In essence, Bliss is the story of an advertising man, Harry Joy (a magnificent performance from Barry Otto), who suffers a heart attack and is clinically dead for four minutes — an event that changes his life forever. He becomes obsessed with “being good,” while an awareness of the incredible moral decay going on around him in his very family becomes ever clearer to him (the film spares no details here). The film then charts his attempts at finding personal salvation — with many a bizarre stop along the way, including a spell in a magnificently corrupt insane asylum (“First unpleasant fact: This is business”) where his very identity is stripped from him.
Unfortunately, Bliss — for all its art house success in 1985 and subsequent VHS release — has been allowed to languish in recent years in the U.S. With revival houses all but a thing of the past and no DVD release, it’s become criminally unknown. Its own country has treated it better, producing a splendid restored copy of the film as Lawrence originally intended, with a different narration and a full 18 minutes of footage added. This is the version being screened. Don’t miss it — and please, don’t walk out after the sardine scene (you’ll know it when you see it).
The Asheville Film Society will screen Bliss Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.