black sun: after the eclipse

black sun: after the eclipse

Black Sun

Black Sun

THE EXPERIENCE OF BLINDNESS MIGHT SEEM A CURIOUS SUBJECT FOR A FILM, SINCE PART OF OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH CINEMA IS SURELY THE MEDIUM’S ABILITY TO RENDER THE VISIBLE APPEARANCE OF THINGS. BUT FILM IS ALSO A SENSORIAL MEDIUM OF WORDS, PICTURES, SOUNDS AND LIGHT, MAKING IT THE PERFECT VEHICLE FOR A REFLECTION ON THE SUBJECTIVE NATURE OF SIGHT. ESPECIALLY GIVEN THE STARTLING ASSERTION IN GARY TARN’S BLACK SUN THAT THE PICTURE OF THE WORLD FORMED BY OUR EYES IS A CREATION, AS SUBJECTIVE AS A PURELY HALLUCINATORY VISION.

Black Sun tells the story of Hugues de Montalembert, a French-born painter and filmmaker who was the victim of a random attack in his New York apartment in 1978. During a struggle with two assailants, de Montalembert had paint stripper thrown into his face and, over the course of a night, lost the use of his eyes forever. For an artist whose entire life was based around vision, de Montalembert dealt with his new condition with remarkable strength and determination. After a year of rehabilitation, he set off alone for Bali where he wrote a book entitled Eclipse, which went on to become a best-seller in his native France. Since then he has travelled extensively, published a second book, and at the time of Black Sun’s making was working on a third.

Tarn allows de Montalembert to tell his own story in voiceover, while a stream of associative images plays out on screen. The style is clearly influenced by Chris Marker [see page 27], particularly his 1982 film Sans Soleil (Sunless). Like Marker, Tarn creates a dream-like visual experience, sometimes manipulating the picture through special effects, at other points presenting undoctored images of tantalising mystery. Words and images dance in an open-ended exchange, both complementing each other and working in counterpoint. As the film progresses, de Montalembert’s voiceover moves from a fairly straightforward account of the attack and his struggle to deal with the loss of his sight, to a more philosophical reflection on what it actually means to see.

For some time after going blind, de Montalembert’s brain continued to generate images of such clarity that he would wake up each morning convinced his vision had returned. Then, after a few hours, his brain would tire and the images would suddenly be shut off, plunging him into darkness. Similarly, a friend once asked de Montalembert whether he had an image of him in his mind. “Of course”, replied de Montalembert, “I knew you before I went blind.” He is shocked when his friend points out his mistake. He has never seen this friend’s face, yet the image he holds of him is so strong de Montalembert was initially convinced they had met before the attack. Over time, these experiences have led de Montalembert to conclude that “vision is a creation, not a perception.” Through conversations with sighted people, he has also come to realise most of us do not in fact see the world around us, in terms of engaging with what our eyes reveal. For many, sight is merely a means by which to avoid collisions with objects and other people.

Black Sun is a fascinating reflection on a sense so integral to our everyday experience that most of us take it completely for granted. De Montalembert’s insights are at once inspiring, provocative and disturbing, while his world view is informed by a profound compassion. The loss of his eyes ultimately seems to have opened a whole new dimension in his experience and understanding. Gary Tarn’s achievement is that through Black Sun we share something of de Montalembert’s unique vision.

Black Sun, director and producer Gary Tarn, writer and narrator Hugues de Montalembert, 2005, DVD released by Aztec International, www.aztecinternational.com.au

Aztec International has made available five DVD copies of Black Sun for RealTime readers. See page 48 for our giveways.

RealTime issue #79 June-July 2007 pg. 22

1 June 2007