berman  berman
Wallace Berman (February 18, 1926 – February 18, 1976)

     Like a number of Beat artists, Wallace Berman experimented in film. A native of Staten Island, Berman moved with his family to Los Angeles in the 1930s. There he became a key figure in West Coast counterculture and created Semina (1955-64), a hand-printed mail-art proto-zine disseminating poetry and art by Berman, William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Jordan, among others. The artist died on the eve of his 50th birthday, after being hit by a drunk driver.
Aleph (1958-1976) 6 minutes, 16mm, color, silent

"This film took a decade to make and is the only true envisionment of the sixties I know." - Stan Brakhage

      Aleph, Berman's only film, was begun soon after the release of the first issues of Semina and was created with techniques carried over from collage and painting. The work was originally shot on 8mm black-and-white stock. Berman edited and shaped his unique copy by adding hand coloring, Letraset symbols, and collage portraits of pop-culture icons, which he sometimes superimposed on images of a transistor radio. According to his son, Tosh, the artist regarded the print as a "creative notebook" and made additions over the years. After Berman's death, filmmaker Stan Brakhage salvaged the film and enlarged it to 16mm for public screening.
      Heralded by Brakhage as "the only true envisionment of the sixties I know," Aleph captures the era's contradictions - its optimism, sense of alienation, and intensity. The film pulses with energy. Tosh likens Aleph to his father's studio - an overwhelming, seemingly random assemblage of objects placed with exacting care. In Aleph, stills come to life and appear to dance to a staccato beat.
      Berman did not give his film a title. Tosh named it Aleph, after the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which was adopted by his father as a monogram.  Berman's evocative use of the Hebrew characters reflected a fascination with Kabbalah, a system of Jewish mysticism. Kabbalah translates as "receiving," and through Kabbalah's mysterious workings, Berman believed, language and image receive ecstatic unification as art.
      Berman rarely permitted public screenings and preferred to show his film privately, often to a single friend. Tosh remembers his father projecting Aleph without music but occasionally accompanying it with a favorite record, anything from James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" to a work by Edgar Varèse. Here Aleph is presented with new music created by John Zorn, composer-in-residence at Anthology Film Archives.

—From the linner notes of the DVD Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986