In Memoriam Ed Emshwiller

Posted: July 27, 2011 in On Beauty
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On this day, 21 years ago, my friend Ed Emshwiller passed away. I consider myself to have been incalculably blessed to have been a student at CalArts when Ed was dean of the film school. I remember the first time I ever saw his work, a film called “Sunstone”, and how I was utterly blown away. Like many of the people who were around CalArts in those days, Ed was a creative genius. He may not have known every single technical aspect of film like some of the professors did; or every single thing about  the video signal like, say, Michael Scroggins. But he was among the 20th century’s most amazing creative voices and perhaps even an experimental animation megastar.

I remember once when I was using the old CMX editor down in the film school. Ed stopped in and we talked about my work. He then asked me to show him how we in the music school edited. We picked a time to get together and I brought him into the old Buchla electronic music studio, still affectionately called B304. There I proceeded to show the great video master our splicing block and our razor blades. Even with all the time that Ed had spent with Mort Subotnick, I don’t think he had ever really seen just how arcane we were compared to our video counterparts in the film school. He honestly was taken aback to see that we really did still use razor blades.

From that day on, I always thought of Ed Emshwiller, not only as a professor or a dean or a great artist, but as a friend. It is thanks to Ed that I met, and was privileged to study with, 2 of the people who most influenced my philosophy of art and my sense of beauty – Gene Youngblood and Bill Viola. For that, as much as for his own creative spirit, friendship, and brilliance, I will always be thankful to have known him.

Today, 21 years after he died and nearly 30 years after I left CalArts, I still miss Ed Emshwiller – I consider my life much better for having known him.

Here’s to you my friend! Thank you for being with us for all those amazing years!

  1. Susan Emshwiller says:

    Thanks for posting this. I love hearing about my Dad’s interaction with people and what he ment to them.

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