The Song of Ceylon
British Film Institute • 39m
Directed by Basil Charles Wright • Documentary • With Lionel Wendt, Alberto Cavalcanti, John Grierson, Stuart Legg, Basil Charles Wright • 1934 • 38 minutes
The Song of Ceylon was originally commissioned as a series of short travelogues, but spawned an ambitious film transforming travelogue (exotic animals, eye-catching scenery, quirky customs) into a dreamlike film poem. Critics have since argued every possible position on the film's portrayal of colonialism and its subjects. Only during editing did the film find its intricate design, a documentary 'song' in four movements. The first, 'The Buddha', is an impression of religious and cultural practices. 'The Virgin Island' is the most factually informative, featuring fishing and agricultural scenes. 'The Voice of Commerce' highlights the film's most controversial aspect, its ambivalence towards British imperialism. The final section, 'The Apparel of a God', returns to ritualistic images, as if synthesising the verse and chorus of Ceylon's 'song'.
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