Director Peter Strickland makes incredibly structured films, live not only with visual splendor but also with auditory and olfactory wonders. Like his previous works, Fabric, Berber sound studyAnd Duke of Burgundyhis last Gastronomic flowit tickles the inner canals of the ears and nose as much as the eyes.
As well as those previous films, Gastronomic flow takes place in a world that resembles ours, albeit entirely from Strickland’s point of view. It’s a world where rock bands document and manipulate cooking food for music and where gastrointestinal problems inspire great works of art.
Gastronomic flow follows an unnamed experimental noise group (played by Fatma Mohamed, Asa Butterfield and Ariane Labed), the recipients of an illustrious residence at the Sonic Catering Institute, run by the eccentric benefactor Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie) and observed by a flatulophobe, self – described a “hacker reporter” named Stones (Makis Papadimitriou). The band goes through the ups and downs familiar to many other biographical films on traditional music, but instead of the guitar they play a blender; instead of writing an opera rock masterpiece, Sonic Caterers transforms a colonoscopy into performance art.
This is an experimental style of music that Strickland helped pioneer as a member of the really noise group, The Sonic Catering Band, who like the band in Gastronomic flow “Recipes” recorded on stage and on vinyl. Oddly, the politics of being in a band is the same regardless of genre.
The Circolo AV spoke to Strickland about his new film, about turning food into music and taking stomach problems seriously.
Club AV: Gastronomic flow is set at the Sonic Catering Institute. Before making movies, you were in the Sonic Catering Band, an experimental noise group, where you and your bandmates recorded food preparation and manipulated it. How did the band inspire the film?
Peter Strickland: Maybe I had to sell the records. I have so many records under my bed that we never sold.
I think a lot of people were making biopic movies, you know, the biopic about Queen and Elton John. It felt a little perverse to do one out of a band no one had heard of. I mean, it’s not quite a biopic. They are so different from us.
[The band] it has become a device for exploring stomach problems. This band in the film is also a little short on ideas and suddenly they pounce on this character, Stones, the reporter. They can use his suffering for their art. I think it was like a starting point for me.
AVC: When you were in the band, were you inspired by gastrointestinal problems to inspire your music?
PS: To be honest, when I was in the band in the 90s, I was so ignorant. I was aware of peanut allergies, but I didn’t know anything about celiac disease or other things. Ninth. When the band existed, we recorded the cooking of food. We would document the cooking of food. We wouldn’t be performing with pots and pans. We just cook a meal and record it. And then, later, we would treat sound the same way you treat food. We’d cut it, lay it, mix it, process it, and so on.
AVC: Do you see the film as an extension of that work?
PS: It is in the same family. This definitely connects. But, you know, I wouldn’t call it a literal extension. I think when you do these things, you are playing a little bit of hide and seek. And part of the fun is not being too obvious about what happened or what didn’t happen.
AVC: The film plays on the dynamics of the band that are not only seen in biographical films but also in music documentaries. You saw the Metallica movie Some kind of monster?
PS: No, I should see it. I really should. I’ve heard of it.
AVC: It’s a really great movie, and it dives into how bands communicate, how they operate. And that goes much deeper than many biopic films, which are usually centered around just one mythical figure. What about that dynamic that you found so inviting?
PS: Well, I’m a huge fan of Spinal stroke. Having been in a band and knowing big bands, it’s interesting. I saw a band the other night. Actually, my first concert since the pandemic. Because I know the band, I read a lot more from their faces than someone who doesn’t know them. Just by seeing their little facial tics, I could tell who is annoyed with whom and so on. This makes for a good drama in a movie, hopefully. I mean, politics, power games, rivalry. There is always mileage in this.
AVC: All your films are very focused on sound. You made the short film Cold Meridiantalking about an ASMR YouTuber, and you made a movie about Foley sound, Berber sound study. Gastronomic flow it’s about creating a live sound and a live sound as a performance. How has this changed your technique?
PS: It’s a weird thing because when we shot it, the program was very short. It was 14 days. When we did it [Berberian Sound Studio] it was a very long program, like three months. Gastronomic flow it was difficult because obviously the band has to push buttons, but we didn’t have time to shoot. So you get what you can, and then you watch it in post-production, and then you put it together as a sonic piece. But this is very much dictated by what, especially what [actors Asa Butterfield and Ariane Labed] they are doing with the machinery and how we modify it together. We have to follow it when we make the sound.
