Revisiting Robert Gardner's polarizing ethnographic films
Arresting fragments like these point the way to Forest of Bliss (1986), Gardner's feature-length contemplation (sans voice-over) of life rhythms and funeral rites on the Ganges. The India quest is an orientalist standby, of course, and brings into focus the counterculture strain that's always run through Gardner's work (remember, Timothy Leary was a Harvard man too). But while the fluid camerawork may be touristic, it's also more modest than in his previous work. More often than not we're following a single person's movements: at home, through the streets, to the river, relying more on intimacy than intimation. The striking glimpses of the sacred in view of the profane suggest a solitary traveler rather than a scientific observer. It is one thing to caution against ascribing knowledge to this passing view and quite another to claim it does not have any foothold in the imagination; the first is common sense, the second wishful thinking.
"OTHERS/OURSELVES: THE CINEMA OF ROBERT GARDNER"
Sept. 23–30, $6–$-8
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF