Center for Visual Music


JORDAN BELSON - Biography by Dr. Willliam Moritz, 1996.

From L'art du Mouvement 1919-1996, ed. Jean-Michel Bouhours, Cinema du Musee national d'art moderne (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 1996). Minor revision with corrections by Belson, 2007.

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, 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. The mature films frequently express aspects of Indian mysticism 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.


2005 UPDATE by CVM: This Samadhi videotape is out of print.

2008 UPDATE: CVM released a DVD compilation of Belson's films, "Jordan Belson: Five Essential Films" in 2007, and is currently preserving more of Belson's films.

2015 UPDATE: Several of the films mentioned here can be viewed at CVM's Video on Demand channel.

*Since this writing, Belson has completed Mysterious Journey (1997), Bardo (2001) and Epilogue (2005).

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