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Jordan Belson, RIP

Jordan Belson

Experimental filmmaker and abstract animator Jordan Belson passed away on September 6 at the age of 85. He created more than thirty films between the 1940s and 2000s, and contributed special effects to the 1983 feature The Right Stuff. More details about his life can be found on his official page at the Center for Visual Music and in this New York Times obit. Unfortunately, Belson explicitly stated that he didn’t want his films to be posted on-line so if you’re unfamiliar with his work, you’ll have to remain unfamiliar with his work.

Film scholar Wheeler Winston Dixon wrote this eloquent tribute about Belson on his blog recently:

One of the most influential non-objective filmmakers of the second half of the 20th century, Belson’s work is most like that of John and James Whitney in its vision of a world of abstract harmony and beauty. In these ultracommercial times, the idea of someone dedicating themselves to an art form that costs a lot of money and not expecting to make a lot of money almost seems unthinkable, but yes, there was a time when people made films simply for the creative satisfaction it brought, to share their vision with the world freely. Belson was never a careerist, he was an artist, and while he never achieved notoriety outside of a small circle of enthusiasts, his influence was real and lasting.

[Image at top: From the film Allures. Copyright Jordan Belson, courtesy Center for Visual Music.]

(Thanks, Sterling Sheehy)

  • Deutero

    Belson’s work may not be online, but you can order 5 of his films on a DVD:

    Hopefully some of the proceeds from this will go to his estate, which wouldn’t happen with any online posting of his work.

  • A great experimental artist is gone after a long, productive life. His work will be featured October 19, as part of the Alternative Visions program at the Pacific film Archive in Berkeley. It will be introduced by Cindy Keefer who is the director of Center for Visual Music (CVM), the site Deutero linked to in his post.

  • CVM

    Online is not the only way to learn about his work!
    You don’t have to remain unfamiliar, that’s sad that you assume this. Greater access is coming, not just online, but with a second DVD in the works, and the traveling film program underway. Please help support Center for Visual Music’s work to make all this happen sooner!

    Belson stated he didn’t want people to post bad, LOW RES unauthorized rips online, plus there are some particular films he didn’t want in distribution at all. We are raising funds now to put some authorized, high quality clips online from the masters. You can support this project at

    Also, we’ve been touring the Belson Retrospective program with many preserved prints; dates announced as confirmed on the Belson site (PFA is the next stop). It has screened in museums worldwide and will continue at festivals, museums, and a university tour in 2012.

    Finally, thanks for the post Amid, could you please add our photo credit above? This should be (c) Jordan Belson, courtesy Center for Visual Music. And it’s from the film Allures. We do spend time and money to create great hi res images such as this, so we do want credit when used. Thanks!

    • amid

      CVM – Today’s animation discussion, about filmmakers past and present, happens largely on the Internet. It’s neither good or bad, it’s simply the reality of the situation. Many older artists, including those more commercially popular than Belson, have taken an anti-Internet stance for varied reasons, and the results have invariably been a diminishment of name recognition and reputation amongst new generations.

      Screenings and DVDs should obviously be a part of any filmmaker’s strategy, but they are not nearly as accessible to a global audience as online availability. Filmmakers and their estates have an active responsibility to promote themselves online in a meaningful way, not for monetary gain but simply to remain a part of the discussion, and applying old media-gatekeeper strategies to the Internet age is a sure way of falling into obscurity.

      • CVM

        No one has any responsibility, especially the artists, to put crappy low res images online if they do not accurately represent the film, and not just “to remain a part of the discussion.” Audiences also have a responsibility to seek out the work, and actually go to screenings or exhibitions or festivals, or go rent or buy a DVD, not just wait for it to appear in front of them in a reduced version, with one click.

        There is nothing wrong with artists who seek to show their work in quality versions – Bruce Conner, Jordan Belson, plenty of others come to mind. We know contemporary artists as well who don’t like the online experience and choose to make their films accessible in other methods.

        Regarding gate-keeper mentalities, for most estates and many older artists, it’s not that at all.
        Who’s paying for all these HD transfers?
        No one stops to realize that these older works are all on FILM formats, often decaying, which have to be preserved and then transferred before any digital files or digital distribution can occur. These enormous costs are what keeps more work from being put online (or on dvds or digital distribution, downloads, etc).

        If someone writes a check for $9,000, we’d be thrilled to put Belson’s film “Re-entry” online, that will pay for its preservation and HD transfer, and save the film for future generations to enjoy as well.

  • Chris Padilla

    Belson’s “Light” was shown in 35mm on many of the biggest screens in the country in the nationwide release of Fantastic Animation Festival, an eclectic program that ranged from “Superman Vs The Mechanical Monsters” to “Bambi meets Godzilla” to “Closed Mondays”, to mention a few. The significance of “Light” marks the first time general audiences (in 1977) not only discovered the work of Jordan Belson but were also introduced to the world of abstract and experimental films.