Supposedly birth is a beautiful thing. I think that’s horseshit. I’ll go ahead and consent that a baby can sometimes be a beautiful thing (this is not one of those times.) But the actual birthing process? No way. I have been quoted as comparing childbirth to a process “just like menstruation with a big chunk in the middle. A big, squirming, screaming chunk.”
Birth has the abject makings of a good horror scene built right in, but it seems that filmmakers are often reluctant to include all the gory, nasty, squirming details.
So, in honor of the belated Mother’s Day, the upcoming Father’s Day, and my recent viewing of The Tin Drum, here is my Top Five Birth Scenes in Film.
5. Window Water Baby Moving (Stan Brakhage, 1962) – While potentially full of controversy and problems, this film captures the process of birth in a film that, as far as I know, had yet to be captured. Fragmented, silent, and poetic, the film seems to ruminate on Brakhage’s experience with the birth of his son, without really considering his wife’s experience. The poetic nature of the film chops up any pain or emotions that the mother might be having, and the frame always seems to capture the man’s intervention in the process (through the doctor’s or father’s hands). However, it is beautifully shot and thoughtfully edited. Brakhage claimed that he couldn’t have been present for the birth if it hadn’t been for camera, which put a barrier between him and what he was actually seeing.
4. The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979) – You know a mother really loves her child when she would do anything to keep the child with her, including sending her little midget brood to murder the kid.
And how have these little midgets come into being?
mmmmm. Placenta. Nola, as the “Queen Bee” births dozens of little cleft-lipped monsters by biting into a bloody placenta growing in an outside the body womb. The film as a whole is terrifying, but the final moments of the film, equating birth with monstrosity, are fantastic. For similar, disgusting and deformed birth imagery, you might want to check out Cronenberg’s The Fly.
3. The Miracle of Life (Mikael Agaton, 1996) – This was the film that people my age in Utah County school districts had to get permission slips from their parents to see. But compared to the two films already listed, this one is just not that graphic. What makes this film stand out is its stunning photography. A little made-for-tv-documentary feeling (because that’s exactly what it was), The Miracle of Life is still widely viewed and credited with showing us inside-the-womb images we had never seen before.
2. The Tin Drum (Volker Schlondorff, 1979) – The reason this scene captured my attention so much was because they film from the perspective of the baby, who is actually not much of a baby at all. In fact, the same child actor, David Bennent, played Oskar in every scene: from the womb to adulthood. It is more than a little creepy to see an 11-year-old kid bathing in a bowl of birthing fluids and gazing up at us calmly. The film adaptation of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story also films the birth of a full-grown man, but with much more comedic effects.
Apparently 1979 was a good year for births. Because in addition to The Brood and The Tin Drum, we got “Boy Meet’s World’s” Rider Strong and Dance! Workout with Barbie’s Jennifer Love Hewitt.
1. Extremely Private Eros: Love Song 1974 (Kazuo Hara, 1974) – In this scene Miyuki Takeda, a former lover of Hara’s decides that she wants to deliver her baby all on her own. In the longest film birth I’ve ever seen, and without any stylistic camera choices (besides cutting occasionally, for, what seems to me, length reasons) Takeda pushes out her baby onto a pile of newspapers, explaining the process to the camera as she goes. Besides a friend who is respectfully keeping her distance, Takeda undergoes the whole process alone and naturally. Though not the more poetic of the birth scenes I have mentioned so far, this film seems to capture the female experience of birth more than any other I have come across.
So there you have it. The beauties of birth.