Forest of Bliss
Dir. Robert Gardner. 1986, 90 min, 35mm. Eschewing narration, informational cards, and even subtitles, this legendary forerunner to the Sensory Ethnography Lab soaks up the activities, faces and sounds of what is now Varanasi, India, where the banks of the Ganges River host a steady influx of ceremonial cremations. It is a work of intimate observation—though it seems to take place over a single day, Mr. Gardner actually filmed over many months—but also of abstraction and metaphor, with wild dogs, ritualized chants, and the river itself serving as symphonic harbingers of the beyond.