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L'art du Mouvement 1919-1996, 1996.

Jordan Belson Biography

Dr. William Moritz



Jordan Belson studied painting before seeing Oskar Fischinger and the Whitney brothers' films at the 1946 Art in Cinema festival at the San Francisco Museum, whereupon he increasingly devoted himself to the moving abstract image. His early films animated real objects (pavements in Bop-Scotch, 1952) and scroll paintings prepared like film strips with successive images (Mandala, 1953). Belson subsequently withdrew these films from circulation as imperfect and primitive, but they already reflect his refined plastic sensibility, fine color sense, and superb sense of dynamic structure. They also foreshadow his more accomplished expressions of mystical concepts, Bop Scotch seeming to reveal a hidden soul and life-force in "inanimate" objects, and Mandala presenting a compelling version of the centering meditation image.

Between 1957 and 1959, Belson collaborated with composer Henry Jacobs on the historic Vortex Concerts, which combined the latest electronic music with moving visual abstractions projected on the dome of Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco (and also the Brussels World Fair in 1958). These pioneer Light Shows used filmed imagery (by Belson, his wife Jane, James Whitney and Hy Hirsh) as well as multiple projections of geometric and polymorphous light phenomena produced by non-filmic means. Together with the contemplative Lumia of Thomas Wilfred (slowly-evolving polymorphous light projections), the Vortex experience inspired Belson to abandon traditional painting and animation in favor of creating visual phenomena in something like real time, by live manipulation of pure light -- which has been the technological basis for his more than 20 films from Allures (1961) to Northern Lights (1985).

The second major well-spring of Belson's mature films arose from his increasing involvement with mystical and contemplative philosophies. During the 1950s, he had been an integral part of the Zen Buddhism of San Francisco's North Beach Beat scene (indeed, Belson still lives in North Beach). The mature films frequently express aspects of Indian nysticism and yoga, reflected in the titles of his masterpieces Samadhi (1967) and Chakra (1972), which render the actual visual and auditory phenomena that Belson experienced in hightened states of meditative concentration. They also explore the relationship between scientific theories and human, spiritual perception (Phenomena, 1965; Light, 1973). Many of the films share certain images which Belson regards as "hieroglyphic-ideographic" visual units that express complex ideation not easily stated in verbal terms.

Because the essence of Belson's artistry depends on subtleties of changing form and color, he has experienced great difficulties in preserving his films. Many copies of the films from the 1970s printed on Eastmancolor stock have faded or changed color so much as to be meaningless. Five finished films from the 1980s have never been printed or distributed, although Belson incorporated selected imagery from them (moments that retained their integrity on electronic reproduction) in a half-hour videotape, Samadhi, which is commercially distributed by Mystic Fire in the United States.


Jordan Belson Filmography
Transmutation, 1947
Improvisation #1, 1948
Mambo, 1951
Caravan, 1952
Bop-Scotch, 1952
Mandala, 1953
Raga, 1958
Séance, 1959
Allures, 1961
LSD, 1962
Re-entry, 1964
Phenomena, 1965
Samadhi, 1967
Momentum, 1968
Cosmos, 1969
World, 1970
Meditation, 1971
Chakra, 1972
Light, 1973
Cycles, 1975
Music of the Spheres, 1977
Infinity, 1980
Synchronicity Suite, 1981
Apollo: Astronaut's Dream, Moonlight, Fireflies, 1981
Quartet, 1982
Fountain of Dreams, 1984
Northern Lights, 1985



Moritz, William. "Jordan Belson." L'art du Mouvement 1919-1996. Ed. Jean-Michel Bouhours, Cinéma du Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris: Centre Pompidou, 1996, 47, 313.


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