Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at 7pm
Jordan Belson + Donald Cammell's Demon Seed

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Mandala, Jordan Belson, 1953, 16mm, 3 mins
Allures, Jordan Belson, 1961, 16mm, 7 mins 45 secs
Samadhi, Jordan Belson, 1967, digital projection, 5 mins
Chakra, Jordan Belson, 1972, 16mm, 6 mins
Demon Seed, Donald Cammell, 1977, digital projection, 94 mins

Looking back on the various moments in which avant-garde sensibilities have been translated into popular cinema—Oskar Fischinger's ill-fated tenure at Disney, Kenneth Anger's influence on Martin Scorsese's pop-music montage—the case of Jordan Belson is especially curious. Indeed, many moviegoers may have already encountered Belson's work without realizing it. He was commissioned to produce effects sequences for the Mercury Seven epic The Right Stuff (1983), which is fitting, in a way, given that one of his greatest films, Re-Entry (1964), was partially inspired by John Glenn's 1962 space voyage. His ethereal compositions were also repurposed for Robert Parrish’s Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969) and, perhaps most memorably, in Donald Cammell's underappreciated Demon Seed. This AI nightmare concerns a supercomputer, its newly awakened consciousness manifest through Belson footage, that entraps Julie Christie in her home and impregnates her with its cyborg spawn in an effort to achieve immortality.

A key figure from the first wave of the Bay Area's rich and varied tradition of experimental filmmaking, Belson began his career as a painter—a current exhibition at Matthew Marks allows a rare view onto this aspect of his work—but was moved to begin making films after attending Frank Stauffacher's Art in Cinema series. Like his friend, filmmaker and polymath Harry Smith, Belson was an early explorer of the sensorium-warping aesthetic that would come to be known as psychedelia, long before the Summer of Love. He also produced pioneering expanded cinema performances in the form of his legendary Vortex Concerts at the California Academy of Science’s Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco in the late 1950s. During this time, he began making the 16mm films that comprise his core work: otherworldly visions created with a hand-assembled apparatus he called his “optical bench,” whose operations he kept a closely-guarded secret.

Using themes and ideas culled from his study of Indian religion, alchemy, Buddhism, and Jungian psychology, Belson conceived films that, via hypnotic flows of sound and image, seem to provide access to the transcendent. As scholar P. Adams Sitney has noted, Belson would move from early pieces like Mandala and Allures, which offer the viewer “objects of meditation,” to a more personal cycle of films, including Samadhi and Chakra, that “describe the meditative quest through a radical interiorization of mandalic objects and cosmological imagery.” Yet despite his films’ renown within the booming alternative film scene of the 1960s, Belson pulled nearly all his works from distribution the following decade, making them, for many years, exceedingly difficult to see.

“The new art and other forms of expression reveal the influence of mind-expansion,” Belson once explained to critic Gene Youngblood. “And finally we reach the point where there is virtually no separation between science, observation, and philosophy.”

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.

Above image of Samadhi and all Belson works, including three restored prints, courtesy the Center for Visual Music.