"I consider myself a maker of moving collages," Lawrence Jordan once told an interviewer, but this self-assessment is deceptive in stressing craft over art. In the early 1950s, Jordan (born in 1933) began his underground movie career with a series of live-action "psychodramas," but his real rep began a decade later with his first animated film. As a teacher at the S.F. Art Institute for 30 years, Jordan inspired many generations of filmmakers; but evidence of his elegant, brilliantly allusive style can be found in a much wider cultural geography, from Monty Python to the Brothers Quay to Tim Burton to The City of Lost Children.
Jordan isn't averse to citing his own influences -- Ernst, Buñuel, Joseph Cornell -- and indeed traces of their work appear in his "unknown continents and landscapes of the mind." But as the S.F. Cinematheque's four-evening, 12-film retrospective shows, Jordan's enchanting whimsies ultimately owe little to others. A film like Sophie's Place (1986), a feature-length animated stroll through an interiorized history, seems to be sui generis. Jordan spent five years constructing this "moving collage," using handpainted cutouts from medical texts, ancient natural history books, and other bizarre sources to create an "alchemical autobiography." The result is both a sweet satire of the Academy -- with classical statues dancing and still lifes becoming screaming tableaux vivant -- and a parade of dazzling absurdist imagery that wrings pleasure and pathos from its two-dimensional creations. Earlier works in the genre -- including the highly regarded Duo Concertantes (1964) and Our Lady of the Sphere (1969) -- are on view along with some of Jordan's live-action films. Of these, two stand out. The Old House, Passing (1967) is a mood-drenched ghost story lightened by such fanciful images as a woman blowing bubbles through a cemetery. Visions of a City (1957) is seven breathtaking minutes of poet Michael McClure navigating the streets of a San Francisco composed entirely of reflective surfaces.
Four programs make up "Lawrence Jordan: A Mosaic of Personal Selections," with the filmmaker appearing at all screenings: Sunday's live action program shows at the S.F. Art Institute; on Tuesday, short animated features screen at the Pacific Film Archive; on Thursday, March 23, animation meets live action at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; the series concludes with a program Sunday, March 26, at the S.F. Art Institute. All screenings are at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $4-7; call 558-8129 for details.