Looking with Robert Gardner

Edited by Rebecca Meyers, William Rothman, and Charles Warren

Subjects: Anthropology, Film Studies, Cultural Anthropology
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Paperback : 9781438460505, 352 pages, September 2016
Hardcover : 9781438460512, 352 pages, September 2016

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Table of contents

Introduction Robert Gardner
Rebecca Meyers, William Rothman, and Charles Warren
Part I. Overviews and General Topics

1. Some Notes on Robert Gardner
Eliot Weinberger

2. In Flight with Robert Gardner
Tom Conley

3. Colors
Fanny Howe

4. Aesthetic Form and Ethnographic Discourse
Daniel Morgan

5. Robert Gardner and Jean Rouch: Regards Croisés
Maxime Scheinfeigel

6. Robert Gardner’s Reality
Charles Warren

7. To Give, To Take, and To Return
Gayatri Chatterjee

8. Ethno-Cine-Poet: Robert Gardner and Experimental Film
Kathryn Ramey

9. A Revolution in Favor of Television: WCVB-TV and Robert Gardner’s Screening Room
Brian L. Frye

10. On Shamanism and Other Encounters: A Conversation with Robert Gardner in Mexico
Carlos Y. Flores and Antonio Zirión

11. Returning with Robert Gardner to the Baliem Valley, 1988–89
Susan Meiselas
Part II. Looking at Individual Films

12. First Encounters: An Essay on Dead Birds and Robert Gardner
Charles Musser

13. Allegory and Gender Representation in Rivers of Sand
Mauro Bucci

14. Word against Flesh in Rivers of Sand
Irina Leimbacher

15. Look At Me! Deep Hearts and the Vertiginous Self
Murray Pomerance

16. Nomadic Metrosexuals: Framing Beauty, Editing Ritual, and Exhibiting Masculinity in Deep Hearts
Ricardo E. Zulueta

17. Film, Matter, and Spirit: Forest of Bliss
Richard Allen

18. The Same Thing from Different Angles: Resituating Forest of Bliss
Julia Yezbick

19. Hand Eye Coordination: Robert Gardner’s Artist Films
Richard Deming

20. Learning from Catalonia
Bruce Jenkins

21. Dead Birds Re-Encountered: A Journey of Return
William Rothman


Robert Gardner Biographical Sketch
Robert Gardner Filmography
Publications by Robert Gardner
Books about Robert Gardner’s Work


Assesses the range and magnitude of Robert Gardner’s achievements as a filmmaker, photographer, writer, educator, and champion of independent cinema.


During his lifetime, Robert Gardner (1925–2014) was often pigeonholed as an ethnographic filmmaker, then criticized for failing to conform to the genre's conventions—conventions he radically challenged. With the release of his groundbreaking film Dead Birds in 1963, Gardner established himself as one of the world's most extraordinary independent filmmakers, working in a unique border area between ethnography, the essay film, and poetic/experimental cinema. Richly illustrated, Looking with Robert Gardner assesses the range and magnitude of Gardner's achievements not only as a filmmaker but also as a still photographer, writer, educator, and champion of independent cinema. The contributors give critical attention to Gardner's most ambitious films, such as Dead Birds (1963, New Guinea), Rivers of Sand (1975, Ethiopia), and Forest of Bliss (1986, India), as well as lesser-known films that equally exemplify his mode of seeking anthropological understanding through artistic means. They also attend to his films about artists, including his self-depiction in Still Journey OnM (2011); to his roots in experimental film and his employment of experimental procedures; and to his support of independent filmmakers through the Harvard Film Study Center and the television series Screening Room, which provided an opportunity for numerous important film and video artists to present and discuss their work.

Rebecca Meyers is a filmmaker and Academic Film Programmer at Bucknell University, where she teaches in the Film/Media Studies program. She worked with Robert Gardner as editor on his late films. William Rothman is Professor of Cinema and Interactive Media at the University of Miami. Among his numerous books are three published by SUNY Press: Hitchcock: The Murderous Gaze, Second Edition and as editor, Cavell on Film and Three Documentary Filmmakers: Errol Morris, Ross McElwee, and Jean Rouch. Charles Warren is Lecturer on Film at Boston University and Associate of the Visual and Environmental Studies Department at Harvard University. He writes widely on film and has edited many books, including Gardner's Making Dead Birds, Just Representations, and Human Documents: Eight Photographers.


"[Gardner's] fusion of art and anthropology is vividly and convincingly addressed in the book's varied, detailed, and historical examination of his work … Highly recommended. " — CHOICE

"Impressively informed and informative, exceptionally well organized and presented, Looking with Robert Gardner is a compendium of seminal, insightful, thoughtful and thought-provoking scholarship. " — Midwest Book Review

"This book is a monumental, fearless, and insightful contribution of critique that looks both with and at Gardner's works as a whole. " — Catherine Summerhayes, author of Google Earth: Outreach and Activism

"Looking with Robert Gardner introduces new and exciting voices into the dialogue about the renowned ethnographic and documentary filmmaker. The book contains very close readings of many of his films and suggests fresh approaches for analyzing those as well as ethnographic films in general. " — Ilisa Barbash, coeditor of The Cinema of Robert Gardner