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07.02.08

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Phaedra

The Lawrence Jordan Album

Four discs; Facets Video; $59.95

By Michael S. Gant


In Lawrence Jordan's wondrous short film Duo Concertantes (1961–64), a bandaged man extracted from the pages of an old anatomy text hovers in front of a piece of 19th-century scientific equipment while glass flasks magically proliferate across the screen; a glowing, pulsing sphere (a planet, a seed, a ball of pure energy) sprouts moth wings and floats away, bounces through the exhibits at a Victorian trade fair and bursts out of the lens of a projector. Jordan's hand-crafted collage film turns an entire forgotten library of woodcuts, etchings and engravings into an animated adventures. It comes as no surprise to learn that Jordan (b. 1934) worked with Joseph Cornell, whose boxes and 2-D collages drew from the same rich midden of images, ranging from high-art reproductions to the detritus of old advertisements. Meticulously, frame by frame in 16 mm, Jordan hand-makes mysterious, fanciful films about eggs, flasks, acrobats, women with goldfish-bowl heads, spinning compass faces-all floating above tinted backdrops from Doré and other 19th-century illustrators. At times, the images change so quickly that the screen pulses like a strobe light. This remarkable four-disc collection surveys a brilliant career, from 1957's Waterlight to 1996's Postcard From San Miguel (Jordan retired in 1999 from the San Francisco Art Institute). Jordan's best works are his collage animations, set to Baroque music or Satie selections. The flow of images, sometimes starkly black and white, sometimes deeply saturated with color, delights the eye even if parsing them proves impossible. Sophie's Place (1986), an 86-minute epic, bridges cultures with a dancing Renaissance nude who alternates with a turbaned head in a grand mosque while ideal forms from Platonic philosophy wink in and out of existence. Jordan also shoots his own footage for more traditional films. The H.D. Trilogy Film (1990–1993), which takes up an entire disc, is a sepia-toned travelogue about the filmmaker's lover Joanna McClure. She see her wandering through Greek ruins while snippets of verse from obscure Imagist poet Hilda Doolittle are read on the soundtrack. It surely satisfied some memorializing urge by the filmmaker but is nearly unwatchable. Cornell, 1965 shows Jordan's mentor at work sorting materials for his art boxes, including, surprisingly, some old Lionel toy train cartons. It is one of the very few records we have of the reclusive artist.


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