Synopsis by Hal Erickson
No mere documentary, Song of Ceylon (originally released in England in 1934) has been described by some observers as a meditative experience and by others as "innovative, lovely, lasting." With the utmost respect (and a refreshing lack of "white man's burden" condescension), director Basil Wright offers a fascinating study of the Ceylonese people, their day-to-day existence and their ages-old customs. Of special interest is the film's emphasis on Buddhism, as manifested in the country's ancient sunken temples. Amidst this reverent splendor is an undercurrent of sadness, as the film shows how the West had already begun to commercialize Ceylon. Without taking anything away from Basil Wright, who not only directed but handled all the cinematography, it must be noted that Song of Ceylon was the brainchild of John Grierson, better known as "The Father of the British Documentary." It is currently available in video as part of a collection of Grierson productions, including Drifters (1929) and Industrial Britain.