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Watch Films by Larry Jordan

"His animated (collage) films are among the most beautiful short films made today." — Jonas Mekas
Larry Jordan

Larry Jordan, occasionally known in more formal circles as Lawrence Jordan, has been making experimental and animation films for half a century now. He grew up in Denver, won a scholarship to Harvard, then dropped out to start a theater back in Colorado with his high school friend, Stan Brakhage. "Stan was always the director," Jordan wrote in a remembrance in the Millennium Film Journal in 2003. "He seemed to have far-reaching radar for locating people and works in the art world. Five of our gang came out to San Francisco in about 1954. (Stan came first — always the avant-garde.) When I arrived, he was living in the basement of poet Robert Duncan and painter Jess Collins. We had one old car, a flatbed trailer for our gear, and about five films between us. So naturally we started out to tour California, showing our wares."

They eventually wound up in New York, where they slept on couches in Maya Deren's Greenwich Village studio. "We hung out with Willard Maas and Marie Menken sometimes, and we also met Joseph Cornell." We'll come back to that. First, though, when Jordan returned to the Bay Area, he stayed for a while in Michael McClure's apartment, and "between stints as a seaman in the Merchant Marines and travels in the Far East," notes Duncan McKenna in the biography at Jordan's site, "Jordan met Philip Lamantia, Wallace Berman, George Herms, and Bruce Conner, with whom he started Camera Obscura, a film society that ran for a number of years. Jordan also established The Movie, San Francisco's first 16mm experimental film theater in 1958." He'd also become a founding director of Canyon Cinema Cooperative, with whom we're partnering to present seventeen of Jordan's films.

Our Lady of the Sphere

So where in the world to start? Probably with Our Lady of the Sphere (1969), if for no other reason than that it was entered into the National Film Registry in 2010. Here's what the Library of Congress has to say about it: "Jordan uses 'found' graphics to produce his influential animated collages, noting that his goal is to create 'unknown worlds and landscapes of the mind.' Inspired by The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Our Lady of the Sphere is one of Jordan's best-known works. It is a surrealistic dream-like journey blending baroque images with Victorian-era image cut-outs, iconic space age symbols, various musical themes and noise effects, including animal sounds and buzzers."

Another recommendation would be Cornell, 1965 (1978). The background on that one is that, in 1959, Jordan sent Joseph Cornell a handmade book of stills taken from Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible and the two of them struck up a correspondence. McKenna: "Over the next few years, Cornell commissioned Jordan to provide photographs and film sequences for him by mail…. In 1965, Cornell asked Jordan to come east to be his assistant. Living for a month in Cornell's house in Flushing, Jordan worked on box assemblages, edited Cornell's film Legend of Fountains and shot new footage for him, in addition to making the only film of Cornell at work." Jordan would continue to make boxes and collages of his own throughout the following decades.

Sacred Art of Tibet

In 1970, Jordan won a Guggenheim award to make Sacred Art of Tibet (1972), which features lives scenes and his friend Dean Stockwell. The San Francisco Chronicle has called it a "monumental effort that is laced with brilliant artistry, moments of deep impact."

If you're looking to sample more recent work, Jonathan Marlow has a suggestion: "Cosmic Alchemy [2010] is thematically and visually consistent with his earlier shots and yet, set to an evocative score by John Davis, Jordan has crossed into an unfamiliar and richly rewarding territory of metaphoric complexity. For the handful of folks unfamiliar with Lawrence Jordan's work, Cosmic Alchemy will leave you desperately wanting more. For the rest, already quite familiar with his brilliance, this film will install a fresh appreciation for Jordan's justifiable position among experimental cinema's ascended masters."

This way to the cinema, Films by Larry Jordan.

Some of his films are really really hard to find. Thank you for this post!

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