ASX.TV: Wallace Berman – “Aleph” (1966)

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.

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