1991 | B&W | 78 min (Feels like roughly 17½ hours)
Starring: Brian Salzberg, Donna Dempsey, Stephen Charles Barry, and a bunch of hooded film school students.
Directed By: E. Elias Merhinge (May God have mercy on his soul…)
Generally speaking, I’m not really someone who strays into the world of so-called art films. You aren’t very likely to catch me screening something from the likes of say, Ingmar Bergman. However, I have recently begun to wonder if I have perhaps developed an unfair prejudice towards the highbrow side of cinema. Have I become so set in my cinematic ways that I have been depriving myself of an entire genre of film? How many terrific films are forever out of my reach simply due to my close-minded ways? Come to think of it, I rather enjoyed several of Akira Kurasawa’s films, could the works of Herzog and Lynch really be too far of a jump to make? On a lark, I endeavored to find out.
My impromptu search quickly turned up a film which, according to Susan Sontag, was “one of the ten most important films of modern times.” That film was Begotten. Much to my dismay, Begotten not only reinforced my healthy disdain for this type of film, but ultimately made me question the very merits of what is currently and commonly accepted as “art.”
Begotten opens with a man sitting in a chair. He is shaking violently and holding a straight razor. After convulsing for awhile, he proceeds to violently stab at his torso and cut out his intestines. Imagine Michael J. Fox attempting to commit ritual seppuku and you should get the idea. After he dies, a half naked women crawls out from behind his lifeless body and begins rubbing herself, all the while twirling around like some sort of obscene whirling dervish. After getting good and dizzy, she performs a few unspeakable acts on the dead man’s corpse and proceeds to rub the resulting “man-chowder” all over herself.
Following that lovely bit of necrophilia, the audience is then treated to a seventy minute torture scene (coincidentally it’s also torture for anyone unfortunate enough to still be watching) filled with violent beatings, rape, stabbings, cannibalism, and, because the director apparently felt that his hideous creation wasn’t quite hideous enough on its own, several inserts of mass grave footage from the holocaust. Of course, in keeping with the art house tradition, there is an abundance of male nudity as well. Apparently nothing says “art” quite like watching some poor guy’s tallywhacker being repeatedly smashed by a log. Man, how I wish I was making that up.
Now all of this would be really gross, if it were actually possible to discern exactly what the heck was happening on screen. Keep in mind that Begotten, in addition to possessing a soundtrack featuring nothing but the sounds of wind and crickets, was filmed entirely in a grainy, out of focus, overexposed black and white, so mercifully you can’t really make out anything.
While attempting to watch this cinematic pile of excrement, I happened to notice my cat cleaning herself. It immediately occurred to me that if director E. Elias Merhinge had instead filmed eighty minutes of a house cat licking its own backside, I would have found that to be a little more engrossing than the incoherent pile of pseudo-cinema which I was currently enduring. I suspect more than a touch of directorial schadenfreude behind Mr. Meringe’s nasty little film. Surely he must take obscene delight in the knowledge that anyone watching Begotten will no doubt be experiencing pain and suffering on a level which no other film has ever inflicted upon them. I find it difficult to imagine that any film could unintentionally be this hateful, misanthropic, nihilistic, and downright painful to endure.
In the interest of fairness, I will say that I do appreciate the massive amount of time and effort that went into the making this film. Reportedly Mr. Merhinge spent several years pouring nearly ten hours of optical work into every minute of film to achieve his desired look. While that kind of dedication and persistence is to be admired for sure, his finished work is sadly the cinematic equivalent of a seventy-eight minute drum solo. I can certainly appreciate the effort involved, but who the hell wants to sit through that?
Despite my supreme dislike for this film, it has inspired me to create my own film for the art house crowd. Filmed silent and in black and white, it will open with a naked man, wearing nothing but a feline half-mask as he stands in front of an open grave. Every few seconds an Asian midget dressed as Mao Tse-Tung will pound on his junk with a giant clown hammer. In the background a beautiful blond woman sporting a small Hitler mustache will be breastfeeding a G.I. Joe doll while alternating between fits of laughter and uncontrollable sobbing. After an hour or so of this, a decrepit old woman holding a live chicken by the neck will shuffle up to the grave. She will stare directly at the camera, hold up the chicken, and snap its neck. Immediately afterward I will zoom in tight on her eyes as she whispers the film’s only line of dialog, “Where’s the beef?” Fin.
Pretty deep, huh? If only Susan Sontag were still alive, I’m sure I’d be an international success within the week.
Reviewed by Derek Miller
Posted April 23, 2009
Video Clip – Trailer