If you find a way to dance with people, to dance with life, nothing wrong can happen to you. – Hugues de Montalembert
In 1978 a French painter and filmmaker, Hugues de Montalembert, living in the Washington Square neighborhood of New York was viciously attacked in his apartment. The assailants were looking for money, and when they didn’t find that they beat him up for sport. One of the men poured a chemical in his eyes blinding him completely within 24 hours. Hugues was 35 years old.
Made in 2005 the film “Black Sun” is a documentary of his story, and his evolution of living from a time when his eyes were practically “assassins”, to being blind and left only with the realization that he will forever see only what his mind imagines.
Thanks to the gorgeous filmmaking by Gary Tarn, de Montalembert’s story leaves one not only full of hope, but inspired to address the interior and exterior of our worlds in a new light. Tarn is also a composer, so the narration and imagery is perfectly suited to the score. There are no illustrations of his life per say, though the imagery and music form allusions to what it must be like to be blind. De Montalembert uses the term “light soaked in honey”, and while you don’t know what this blindness feels like, the imagery together with his spoken words are sufficiently convincing.
Strangely and powerfully one doesn’t feel pity for him for losing his blindness, only inspiration and the importance of context. He shares a touching story towards the end about the fact that while his wound is apparent, people with far worse wounds walk around without notice or compassion:
A friendly Cambodian taxi driver expresses sympathy for his condition during a taxi ride. He thanks him, adding, “but you know, there are so many people much more wounded than me, and you see nothing and they don’t receive any compassion.”
Silent for a moment, the driver says, “Monsieur, I understand very well what you say because my wife and four children were killed in front of me in Cambodia.”
The driver’s wound, de Montalembert observes, is not comparable to his own, more obvious one. “It is much worse.”
Bon mots from de Montalbert from the movie “Black Sun”, and from his book “Invisible: A Memoir”:
“You better eat life while you can because at the end, like everyone else, your body will be defeated. At least your mind can be triumphant, independent.”
“Visual is a creation, it is not a perception.”
“People often think that their individual fate is everything. How wrong we are! It is enough to contemplate the invisible to know how much there is that is greater than fate. Yes, close your eyes, you will see what light renders invisible.”
PS. I’m pretty sure Julian Schnabel must have been inspired by “Black Sun” for his film “Diving Bell and the Butterfly”. Another film by Gary Tarn that looks very interesting, though I have not viewed: The Prophet – a narration of the Kahil Gibran classic.