Troma films are f usually for a special breed of movie watcher. With such titles as “The Toxic Avenger”, “Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid” and their latest assault on the cinematic world “Poultryguiest” Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz have brought the visions of countless directors to the world for better or worse. For independent filmmakers around the world they have a true friend in Troma. Weather it’s a shot on dv back yard slasher flick or a 35mm zany comedy made on short ends and re-cans Troma is more than happy to distribute it with all their Toxic charm.
Although most of their films are of questionable taste and quality, Troma will every so often pick up a film that is a true diamond in the rough. This year they brought one such film to the world… BEG!
Adapted from the David Glass play of the same name, BEG! is surreal and frightening celluloid nightmare, dripping from the same vein as such classic films as “1984”, “A Clockwork Orange” and “Brazil.” Considering that this film was an official selection of the Sundance Film festival, was nominated for Best film at Fantasporto and was voted ‘Best of the Fest’ at Edinburgh international film festival, it’s asstounding that it took twelve years for this film to get picked up, and by of all companies, Troma.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge troma fan and blame Lloyd Kaufman’s immortal “The Toxic Avenger” for infecting me with the filmmaking bug at an early age. I love routing for Troma because it is a funny twist of fate that green slime, animal parts, and big, bouncing boobs (not just female breasts but public access grade actors as well) would keep the worlds oldest independent film company running for so long.
As a storyteller I don’t like to ruin the plot of a film for those of you who may see it so I’ll keep it simple with out giving away the goods. The film is set ina nightmarish hospital in an indeterminable time. Sometime it feels like the 20’s from the instruments and ballroom scenes, some times it seems like the present, and sometimes it seems like a grim future. The film surrounds a gruesomely unusual murder or a head doctor, who is also the lover of Dr. Penelope Seconds (Peta Lilly). Through out the film Detective Sergeant Stillskin (Philip Pellew) is trying to find out who the killer is, while Dr. Seconds fights to save her women’s ward at the hospital and take care of her dying father.
The first truly outstanding aspect of the film is Robert Golden’s amazing visual style. To say that this film is stylish is like saying the gold in fort knox is shiny. Everything in the set design is eerily old and dirty. The colors in the film are deep and vivid like a technicolor nightmare. My favorite visual choice in the whole film is a bright white hallway with colored glass bottles lining the wall in a line, the most beautiful site of the whole film, leading to the bleak autopsy room. Genius.
What I love most about the film however is not the style or story but a single character. Philip Pellew’s interpretation of Stillskin is brilliant. Pellew’s is a stranger to the film world, having only played this one film roll, but has been working with the David Glass ensemble on various theater parts for over twenty years.
Stillskin is the most truly innocent character of the entire film. He is a child in every way except physical stature and age. His entire being is controlled by a strange bald german man Hal (Olegar Fedoro) who communicates to him through an implant in his ear and a microphone on his tooth. His ‘boss’ rules over him from a far away place day and night, guiding him on what to say and do. Stillskin is a terrible detective and has a strange habit of eating at odd times (such as eating grapes over the dead body of Dr. Second’s lover as he questions her). Furthermore, like a child Stillskin resorts to intimidation tactics and has emotional outbursts for no true reasons. His emotional turmoil begins to clash with his investigation when he falls in love with Dr. Seconds.
Stillskin is by far the most sympathetic of all the characters. He is treated more like an inhuman creature than a man. When Hal is speaking to Stillskin to make him sleep tells him “sleep, sleep the beast Stillskin, sleep” because that’s how he sees him. An animal whose only purpose is to be a tool of investigation. There is a polaroid in the film which becomes important to the plot, which Stillskin has sown into his chest, like a pocket, adding even more depth to idea of being a machine. He treats his own body more like a jacket or filing cabinet than that of a human being. It is only his deepening love for Dr. Second’s and his undying trust in her innocence that shows his true humanity and weakness.
One character whom I would have liked to see more of in the film is Dr. Farth (Simon Fisher-Baker), who is the autopsy doctor. His diabolical, and nutty portrayal of the character was well executed and added a great deal to the over all tone of the setting and the film. His delight in the stitch work associated with the killers method of homicide is an erie and unnerving experience. The costuming for Dr. Farth, his thick glasses and turn of the century style light strap makes the hospital seem all the more grim and dirty.
Except for Stillskin there are not many sympathetic characters. Dr. Seconds, our lead, is the least sympathetic of all. Peta Lilly does a satisfactory job of portraying the strange sexuality and mental deterioration of Dr. Seconds. Dr. Seconds is at hear a lost child, whom ultimately is the one making those around her ‘beg.’ She is the one with the power here over everything except what is most important to her, keeping her ward open. Although there are other, minor female characters, Dr. Seconds is the only strong, independent female in the film, going head to head with the male dominated world. Although she seems helpless, trapped by the world of hospital politics and male domination, she is truly the one in control.
Another important factor of the film is the setting. Only in the opening shot of the film, when we are shown the front of the hospital to tell the audience of the setting are we taken outside. The whole film takes place inside hospital wards, a ball room, offices, the hospital basement. It all ads an element of being trapped inside the world of the hospital, never getting a true breath of fresh air.
An important thing to realize about BEG! is that it must be seen at least three times to truly pick up on all the detail work that Robert Golden has painstakingly put into the film. I am a person who has trained himself over the years to pick up on details in films because it is my area of study and ultimately the profession I hope to be in. It’ took me three viewings to notice subtle hints toward key plot points, which only minority helped to clear up the question I was left with from the first two viewings. This is a think piece above all, not just mere entertainment. If you do not give this film your full attention when viewing it you will miss plenty.
The DVD release is a little disappointing because other than a trailer it offers no audio commentary, behind the scenes or any other nuggets of joy one could hope for on this disc. The only extras are the standard trailers and Lloyd Kaufman interview. I can only hope that some day Troma will release a special edition of the film with some great extras.
So to sum up the experience that is BEG!, this film is a modern master piece. It is a shame that it has taken so long for it to finally receive a true home video release and I can only hope that it will become a cult classic now that Troma is distributing it. If there is any Troma release that should be on the shelves of every film lover in the world it is Robert Golden’s Beg!