The Free Screen shares Jordan Belson’s transcendental vision.
For Terrence Malick’s Oscar-nominated opus The Tree of Life, the litmus test of whether or not an individual viewer will find the film watchable is an early sequence, where the camera leaves Brad Pitt’s 1950s domicile to head for the heavens in search of the origins of life. Some stop watching in protest, complaining that the movie’s wordless, vaguely psychedelic digression into patterns of light and smoke is a crime against storytelling. Those a bit more familiar with the avant-garde (or Hollywood’s appropriation of it) see something different, not least a nod to the imagistic passages from both 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Right Stuff, the latter of which used the expertise of experimental filmmaker Jordan Belson to create the imagery that accompanies the moment when pilot Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier.
This month’s edition of TIFF’s experimental film series, The Free Screen, revisits Belson’s rich catalogue, partly in memory of his death in 2011. The program, designed for the Center for Visual Music and co-curated by Cindy Keefer and Belson himself before his death, focuses on the spiritual dimension of Belson’s short films. Influenced throughout his career by a number of mystical philosophies, Belson created abstract work that expresses a transcendental vision as deep as Malick’s.
Viewers will be treated to some of Belson’s most influential shorts. Among these is 1973′s Light, a gorgeous display of flames, dust particles, and glowing orbs. Also, 1961′s Allures, which in 2011 was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Belson bristled at the idea of viewers first encountering his films online in low-resolution transfers, so this is an ideal opportunity for initiates to screen his work as he intended it to be seen.