Film: Wonderful

Tribute to the animation of Lawrence Jordan

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It’s no surprise to learn that Lawrence Jordan worked with artist and filmmaker Joseph Cornell, whose boxes and 2D collages drew from the same rich midden of images.

It’s surprising how the cinema of 2017 has relied on the word ‘wonder:’ Wonderstruck (it’s brilliant), Wonder Woman, Wonder and the new Woody Allen film, Wonder Wheel. But one of the most wonderful things you might see in this year of wonders is ‘Film as Art,’ a one-afternoon stand by the animator and artist Lawrence Jordan on Sunday, November 12 at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center.

Out of a light table and scraps of forgotten paper, Jordan, 83, has woven a career of wondrous animation. The former San Francisco Art Institute teacher’s work can be as ambitious as an adaptation of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner narrated by Orson Welles. It’s also as small scale as his 1957 Waterlight, scenes taken from the deck of a California Maritime Academy ship, showing the way the sun over water looked 60 years ago.

Selections include the trippy The Sacred Art of Tibet (1970-72) a kind of Tibetan Buddhism for Dummies in jewel-like color. Just as it’s hard to imagine a more perfect version of Rime than the one Jordan made, the animation to Erik Satie’s compositions seems the perfect realization of Gymnopedies, even if the music is worn out by use in luxury car commercials.

“Morning and evening I search for images among the ruins of time.”—a caption in Jordan’s Postcard from San Miguel (1996). Jordan’s hand-crafted collage film turns an entire forgotten library of woodcuts, etchings and engravings into an animated adventure. Meticulously, frame by frame, Jordan hand-makes mysterious, fanciful films about eggs, flasks, acrobats, women with goldfish-bowl heads and spinning compass faces—all floating above tinted backdrops from Gustave Doré and other 19th century illustrators. At times, the images change so quickly that the screen pulses like a strobe light.  

‘Film as Art,’ Sunday, Nov. 12, 4:15pm, Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael; rafaelfilm.cafilm.org.

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