Forest of Bliss
Introduction by Professor James Lastra, Department of Cinema and Media Studies
Forest of Bliss is an unsparing but ultimately redeeming account of the inevitable griefs and frequent happinesses that punctuate daily life in Benares, one of the world's most holy cities. Without commentary or sub-titles, the film unfolds from one sunrise to the next in an attempt to give a meaningful though greatly magnified view of the matters of life and death that are portrayed.
(1986, 35mm, color, 90 min)
Robert Gardner’s vision—situated in a sometimes uneasy place between ethnographic and artistic traditions—has made him one of the most original, as well as controversial, filmmakers of the last half century. Deeply admired by filmmakers including Stan Brakhage (who looked forward to the “future recognition of Gardner’s genius” as an artist), Gardner has been condemned by anthropologists and others who criticized Dead Birds for a lack of scientific documentation and declared Forest of Bliss ignorant to the point of incomprehensibility. However, as Brakhage asserts in Telling Time (2003), the question of whether Gardner is “An Artist, an Anthropologist, or WHAT?” is “SUCH a boring question once one has fully experienced his films.” In the 21st century, what endures is the distinctly lyrical style and arresting cinematography Gardner brought to his enigmatic portrayals of disappearing cultures. These are powerful poetic reflections on human experience which warrant new and renewed consideration.
This series is concurrent with the autumn release of Just Representations, an edited collection of Gardner’s writing.