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  Begotten Feeling Creative
Year: 1991
Director: E. Elias Merhige
Stars: Brian Salzberg, Donna Dempsey, Stephen Charles Barry
Genre: WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: The sea, a seagull, a shack in the woods... and within that shack, sits God (Brian Salzberg) on a chair, coughing up blood and shaking. By and by he cannot stand his condition any longer and takes a cutthroat razor to his belly, hacking away at his innards that spill down his legs and onto the floor. Understandably he expires shortly after, but soon there is movement from under his robe and Mother Earth (Donna Dempsey) emerges into the sunlight, determined to do a better job of bringing life to this world than the suicidal God has done...

Begotten was an experimental film that caught the mood of a surprising amount of viewers, who took it as a challenge to get to the end of its murky goings-on. There is nothing audience-friendly about the film, and at many times it's difficult to make out what precisely is happening with its stark black and white photography, closeups that remain unilluminating and utter lack of dialogue by way of explanation. It's only at the end and you see the credits that you get an inkling that this is some sort of telling of the creation myth, with the brutality of an ancient Greek legend.

Alas, the film does not have the imagination of a Greek legend, much less their sense of archetype, and despite its reputation of being both fascinating and disturbing, the truth is that what Begotten is is in fact excruciatingly boring. It might only last just over an hour, but it feels like an eternity - the sole aspect that achieves the epic quality being strained for. There were comparisons made with David Lynch's Eraserhead, as both were shot in monochrome and both have a nightmarish quality, yet Begotten looks less like the mastery of that film and more like a student project that careered out of control.

E. Elias Merhige was the man responsible for this, being the producer, writer, cameraman and more: he might even have made the tea on the set as well. He would go on to more conventional works, but to his credit it does appear as if his artistic vision was realised here on what looks like a tiny budget. To give the film some atmosphere, the footage was worked on for months after it was shot which renders it looking as if it was discovered in someone's cellar after a long time forgotten, but while distinctive, it does not offer a visually stimulating look.

What it does offer is a bunch of guys dressed as monks - why does it always have to be monks? - wandering across a blasted wasteland and victimising a naked man (Stephen Charles Barry) who, it turns out, is meant to symobolise the suffering of humanity. Certainly you'll be suffering as you watch this chap convulse his way through the film, dragged across the ground with a rope and generally punished for coming into being: the film takes an extremely pessimistic approach to existence that is less existential and more "Poor me! Life is so unfair!" navel gazing. You have to admire Merhige for sticking to his guns and giving up nothing that would be seen as accomodating, but my goodness, it's tedious. Music by Evan Albam.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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