Divinity Gratis (1997): Betzy Blumberg’s Sundance Docu

Sundance Film Fest 1997–A metaphysical deliberation on the world and the ways we live at the end of the millennium, Betzy Bromberg’s Divinity Gratis is a visually arresting documentary that may be too ambitious–and too pretentious–for its own good.  Receiving its world premiering at Sundance, this esoteric film should be shown in situations that specialize in avant-garde and experimental fare.


A former teacher at California Institute of the Arts, Bromberg has been making experimental films for close to two decades.  Divinity Gratis, on which she worked for 7 years, begins abstractly, in the desert, as a sober male voice-over describes “a flash in the sky” and the blind girl who sees it.  This narration serves as a preparation for the apocalyptic images that follow.  Surveying the magnitude of nature, there are sensuous pans of rock formations and dives into deep waters.  Later, pic shows a red-light boulevard and an encounter with a dominant vixen named Duchess DeSade.


Conceived as a time machine, the film captures in a collage of exquisite, often disturbing images key moments in history, from the Neolithic ponies to a linguistic Tower of Babel. Along the way, Bromberg switches from black and white to color, and back again.  Some of the images are oversaturated, while others are drained out of color–all product of the filmmaker’s careful design and manipulation of visual and aural codes.


As mankind marches toward the Millennium, Bromberg dwells on the pride and shortsightedness that often blind humans to the imminent dangers of the future.  Most of the film is brutally honest and bleak–the willful pollution of the earth, the instability of politics, and other destructive forces–though Bromberg opts for a softer denouement that leaves some room for hope.


The filmmaker aims to embrace the world at a crucial time in history and comment on our lives with all their glories and follies, from man’s first baby-steps to the climax of the lunar landing.  Nonetheless, quite a gap prevails between the film’s visual scope, which is epic and always commanding, and its intellectual frame, which ceases to be challenging after the first couple of sequences. 




Produced, directed, and edited by Betzy Bromberg.
Camera (color), Bromberg, Claire Dishman, Dianna Rose, Brian Bailey.
Music, Kirby White, Zack Settel, Pamn Aronoff.
Sound, Dane Davis.
Titles, Peter L. Levine.  

Running time: 60 Minutes.

Appearances by: Claire Dishman, Kirby White, Duchess DeSade, Kory Ivy Vence.

Narration: Kirby White, Zack Settel, Dianna Rose.