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E. Elias Merhige's 'Din of Celestial Birds' is the second part of an
as-yet-unfinished trilogy of films, the first part being his bold and
visionary debut feature 'Begotten'. Most people coming to 'Din
have watched 'Begotten' and are presumably expecting more of the
gruesome and haunting imagery that distinguished the style of that
feature, however as the movie begins we are reassured to "not be afraid
... be comforted ... remember ... our origin..." and certainly the
graphic images of 'Begotten' have been replaced in favour of abstract
images that swirl around the screen, morphing into various shapes
which, with the help of the delicately eerie accompanying music, oddly
enough do indeed invoke a reassuring feeling.
I came away from the film thinking of it as 'Begotten' enacted on a microscopic scale: a depiction of the divine mystery of creation through an exploration of processes prior to it, but where 'Begotten' did so as a metaphorical psychodrama, 'Din ' does this in a style reminiscent of a nature documentary except that it seems like what is being presented is a nature documentary of life on one of the outer planets shot by Man Ray or some other 1920s surrealist!
The opening credits actually attribute the film to Q6, a group consisting of a visual philosopher (whatever that is), a computational visual neuroscientist (whatever that is), a multi-media performance artist, a composer, and a sculptor; all of whom Merhige collected around him to produce the movie in a hands-on fashion employing techniques used by the work of cinema pioneers like the Lumiere brothers, Fritz Lang, and Jean Cocteau, in addition to software and technology created specifically for the film. The effort was certainly worth it as at only 14 minutes (much easier going than the 80 minutes of 'Begotten'!) here is a film which even though it cannot be said to be unique on the grounds that it arguably ploughs the same furrow as it's conceptual predecessor, is nevertheless testament to a unique artistic vision, and which explores the limits of both cinema and human understanding.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Elias Merhige gives us his 2006 14-minute short film "Din of
Celestial Birds". What is the strangest thing about it, is that this
was shot after the director released "normal" movies such as "Shadow of
the Vampire". Timeline-wise you'd expect "Din of Celestial Birds" more
around the years when he directed Marylin Manson's "Anti-Christ
Superstar" or even back in the 80s when he made his first steps in the
business.But nope. This director went right back to his experimental
phase seven years ago.
The film is shot in black and white and works a lot with light effects and darkness from start to finish. It reminded me a bit of a colorless version of a Stan Brakhage movie. However, while I liked some parts, I was rather unimpressed with the whole thing, which eventually even began to drag towards the 10-minute mark. It's one piece of pea-soup fog. If you're interested in experimental films, it's certainly worth a look, especially due to its late creation date and you usually see these kind of films when directors are trying to define their style, otherwise stay away.
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