Jordan Belson; Calif. filmmaker explored the abstract; at 85
NEW YORK - Jordan Belson, an experimental filmmaker whose work - abstract, mutable, and hypnotic - is a series of studies of color, movement, and light, died Sept. 6 at his home in San Francisco. He was 85.
His death, of heart failure, was disclosed on the website of the Center for Visual Music, an archive devoted to the work of experimental filmmakers.
Part avant-garde animator, part optical alchemist, part mystic, part psychologist of perception, Mr. Belson made more than 30 short films between the late 1940s and 2005, all of which defy ready classification.
Wordless, they employ moving, abstract images of mercurial fluidity painstakingly choreographed to music. As they slowly change form, color, and direction, the images rivet the eye.
Mr. Belson’s work, which has been shown at the Tate Modern in London, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and other major museums, was often called “nonobjective cinema,’’ a term used to describe movies that dispense with representation and immerse the viewer in a meditative world of pure unspooling form.
His films have also been called painterly and - with their present-at-the-creation intimations of organic and molecular forms, solar flares, and shifting planetary bodies - cosmological. Both words are apt: Mr. Belson was trained as a painter and early in his career designed planetarium light shows.
He was, at bottom, an illuminator, exploring viewers’ perception of the play of light on the screen. His films have a haunting, evanescent beauty: seeing them is like watching patterns formed by floating watercolors or clouds of ink.
Mr. Belson’s films include “Mandala’’ (1953), “Allures’’ (1961), “Chakra’’ (1972), “Northern Lights’’ (1985), “Mysterious Journey’’ (1997), and “Epilogue,’’ which was commissioned for the 2005 exhibition “Visual Music’’ at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, part of the Smithsonian Institution.
He also created special visual effects, including images of Earth as seen from space, for the Hollywood film “The Right Stuff’’ (1983), based on Tom Wolfe’s book about the early days of the US space program.
Mr. Belson was born in Chicago. He studied painting at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of California, Berkeley.
From 1957 to 1959, Mr. Belson was the visual director of the Vortex concert series at the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco.
To the accompaniment of music chosen by the sound artist Henry Jacobs, layers of mutable, abstract images created by Mr. Belson unfolded on the planetarium dome.
Mr. Belson was divorced twice. Survivors include his partner, Catherine Heinrich.