Still the foremost name in “cosmic,” “expanded” or, simply put, “trippy” cinema, 85-year-old Jordan Belson will be deservedly celebrated by LACMA on Saturday with a program presented by the Center for Visual Music, surveying six decades of the filmmaker's mind-altering visual palette.
Belson became interested in abstract animation while studying painting at the California School of Fine Arts in the 1940s, eventually working with pioneer Harry Smith and becoming friendly with John and James Whitney, whose achievements in the form provided a major source of inspiration. Like the Whitneys, Belson was drawn to Hatha yoga and transcendental meditation, spiritual practices that have consistently informed his non-narrative yet nonetheless journey-oriented abstractions.
Belson's films function as rhythmic mandalas, their constantly mutating forms designed to focus and elevate human consciousness. At the beginning of Allures (1961), one of his best known early works, rings of red diamonds continually form and pulse out of a dark void; later that central abyss makes way for an at-first nebulous, and then solid, sunlike circle that continually changes color. Strobelike flicker effects and a diverse parade of multicolored patterns of dots, lines and intricate, swirling spheres all work to invoke an experience at the outermost regions of perception.
While he has intermittently lent his talents to Hollywood, creating special sequences for Demon Seed and The Right Stuff, Belson continues to build a grand legacy in the avant garde — like Stan Brakhage, his is a cinematic vision encompassing nothing less than the metaphysical as well as physical universe. Belson's latest film, the CVM-produced Epilogue (2005), consists of impressionistic washes of sailing, gemlike colors that, as accompanied by Rachmaninoff's haunting “Isle of the Dead,” suggest an aurora borealis as much of the mind as of the limitless heavens.
JORDAN BELSON: FILMS SACRED AND PROFANE | Sat., March 26, 7:30 p.m. | LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd.| lacma.org