Black Sun Review

As director Gary Tarn floats the camera high above the rooftops of New York City’s bustling metropolis and people scurry far below like ants, it’s with a creeping sense of it-could-happen-to-anyone dread that we listen to narrator Hughes De Montalembert describe the brutal and senseless attack on his person that robbed him of his sight. One night, outside his home near Washington Square, two men forced him inside and demanded money. When Hughes informed them he didn’t have any the situation turned ugly and the men attacked him. While attempting to fight one of the men off with a poker from the fireplace, the other sprayed paint remover into his eyes, blinding him.

As an artist and filmmaker the sheer psychological devastation is almost beyond comprehension. But rather than give up and resign himself to the darkness, Hughes’ story is one of hope, triumph and a gentle hymn to the indomitable nature of the human spirit. With a quiet air of dignity, Hughes's gentle, warbling narration combined with Tarn's opaque cinematography act as a sort of lullaby to the senses as he at once captivates you with his soothing tones and regales you with his enlightening and empowering struggle. As Hughes describes the slow deterioration of his sight in the hours following the attack, Tarn fades us in and out with dark, grimy yellow filters and oblique tracking as slowly we too are plunged into darkness.

From there it’s a journey of rediscovery as Hughes begins his rehabilitation; learning new things about himself and the people around him along the way. He strikingly recalls how his brain began to compensate for the lack of cortical input by fashioning vivid and at times intensely erotic images in his mind’s eye that he could neither understand nor control. He recounts how open and honest the hospital staff assigned to him were, revealing candid details about their personal lives, as if knowing they couldn’t be seen was liberating in some way.

With his newly attuned senses craving input, Hughes embarks on an impulsive unaccompanied voyage to Thailand where he begins an epic journal of discovery, teaching himself to write clearly and legibly sometimes continuing past the point of running out of ink. From Thailand to India in search of a former love, Hughes's story is one of startling simplicity and yet retains its riveting intensity as he relates the simple lessons of life – slow down, take everything in - without ever surrendering to fear or inviting pity.

A constant accompaniment is Tarn’s hauntingly abstract score, fading in and out, marked by subtle tonal shifts that lend themselves to no discernible pattern that is at once enticing and at the same time a source of great imbalance. As Hughes rebuilds his senses from the ground up, learning to process sound and texture into a very basic form of sonar, Tarn’s constant reference is the city and the constant stream of life. Drifting through the packed streets, moving in and out of focus, lifting and tilting, the camera remains constantly in motion, snatching at the world around it and rendering the viewer trapped on a carousel of activity they can never quite grasp or process.

But despite taking us through the entire visual spectrum and back again, Tarn’s trickery never tips over into the realm of the gimmick. Nor is it simply cinematic showing off. It’s simply a different way of looking at the world that transcends both subject and subject matter that’s as much a journey of self-discovery for the viewer as it is for Hughes.

DVD Bonus Features

The DVD offers a selection of trailers for other titles from tiny New York indie distributor Indiepix, which includes: a documentary on orthodox Jews in boxing, a filmmaker's dissection of the complicated landmine issue, a retrospective on the New York City nightlife, of the roaring forties, a filmic journey through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and a picture charting the erosion of civil liberties in post-9/11 America.

"Black Sun" is on sale April 24, 2009 and is rated NR. Documentary. Directed by Gary Tarn. Written by Hughes De Montalembert (story, narration). Starring Hughes De Montalembert.

Neil Pedley • Associate Editor

Neil is a film school graduate from England now living in New York. In addition to JustPressPlay, Neil writes about for as well as being a columist and weekly podcast host at His free time is spent acting out scenes from Predator in the woods behind his house, playing all the different parts himself.


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