Thursday, 12 January 2012

Like Eraserhead? You have to see Begotten

Artistic. Bizarre. Obscure. What the fuck? Just some of the ways you can describe E. Elias Merhige's 1991 bootleg classic, Begotten.

What to say about this film? Well, how about making sure you know it is a challenge to watch. Low budget with no dialogue or music (but with soundscapes), and in black and white, but with no greys in between, making it all that more dissident, Begotten is a piece of art but in an acceptable film form (as opposed to those lame ducks that are 4 hour long loops in galleries).

If you are a fan of Eraserhead or the more obscure side of cinema, this one is for you, but be warned, it pulls no punches. Unlike other films of a similar ilk that turn to black humor to ease the weird-factor, Begotten sets out on a determined path, and by God, it will not stop. Like an ambient song, a lot of it's technique is repetition and drawn-out scenes, so the 80ish minute running time amounts to far fewer scenes than you may be used to, but for a style than could be boring, it actually adds to the film, letting you digest and ponder over what it means.

What does it mean, you may ask. Well, good luck on that one. It is a telling of the story of Genesis, and inspired by a near-fatal car crash the director had when he was 19, so the religious iconography is on display throughout, with the first (and in my opinion, best) scene literally God killing himself. Nihilistic and unrepentant, the film is not an atheist hate-fest, but a ponder-piece, where you the viewer must accept or decline the harsh images you are seeing. And hey, the truth is never pretty, as they say.

Shown: Not pretty.

The film is well regarded and has quite an eclectic fan-base, with Nicolas Cage asking the director to helm Shadow of the Vampire, and Marilyn Manson using parts of the film for his song Cryptorchid, along with newly filmed footage of the shock-rocker himself (see the video below).

It is no surprise people were drawn to the stark style Merhige gave us. He painstakingly added filters to each frame, allegedly taking up to 10 hours for each minute of film.

It did have an official DVD release a long time ago, but the company went under and now the film survives as a bootleg easily found online. What can I say? It's not a film you will share at a party or watch casually, but it is a masterpiece in its own right and has earned its place in the patheon of arthouse cinema. 

And you can watch the FULL thing, right here. 

What do you think? Does the silent film speak volumes or fail to rise above the noise?