Film Notes

NEW DVD: Visual Music from CVM Archive

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Mary Ellen Bute

pgraph Polka Graph, 1947, color, sound, originally 35mm.

Began as an actual chart of Shostakovich's Polka from "The Age of Gold."Award winner at Venice Film Festival.


color rhapColor Rhapsodie (1948), color, sound, originally 35mm. Music: Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2."

Premiered at Radio City Music Hall 1951. "[Bute] transcends her influences; her visual imagination triumphs. I like the romantic flair of COLOR RHAPSODY [sic], its visual density...I think it is time to re-see and re-evaluate all of Bute's work in a new light." - Jonas Mekas, Soho Weekly News (9/23/76)


abAbstronic (1952), color, sound, originally 35mm.

These electronic pictures of the music are a natural phenomena which take place in the sub-atomic world; they are then captured on the Cathode Ray Oscilloscope and filmed with the motion picture camera. The colored backgrounds are hand done and superimposed on the electronic animation of the musical themes. In this movie, film artist Mary Ellen Bute combines Science an Art to create "Seeing Sound." (Press release from Ted Nemeth Studios).

Article by Bute: "Abstronics. An Experimental Filmmaker Photographs The Esthetics of the Oscilloscope," originally published in Films in Review, Vol. 5:6, 1954 (PDF)


Jordan Belson

mandala Mandala, 1953, color, sound, Balinese gamelan music. Originally 16mm.

Belson painted imagery on long scrolls, which he then filmed. Using long paper scrolls, he could paint fluidly down the length of the scroll, then film the imagery frame by frame afterwards. Mandala is his first film to use mandala imagery, and an early expression of his interest in eastern philosophies (CVM).


med Meditation, 1971, color, sound. Originally 16mm. Preserved by CVM with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation

Compared with Allures, Meditation places greater emphasis on the spiritual significance of the mind's journey inwards, as is indicated by two quotations Belson included in his program notes for the first screening of the film: "By diving deep through your spiritual eye you will see into the fourth dimension, aglow with the wonders of the inner world. It is hard to get there, but how beautiful it is! (Yogananda)," and, "I saw a shining ocean, endless, living, blissful. From all sides luminous waves, with a roaring sound, rushed toward me, engulfed and drowned me; I lost all awareness of outward things. (Ramakrishna)." -- Program notes for the "World Premier" of Meditation, Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, California, as quoted in Wees, William, Light Moving in Time, p. 132-33

Meditation is an extended visual metaphor of a mind in meditation. Its strength does not lie in the accuracy with which it represents specific details of meditative states—the "shining ocean," "luminous waves," "diving deep through your spiritual eye," and so on—but in its fidelity to the forms light is given by visual processes within the central nervous system. The specks of light and misty, glowing colors, the symmetry and circles, the mutating forms, are characteristic of hallucinations of many kinds—though they seldom achieve the organic unity of Meditation —and they recur in many variations throughout Belson's work as a whole. -- Wees, p. 133

Meditation is “a poetic, abstracted account of the meditational experience, inspired – according to Belson – by the words of three spiritual masters: Yogananda, Ramakrishna and Sri Ramana Maharshi…” (1972 Pyramid Films notes). 


chakra Chakra, 1972, color, sound by Jordan Belson. Originally 16mm. Preserved by CVM with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation

Usually the subjects I chose to build images around had some kind of traditional form of their own that I found useful in constructing my film. Take Chakra (1972), for instance. If you study the chakras (the psychic centers in the body), you find that there are seven of them…They’re usually depicted as arranged along the spinal column and described starting from the bottom, going to the top. Each chakra has its own unique characteristics, and centuries of elaboration and analysis have accumulated around these characteristics. ... In Chakra, I was able to transfer the traditional order of the chakras into a film, starting with the first (lower) chakra and working up to the seventh (top) chakra…

While I was doing the soundtrack for Chakra, I came across a list of the sounds people have reported hearing when in deep meditation, traditionally about ten sounds. The first is what they describe as the sound of the honey-intoxicated bee. Then there’s the sound of a motor and the sound of a bell, the sound of a flute, and the sound of thunder. I just went right down the list, exactly as listed in the book, and put those sounds on the soundtrack to accompany the chakras. - Belson, interview with Scott MacDonald, quoted in A Critical Cinema 3




Charles Dockum



1952 Mobilcolor Performance at the Guggenheim, 1952, color, silent. Originally 16mm. Photo above, label on can containing original 16mm Kodachrome print, Dockum collection at CVM. This performance, a demo by Dockum for curator Hilla Rebay, was shot at the Guggenheim, NY by cinematographer Ted Nemeth (partner of Mary Ellen Bute). Preserved by CVM for the 2005 "Visual Music" exhibition at MOCA LA and Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C.

dockDemonstration of Mobilcolor Projector, 1966, color, sound, originally 16mm. Short documentary made by Dockum examining and explaining the workings of the Mobilcolor Projector. Preserved by CVM with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation


Mobilcolor Performance Film, 1969, color, silent, originally 16mm. Preserved by CVM with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation


Barry Spinello

Sonata for Pen, Brush and Ruler, 1968, color, hand-drawn sound by Spinello. Made by handpainting sound and picture onto clear 16mm leader.

"14,000 frames carefully painted, with sound painted on the edge. Budget - $9.00 (four bottles ink, a brush, a pen, 400 feet used leader) and 8 months of concentration on the nib of a pen." - Spinello

Statement, "On Sound and Image as a Single Entity" by Spinello (PDF)



Jules Engel

"Jules Engel's films, uniquely among the leading exponents of abstract animation, exhibit a thoroughly Post-Modern sensibility: witty, eclectic, versatile, literate but accessible, classical but popular." - William Moritz

Landscape, 1971, color, sound, originally 16mm. Preserved by CVM (with NOMI Group) with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation

"[the] confluence of art and dance perhaps reaches its most complex relationship in a film like Landscape, in which pure color frames with no imagery melt and flicker into one another. Engel calls it "Color Field painting in Time," but again, as with Kandinsky, the very addition of Time and sequence to Color Field canvases constitutes a daring extension of chromatic possibilities, while the reduction of choreography to off-on sequences with no internal gesture or articulation rivals the most radical experiments of John Cage and Merce Cunningham in minimal design. Yet Engel's result in Landscape is an exciting, accessible experience that fascinates and intrigues the viewer -- a tribute to Engel's artistry." - William Moritz


Mobiles, 1978, color, sound, originally 16mm. Preserved by CVM (with NOMI Group) with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation. Abstract animation drawn and painted on paper.


play Play-Pen, 1986, color, sound, originally 16mm. Preserved by CVM (with NOMI Group)



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