An astronomer (Suzan Crowley) is checking the skies when she notices what seems to her to be a vast human skull passing in front of the sun in an eclipse that nobody else sees and makes up her mind to tell her old friend Paul Bergson (Peter Firth) about it. He is a flautist and when she tracks him down that evening is giving a recital, though when he catches sight of her lurking in the back of the hall, it triggers something strange: a long, loud, disturbing note that has a mystical quality and causes him to abruptly give up the show, complaining of not feeling well. This is the beginning of a set of experiences that will take them both to Turkey and a new perspective...
Born of Fire was made for Britain's Film Four in the mid-nineteen-eighties, at a time when they were taking more chances on daring material (read: uncommercial) than they subsequently would in the following decades, but as their productions would swiftly head for television after their cinema showings, and Channel 4 had more of a reputation back then for pushing envelopes when it came to programming. The typical evening on that station back in the eighties was very different to what it would be in the twenty-first century, with experimental and arty works rubbing shoulders with alternative comedy and whatever imports they could snag within their part-publicly funded budget.
Therefore a film like this was not too unusual a proposition for settling down to view in the Film on Four strand back then, though even so it did apparently have trouble finding an audience or even a slot, with the publicity claiming it to be the first Islamic horror movie, which did it a disservice. It was more on a par with the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky - those who saw it would note the similarity with works like El Topo or The Holy Mountain - though there was a mark of the more "difficult" fantastical efforts for television, such as David Rudkin's classic Play for Today Penda's Fen or his far more divisive Artemis 81, if you were seeking a frame of reference to get your bearings.
Even so, with its director Jamil Dehlavi reportedly refusing to work from a finished screenplay and improvising around his exotic Turkish locations and gut feelings where the film should be headed which would leave the results incoherent to anybody but himself, it was little wonder the reception to Born of Fire was a little chilly. If you were aware of this kind of head movie then you would be comparing it to other such pieces, and maybe not favourably, while if you had no frame of reference you would be utterly lost - in fact, even of you had seen your share of trippy freakout experimentation on screen, you could have been all at sea with this anyway, for it was clear, if anything was, that Dehlavi was enveloped in his own very personal interpretation of sacred scripture and legend.
Although this started in London, where Paul and the unnamed woman (simply called The Woman in the end credits) find his mother's death the jumping off point for their adventures to track what happened to his father when he was in Turkey researching ancient music, it was those striking landscapes this captured that made it worth watching, if only to marvel at the shapes nature moulds its labours into, and the sculptures humanity sees fit to place in that landscape. It was one of those movies where the imagery was its strongest suit, like The Colour of Pomegranates only delving into the realm of Islamic mysticism in a highly individual manner, essentially leaving the two Western characters at the mercy of the whims of the Middle Eastern setting, or indeed the director. Nabil Shaban, then (and perhaps now) best known as a baddie in Doctor Who, showed up as Paul's disabled half-brother "The Silent One", but other than him and the two leads the cast were unknowns. Never less than interesting, but may leave you somewhat blank. Music by Colin Towns.