What we would do, we would do rather long improvisations. So that was the Sonic Catering Band, the original members, Tim Kirby and Colin Fletcher doing 20 minute workouts using the same recipes from the movie. You take it off and edit the best or most intense pieces. So you’re using other pieces by Tim Harrison, the sound designer, who would come in and contribute.
So a lot of it is trial and error. There was no plan. I learned early enough that, for me, it’s best to get into a mix of sounds without knowing what you’re doing. You enter in the right gear. But a lot of it is the process of “try this. It doesn’t work. Try something else.” There is a lot of talk about how it will work, and somehow it fits together that way.
AVC: Was the band in the film like the actors who created the music?
PS: Good. They are both. They are making music. When we shot those scenes, we often play music to make them react, which is not the music we used in the final cut, but we just needed something to keep them going. But they got this kind of guideline. Tim and Colin from the band were there to tell them how to operate these things and which buttons to press. So within that, they had a fair amount of freedom. It is then up to us to look at what is being pressed and try to be as faithful to it as possible. We are not always like that. Sometimes the dramatic effect was more important.
AVC: This is your first movie I’ve seen where it’s actually about real artists performing for an audience. But performance comes out in all your films. What fascinates you about performance as an idea?
PS: Fascinates me. There are no doubts. She was there, not just inside Berber but in Duke of Burgundy in a very intimate way. There are really so many levels, especially inside Duke of Burgundy because it is a private performance. It was really fascinating to me.
This is more face value in Gastronomic flow. But also, it’s not for face value because, of course, you have the secondary performance of the impression the characters want to give of themselves. That’s probably why I don’t want to go to social media, because you perform all the time. It must be exhausting. I mean, fair enough, people do. I couldn’t do it. But above all the character of Fatma Mohamed, where she creates this mythology about herself, which is false. Her half of the things she says are her own narrative distorting the truth.
It’s hard to say why these things fascinate me. Many things that I find difficult to put into words. This idea of catharsis is very strong for me in this film, and maybe the others I’ve done, and the characters talk about it. Which is purging. He is trying to eliminate something but he doesn’t know what he is eliminating. I can relate to that.
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AVC: Creating mythology is very common in pop and rock music. Why do musicians feel the need to create that kind of person?
PS: I’d say filmmakers are just as inclined to this as musicians. I’ve seen it a lot in the film industry. A lot comes from a mixture of self-doubt and vanity and, of course, those two are linked together. We all want to look good. But if there’s a caveat here, the more you try to look good, the more risky it becomes in terms of falling to the ground.
It is delivered to us through the media, especially in cinema. A lot is coming up right now with Sarah Polley’s book about working with Terry Gilliam, and it’s about the cult of “genius” and the “legends” that surround them. We’ve seen it with movies like Apocalypse now And Fitzcarraldo. So much emphasis is placed on these takes that sound like nightmares and were nightmares for many people. Kubrick’s thing of doing who knows how many takes to get a chance.
I saw a director talking about it. He was saying, “You know, if a male director could do, say, 100 takes, that director was seen as a genius. But if he did more than two takes, he was seen as indecisive ”, which is what was so revealing and significant about attitudes towards the genre and cinema at the time.
AVC: Do you think Fatma’s character draws a lot of strength from that character? Conversely, Butterfield’s character can just be a little aloof and still retain her power. Fatma’s character really has to be based on who she is. She likes to do outrageous things to get respect.
PS: With the character of Fatma, this is specific to music, this idea of taboo and excess, and the idea of going further each time. Whether it’s in your work or your lifestyle. There is this pressure to be extreme and it can be addictive, especially when you taste the shock or flattery of people at times.
Asa, I know he’s a little bit egoless. I know people who are just happy to be in a band because they just want to do things. They really have no desire to be center stage. So you have all these different characters and their different needs. With the Fatma character, I think a lot of her mythology about her stems from her guilt when she was a child and she laughed at this character having anaphylactic shock. The adult way to deal with it would be to admit it, to somehow come to terms with it. She tries to turn him into a traumatized, asking for help victim, which is a very dark thing to do. But again, distort the things that happen in your life to look better than you normally would.
AVC: Is there anything you hope to say in this interview marathon that you haven’t had a chance to say about the film?
PS: Looking at the stomach seriously was a lot on my mind. Stomach issues are normally reserved for humor in the film and I just wanted to try and get another perspective on it.