Cast & Crew
Dr Robert Ballard
E. G. Marshall
Dr Robert Ballard
New ideas about the causes of geologic events, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, may help humanity both to predict them and to cope with them.
Dr Robert Ballard
Peter C Johnson
Dennis B Kane
Marjorie M Moomey
Barry N Nye
Peter C Strauss
Born of Fire - Peter Firth in BORN OF FIRE - A 1983 Mystical Fantasy Cult Film by Director Jamil Dehlavi
Horror movies taking an expressly metaphysical tack risk putting a foot wrong in two ways. The project can embrace mysticism and magical thinking too tightly, with the result being as incomprehensible and risible as John Boorman's Zardoz (1973). Conversely, erring on the side of accessibility leaves us with something like The Omen (1976) and its sequels, in which early death is the price for opposing the Antichrist, who as such seems no more infernal than the Mafia or diabetes. Born of Fire skates the fine line between these potential pitfalls and is all the more persuasive for clocking in at under 90 minutes. The script by Dehlavi and Raficq Abdulla (a celebrated poet and expert on Muslim mysticism) begins well in London, with a series of queer incidents and images (some suffered by the protagonists, some seen only by the audience) and the odd relationship between the characters played by Firth and Crowley. Though little is offered by way of character development, there's something oddly endearing and rather rare (for what is ostensibly a horror film) about the pairing and their initially tentative, courtly overtures toward one another. The film's ingenuously human qualities go by the wayside as the action shifts in the second act to Turkey, at which point the characters begin to perform in the service of strangeness and Born of Fire defaults to a trippy succession of mystical images.
Often described as "the first Islamic horror film," Born of Fire remains of interest above and beyond that possibly inaccurate designation (Turkey was cranking out its own variations on Hollywood horror films as early as the 1950s) for providing a cultural context for Western notions concerning the Devil. Alternatively known in the Koran as Shaitan (corrupted by the English speaking as Satan), Iblis had been intended by Allah to serve as a sort of mentor or guardian angel to mankind. (The ratio of djinni to men is reportedly 1:1.) Created "out of the fire of scorching winds," the prideful Iblis refused to prostrate himself before man (who was sculpted from lowly clay) and was duly cast out of Heaven. The association of this infernal apostate with fire begat both the satanic variant Lucifer ("bringer of light") and Prometheus (whom mythology avers gifted mankind, at his own peril, with the secret of fire). The Prometheus connection is especially interesting given that mythical construct's shared lineage with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. That the diffident human flutist Paul Bergson must "turn the flute away from evil, away from the fire" (to quote Bilal) and take Iblis on in a sort of battle of the bands puts Born of Fire in the seemingly unlikely company of the Charlie Daniels' foot-stomper "The Devil Came Down to Georgia," although at the back of both these confections are the ghosts of Goethe and Stephen Vincent Benét.
Financed by Britain's Channel 4 and shot over the course of seven arduous weeks by Bruce McGowan (Letter to Brezhnev, 1985), Born of Fire is an exceptionally striking production, whose mystical longueurs are more than compensated for by the otherworldly Turkish landscapes (specifically a honeycomb of rock-cut tombs, phallic monoliths and lunar salt formations in Cappadocia, close to the border of Syria) and Jamil Dehlavi's painterly eye for composition. Mondo Macabro's anamorphic 1.85:1 digital transfer has been taken from a negative source, resulting in a stunning presentation that reveals a small amount of fine grain only in instances of low level lighting. The film's largely subdued but nonetheless evocative soundtrack is well-served even by a basic 2.0 Dolby Digital mix. (Trivia: Firth's fluting was piped in by James Galway, aka "The Man with the Golden Flute.") Mondo Macabro's characteristically handsome presentation offers some exclusive interviews with Jamil Dehlavi (who fills the background on the film's financing, Peter Firth (who relates this film to a foolish, youthful disinclination to make commercial features which he now regrets) and Nabil Shaban (seen more recently in Alfonso CuarónChildren of Men ). Born with osteogenesis imperfecta in 1953 and confined to a wheelchair, Shaban had come to the production via a casting director and relates a humorous anecdote of his first meeting with Jamil Dehlavi, who was unable to mask his horror at the performer's twisted physical condition. A bona fide raconteur whose comments are the most consistently informative and entertaining, Shaban also alleges that leading lady Suzan Crowley confessed to him during shooting that she was not only a student of the occult and Egyptology but a descendant of Aleister Crowley to boot.
For more information about Born of Fire, visit Mondo Macabro. To order Born of Fire, go to TCM Shopping.
by Richard Harland Smith