Sunstone
SUNSTONE. 1979
THANATOPSIS. 1962

Director: Ed Emshwiller

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



SunstoneThe three-minute experimental film is Ed Emshwiller's Sunstone (1979) besides its inherent mystic beauty is historically significant as an early use of computer animation techniques developed at the New York Institute of Technology.

I remember as a yunker attending a science fiction convention program of early computer films with a glowy-eyed host telling us that the day would come when a book like (his example was) Lord of the Rings could be made affordably & look absolutely real thanks to the very animation techniques we were watching.

I was a believer but it wasn't an easy to project that outcome from the simple short-short films we saw & which took weeks each to create.

Sunstone begins with a face attempting to appear out of grey chaos. Finally a sun-disc with face manifests, blinks its eyes, sticks out its tongue. The tongue flies loose like a leaf, floats about & comes to settle as a third eye in the face of the sun-disc.

Pulsating explosions of colored veins or roots at first obscure the face & then strangely energize the smiling disc, which pulls away to give us a unique view of a paneled box-shaped universe.

The color is at first minimalist & then extreme. There's a cut away from the sun-disc, to a rainbow wall with a human figure walking before the wall, leaving a wake of altered color, & then back to the paganist & ancient seeming sunburst born of the ultra-modern.


Thanatopsis Thanatopsis (1962) is a five-minute black & white short beginning with an extreme close-up with a severe, nearly demonic face (of Mac Emshwiller), with a soundscape of beating heart & power saw.

Experimental filmmaker Ed Emshwiller "explained" the film for his audience as a portrait of a man confronting hlis inner anguish.

It's rather too bad he decided to reduce his visual poem to a single meaning, for Mac's attempt to convey a look of depression actually makes him look like the devil. And the suffering soul he observes would therefore not be his own.

In between shots of the face & especially of Mac's eyes are shots of hands blurred & jerking & totally bizarre, a hellish image made worse when the entire ghostly figure appears, twitching & shaking, an abject images of physical pain & terror, at the same time looking like a white flame vaguely woman-shaped (Becky Emshwiller), observed by the cold gaze of Mac.

Then the woman's ghostly figure is leaping & twirling until it becomes a dance of purest anguish, round & round the demon-king whose stony gaze never alters.

The ghostly figure appears to tire, gleeming like a light-being in darkness, growing & dominating the world until darkness becomes light & from the light appears a dark figure twisting in the pain-dance for a few moments before darkness is regained & lightning strokes become the distorted neon lights of a street in Hell.


copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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