The Act of Seeing By Tim Milfull

in 53rd Sydney Film Festival

by Tim Milfull

In the early eighties, Hugues de Montalembert wrote a autobiographical account of his life, concentrating especially on his experiences after a robbery left him sightless. Until this point, de Montalembert had been a successful filmmaker and painter. After the robbery, he was forced to rebuild his life and re-evaluate those aspects of life that truly meant anything to him. Within eighteen months he was travelling the world, visiting third-world countries alone, and contemplating what it is that gives life meaning. Documentary-maker, Gary Tarn worked closely with de Montalembert to make Black Sun, an audiovisual experience inviting the audience into the writer’s world, and asking them to consider what it means to truly “see”, amongst other things. The end result of the collaboration between the two artists is a hypnotic and deeply philosophical piece of work.

Black Sun opens as a helicopter wends its way across New York city, offering a bird’s eye view of life below. De Montalembert begins his narration by explaining the circumstances behind his loss of sight, and the dreadful implications faced by one for whom sight was perhaps his most valuable sense. As de Montalembert’s deep, gravelly voice relates the complete deterioration of his vision over a period of less than twenty-four hours, the images on the screen lose their definition, merging into a confusing mess of colour and light. By the time he has explained attaining new ways of dealing with his loss, Tarn has moved on to offer images of everyday New York and its inhabitants. So Tarn and de Montalembert set the tone for the rest of their film.

Tarn retraces the steps of de Montalembert as he revisits his homeland and explores uncharted territory from Indonesia to Nepal. As de Montalembert uses his voice to draw the audience into his experience and philosophy, Tarn skilfully manipulates the imagery on the screen to match the narrative, using a variety of cinematic techniques. Accompanying the entire experience is an alternately discordant and rhythmic musical score composed and performed by Tarn that is just as remarkable as the images or voiceover it complements. De Montalembert suggests that amongst the implications of all the senses, the act of seeing is, in effect, an act of creating our own artwork. It’s our choice as to whether we recognise our ability to do so and gain some benefit. With Tarn, he’s gone a long way to proving his theory.