Feb 8, 2015

Review: Thanatopsis (1962)

Thanatopsis caught my eye as I was looking at the Brief Encounters list on iCheckmovies for a suitable short film to watch. I've hit a bit of a busy patch and haven't had much time to sit down in the evenings for a full-length movie. I'll get back to that of course, but I thought this gave me a nice chance to fit in some short films in the meantime.

The reason why Thanatopsis caught my eye was because it shares its title with a band featuring the talents of experimental guitarist Buckethead. Buckethead really isn't for everyone, but his brand of weird music and dizzying guitar skill made me a fan. Check him out here if you want. I honestly wouldn't be surprised at all if Buckethead had seen Thanatopsis before because it seems exactly like the kind of thing he would be inspired by.


Genre: short
Directed by: Ed Emshwiller
Produced by: N/A
Written by: N/A
Music by: N/A
Running time: 5 minutes
Production company: N/A
Distributed by: N/A
Country: United States
Language: N/A
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry

Starring: Becky Arnold, Mac Emshwiller



A man (Mac Emshwiller) stares, unmoving as he appears to be pondering over something. Alongside him, a shapeless woman (Becky Arnold) dances.


There's not much of a story in Thanatopsis besides what's in the synopsis and that's not the point anyway. Emshwiller's short is an experimental film that seemingly has something to say with its imagery and its striking soundtrack. I have an inkling of what's going on, but I'm not even going to try explaining what it all means. It's better to just experience it and come to your own conclusions.

What I can say is that the word thanatopsis is Greek in origin. Broken down, it essentially means "meditation on death." That's what I pulled off of Wikipedia anyway. Combined with the constant sounds of a beating heart and a hacksaw, the whole thing is quite grim.

Watching Thanatopsis is honestly like being inside a nightmare. It's like looking in a mirror and not seeing yourself in the reflection. The imagery of a woman constantly dancing with some pretty neat editing becomes off-putting and somehow macabre in a way. Emshwiller just absolutely drenches this short with morbidity and it definitely makes for an interesting watch.

Experimental films always seem to be pretty divisive. I usually enjoy their open ended nature as well as the interesting film techniques they usually employ, but not everyone else does. If you're willing to take the plunge, I'd highly recommend Thanatopsis because besides being a technically interesting film, it explores some pretty dark territory that I know I wouldn't explore on my own. Like a piece of art, it can be digested how you want to digest it and I really like that.



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