Larry Jordan

Larry Jordan

Fellow: Awarded 1970
Field of Study: Film

Competition: US & Canada

California College of Arts & Crafts; San Francisco Art Institute

Larry Jordan has been making films for over fifty years.  Although the profile below, an excerpt from a National Film Preservation Foundation publication, focuses on his animated film Hamfat Asar, Mr. Jordan’s work also frequently uses live scenes.  An example of this is his Guggenheim-supported film  The Sacred Art of Tibet (1972), featuring his friend Dean Stockwell.  In addition to making films, Mr. Jordan was a Professor of Film Studies at the San Francisco Art Institute for thirty years (1969–1999). 

"The artistic cauldron of the late 1950s San Francisco Beat scene forged filmmakers as well as painters and poets.  From this melting pot, by way of Colorado and New York, emerged Lawrence Jordan (b. 1934), one of the most inventive–and articulate–avant-garde animators.

"Raised in Denver by teacher parents,  Jordan won a scholarship to Harvard University, where he discovered film. Dropping out, he teamed up with high school friendd Stan Brakhage to start a theater in Colorado before setting his sights on San Francisco.  There, between tours of duty in the merchant marine, he fell in with Michael McClure, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, Jess Collins, and Wallace Berman.  Jordan founded the film society Camera Obscura with Bruce Conner and went on, the the late 1950s, to create the city’s first experimental movie theater.

"Jordan’s gift to artist Joseph Cornell of a handmade book of film stills led to a flurry of correspondence and an invitation to become Cornell’s assistant.  In 1965, he moved into the sculptor’s house in Queens, helping with artworks, editing Cornell’s Legend of Fountains, and filming the older artist at work.  Jordan returned to San Francisco energized by Cornell’s ‘poetic sensibility.’

"Hamfat Asar dates from the same year and grew from Jordan’s fascination with the collage novels of German surrealist Max Ernst. Against a backdrop of a static cliff-lined seascape, the film sets into motion a stream of whimsical Victorian-era illustrations slavaged from books.  Jordan ratchets up the tension by introducing a tightrope and a man on stilts making his way haltingly from the shore.  Fantastic hybrid objects–timepieces, balloons, a steamroller-like train, mushrooms turned butterflies, and even John Tenniel’s Alice–appear, float across the frame, sometimes transform, and vanish to the primal beat of drumming.  At one point the entire scene bursts into flames.  Tightrope gone, the man reemerges on a cloud followed by a memento mori skull and flowers.

"Jordan has remarked that his collage film brought together ‘thoughts on life, light, . . . death and the underworld,’ adding that Asar is a variant name for the Egyptian god Osiris.  But to tease out artist-embedded messages from the objects is not the filmmaker’s point.  The black-and-white cutouts act as Rorschach inkblots from which viewers draw their own ‘predispositions’ or meanings.  In a 1995 interview he mentions, with delight, a review of Hamfat Asar that described specific images not present in the film.  To Jordan, the reviewer’s ‘mistake’ was evidence that his film worked."

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