Jordan Belson – Re-entry (1964)


“In Re-entry he successfully synthesizes the Yogic and the cosmological elements in his art for the first time by forcefully abstracting and playing down both of them…” P. Adams Sitney

Re-Entry is considered by many to be Belson’s masterwork. Completed in 1964 with a grant from the Ford Foundation, it is simultaneously a film on the theme of mystic reincarnation and actual spacecraft reentry into the earth’s atmosphere. Also, as Belson says, “It was my reentry into filmmaking because I’d given up completely after Allures. Mostly for financial reasons. But also out of general dismay at the experimental film scene. There was no audience, no distribution, there was just no future in it at that time.”

Re-Entry is chiefly informed by two specific sources: John Glenn’s first space trip, and the philosophical concept of the Bardo, as set forth in the ancient Bardo Thodol or so-called Tibetan Book of the Dead, a fundamental work of Mahayana Buddhism. According to Jung, Bardo existence is rather like a state of limbo, symbolically described as an intermediate state of forty-nine days between death and rebirth. The Bardo is divided into three states: the first, called Chikhai Bardo, describes the psychic happenings at the moment of death; the second, or Chonyid Bardo, deals with the dream-state that supervenes immediately after death, and with what are called karmic illusions; the third part, or Sidpa Bardo, concerns the onset of the birth instinct and of prenatal events.

With imagery of the highest eloquence, Belson aligns the three stages of the Bardo with the three stages of space flight: leaving the earth’s atmosphere (death), moving through deep space (karmic illusions), and reentry into the earth’s atmosphere (rebirth). The film, says Belson, “shows a little more than human beings are supposed to see.” It begins with a rumbling thunderous drone (blast-off, perhaps). In a black void we see centripetal, or imploding, blue-pink gaseous forms barely visible as they rush inward and vanish. The sound fades, as though we have left acoustical space. After a moment of silence, the next sound is wholly unearthly: a twittering electrical pitch as vague clouds of red and yellow gases shift across the screen amorphously. Suddenly with a spiraling high-pitched whine we see a gigantic solar prominence (one of two stock-footage, live-action sequences) lashing out into space, changing from blue to purple to white to red. Now blinding white flashes, as though we’re passing the sun, and suddenly we are into a shower of descending white sparks that become squadrons of geometrical modules moving up and out from the bottom of the frame, warping and shifting to each side of center as they near the top.

“The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson”, Gene Youngblood


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