Guts and Grog Tooned Up

Thursday, August 1, 2013

How Begotten Changed My Life

The year is 1996, I'm 17 years old and in my youthful glee I stumble into the only non-corporate video rental shop in my hometown of Hamden, CT. I wander around for a while, looking at the titles of films, but knowing almost nothing about film itself. You see, I had not started down the degenerate side street that is cult film yet. I was on the precipice of what would be the single biggest life changing experience I would ever have. This is bigger than my marriage, bigger than having children, bigger than my divorce, bigger than playing music in front of hundreds of people, and bigger than the first time I tasted Whiskey (which if you know me, that last one was a biggie).

I stare at the comedy section, thinking to myself that some of these films looked fun, but most of them I had already seen. I may not have been a film fanatic then, but I was well versed in comedy. Not one to take too many chances, I grab a copy of AIRPLANE and resign myself to watch it that evening. I walk up to the counter and the one person I knew in the place rings me out. 

"Do you have an account here?" he says as I stare back with glassed over eyes. Shit! I hadn't even thought of that. "uh, no…this is my first time here" "OK we'll get you hooked up, I just need a major credit card."

"Seriously?!" I thought to myself as I struggled with the words to explain that I did not, and for that matter had never once thought about getting a credit card, I still lived at home for fuck's sake! "Yeah…I don't have one" My Acquaintance, his name was Mark and I had met him years before at a surprise party for a friend of mine. My band at the time was supposed to play and he had decided, without bothering to tell me, to tune my ukulele. The problem was, he was a guitarist and had no idea how to tune a uke and had thrown the whole thing out of whack. Thankfully for me I was able to get my shit in order and play, albeit a little late. Surprisingly enough, it wasn't the ukulele business that I remember him for, it was for a comment he made later in the evening. "I want to make myself a jumpsuit out of velour and sit in a hot tub, I imagine that would be the most comfortable a man could ever get". I found out later he had been dropping acid that night and this was his brilliant LSD-induced idea. I never did find out if he made that suit. Where was I? oh yeah… 

"No problem" Mark says to me and proceeds to type a bunch of X's into the system where my credit card number should have gone. This was an act I would greatly come to appreciate 6 years later when one of the employees there accused me of getting free rentals (A false accusation, I might add) and the owner slapped a $100 fine on my account, which he called "retroactive late fees", and banned me from the store. I eventually took on the roguish name of Baron Stamford Von Retrolates for when I would call to speak with my friends who worked there, I haven't been back since.

But on this particular day, as I'm standing there with my copy of AIRPLANE Mark says something to me that would change my life forever. He says "have you checked out our cult film section?" "No thanks, I don't feel like joining any cults" I reply, thinking myself a rapier wit. He chuckles unamused and says "no, seriously, man, I'll hold this…go check it out"

As I stroll the wrong direction towards their adult video section, because it was the only store I had ever seen that didn't keep it's porn in a hidden room, Mark stops me and points towards their back wall. I head back to their cult section and this is the part where I wanna say "AND I FELT NIRVANA SEEING ALL THE AMAZING FILMS THEY HAD!" The problem is, I didn't know what any of these movies were, I recognized a name or two from hearing friends talk. I knew what ERASERHEAD was because I was a Twin Peaks fan and knew some of David Lynch's work. For some reason I knew about THE DARK BACKWARD, no doubt from overhearing my "with-it" friends discuss it's more bizarre aspects. The rest of the wall was a mystery. I start scanning the monolith of alphabetic wonder; 9 1/2 WEEKS, ABBY, AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD, BAD LIEUTENANT, BARBARELLA, BASKET CASE, BEGOTTEN, and so on. I scan the entire wall, but that title "Begotten" keeps attracting my attention. The box was what they called "faced", meaning the art was facing out and I remember it freaking me out to no end. However, like all good disturbed kids, I decided to pick it up and walked it up to the counter.

"How's this?" I ask and Mark smiles a demented toothy smile that I will never forget and says to me "yeah, I think you'll like this…it's about killing a god". "awesome!" I reply as I pay for my rentals and head home. 

At the time I was what most people would call a "night owl", but really I was goddamn nocturnal. I decided to wait to watch the film and looking back I sort of wish I hadn't because the one thing you should never do when encountering BEGOTTEN for the first time, is watch it at 2 am. A title screen comes up and within seconds I'm clutching at my pillow. The Grainy high contrast style, the sad little cabin in the woods, and the creepy "through the window" shot before the big reveal of God Killing Himself is a terror I will not likely experience again in my lifetime. It's also a terror I would not likely wish on anyone else. 

As I sit there, absorbed into the grainy black and white I see disturbing image after disturbing image. I find my brain, against it's better judgement, actually becoming enthralled with the film. I should have turned it off. I should have left it for morning, but my brain thought better and forced me to continue watching. I sat through the entire film. I sat through a god cutting pieces of himself off, a "messiah" being born of these pieces, a tribe of druids kidnap the "messiah" and beat it's sad, naked body. I watched the entire film with my eyes glued to the screen and when I was done I had a strange thought. 

"I want to watch that again" 

And I did.

There was something about this simple, yet savage black and white silent film that sparked my proverbial soul. I was born that day and the way I see the world has not been the same since. I dove face first into that cult wall the next day and I devoted every excess penny I had to watch all of those deranged, absurd, surreal, brilliant, awful, heartfelt, sardonic, twisted, but always fun films. It took me 2 years to finish them all and it has been a quest that I've maintained to this day. It all began with Begotten and I couldn't even begin to thank E. Elias Merhige. I owe my love of the disturbed, the distressing, the provocative, and ultimately, my love of film to him.

- Moe Porne

Make sure to listen to Moe over at No-Budget Nightmares and Drunk on VHS.

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