Darren Coelho Spring’s spectacular film explores the life and legend of Clark Ashton Smith–one of fantasy’s greatest talents, and one of the 20th Century’s most enduring “outsider artists.” [Art by Skinner]

I missed the World Fantasy Convention this year because I was too sick to travel. Feeling much better now, but still disappointed that I missed this terrific convention–it’s been my favorite yearly con since I attended my first one in 2009. (Wow! That was almost ten years ago! Time does fly…)

Front cover of the DVD.

So how did I get over the heartbreak of missing WFC? I watched CLARK ASHTON SMITH: THE EMPEROR OF DREAMS, the brand new documentary spotlighting the life, the work, and the legend of my favorite fantasy writer.

I can’t say enough good things about this film, so let me just hit you with a few of the highlights:

  • The interviews with CAS experts are insightful and get more fascinating as the film continues.
  • The visuals are extremely well-done, as is the haunting and ethereal soundtrack, two elements that work together to create an almost supernatural presence as the story of Smith’s life unfolds.
  • Seeing the actual landscape that inspired “City of the Singing Flame”–one of Smith’s most admired tales, and one of his few fantasies that touch upon the “real world” in addition to his usual fantastical realms.
  • Some parts of the movie achieve an acid-trip style quality; filmmaker Darren Coelho Spring was obviously trying to evoke the weird wonder of reading a CAS tale–and he succeeds at this goal. This bio-doc gets totally “trippy” in a way that is delightfully unexpected.
  • After loving CAS’s work for decades, I now have a true understanding of the MAN behind the literature–the human being behind the cosmic poetry–the wizard behind all those wonderful narrative spells.
  • It traces Smith’s life from the beginning to the end, and provides a living context for his wildly fantastic work and his transcendent mastery of the written word.
  • One of Harlan Ellison’s last interviews is included, and he has some terrific observations about Smith’s work and legacy. Fittingly, Harlan even gets the “last word” in the documentary, exhorting the timeless quality of CAS’s work.
  • The film expertly captures Smith’s status as an “outsider” or “maverick” artist who never sold out, never chased after fame or success, and never once compromised his immense artistic vision.
  • CLARK ASHTON SMITH: THE EMPEROR OF DREAMS is the next best thing to sitting down with Smith himself and discussing the arc of his life in superb detail.

Back cover of the DVD.

One caveat: This documentary is really for those who are already fans of Smith’s fiction, poetry, and other works of art. It’s not a CAS “primer” built to woo new fans. As Harlan Ellison elucidates so very well, Smith doesn’t need to chase fans; they find him.

If you are already a fan of Smith’s work, this documentary will amaze, enlighten, and entrance you.

You can watch the movie online HERE.

You can order a copy of the DVD HERE.

I rented it, watched it, and immediately ordered a copy of the DVD. It will make a terrific edition to anyone’s collection of CAS books.

I’m already itching to watch it again.

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Finally, here’s a link to a comprehensive look at Smith’s greatest epic poem, THE HASHISH EATER (or THE APOCALYPSE OF EVIL) that I wrote for Black Gate a few years back. This poem is given a special place in the documentary, as well it should be. There are few if any poems that can match its phantasmagorical imagery.