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Wallace Berman's Underground Film Screening

Wallace Berman's Underground Film Screening

Los Angeles Filmforum and the Armory Center for the Arts present Wallace Berman's Undergrounda part of Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles, 1945-1980. 

In the mid-1960's, Wallace Berman inspired and communed with a close-knit circle of actors and artists, who screened their underground films domestically among a group of Topanga Canyon bohemians. These films were influenced by Berman's spiritualist and radically amateur concepts of art, that nevertheless thrived in the intersection among art, Hollywood, and the institutions of the semi-commercial underground. Among this expanded circle in Topanga were Dennis Hopper, Russ Tamblyn, Toni Basil, Dean Stockwell, George Herms, Bruce Conner, and Robert Alexander.

The evening will include several films made by the artists in this community, along with a conversation among the guests, and perhaps a performance.

Tickets: $10 general, $5 students (with ID) & seniors; free for Filmforum and Armory Center members, via Brown Paper Tickets

For more info, please visit LA Film Forum and Alternative Projections

In person: Toni Basil, Tosh Berman, George Herms, Russ Tamblyn (schedules permitting)

Curated by Rani Singh and David E. James

This screening is in conjunction with the Armory's exhibition Speaking in Tongues: The Art of Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken, 1961-1976, which will be open that evening before the screening. Come early to check out the wonderful exhibit! 

Screening (Program subject to change)

Artifactual: Films from the Wallace Berman Collection, by Wallace Berman (1956-66, compiled 2007, 33 min 35 sec, film-to-tape transfer of 16mm color + B&W I/N from 8mm and 16mm Reversal, silent)(Preserved by Anthology Film Archives, with support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. 8mm-to-16mm blow-up by BB Optics.)

Wallace Berman only made one film in his lifetime, Aleph. While preserving this film, another assortment of reels was uncovered containing many more films with footage by and of Berman. These various 8mm pieces have now been collected together and blown-up to 16mm. This new compilation features unseen scenes of Berman in his milieu with friends and family, including footage of a George Herms exhibition, a motorcycle ride (perhaps shot by Dean Stockwell) and 25 more minutes of footage related to ALEPH.

ALEPH itself is installed and available for viewing in the Armory Center exhibition. Aleph "… is a dense collage of images drawn from disparate sources including his own works; newspaper and magazine illustrations often animated by the camera's staccato movement over them; images from his own artwork, especially that of the single-image Verifax collages, including one of Flash Gordon that Berman titled "Portrait of Kenneth Anger", home-movie footage of himself, his family and friends, and other artists, including Stockwell and Tamblyn; and trips to movies to see It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and The T.A.M.I. Show, where Berman shot footage of the Rolling Stones and James Brown in concert. Almost all of the shots are very brief, often only a few frames, and the whole is further denatured by painting and scratching and by pverprinting, and it is punctuated by images of Kabalistic letters…." – David E. James, The Most Typical Avant-Garde, p. 278

Breakaway, by Bruce Conner (1966, 5 min., 16mm, color, sound) Music by Ed Cobb. Dance and vocal by Toni Basil 

A dance film viewed twice (once forward, once backward) in five minutes. The film was shot at single frame exposures as well as 8, 16, 24 and 36 frames per second.

"The camera captures her movements in gestural, expressive light smears. Intercut rhythmically with strophes of black leader, she gyrates in graceful, stroboscopic accelerations. Conner's editing is consummate as he alternates angles of her figure from different shots into a kinesthetic, flowing continuity.

"Basically a two-and-a-half minute film, this 'module' of image and sound is then reversed. Everything goes 'backwards' to the 'original' beginning. The sound track with Basilotta singing the title song is run in reverse as an aural analogue to the visual abstraction of photography. It resembles a paradigm for those high school physics demonstrations of gravitation where we saw a ball, once thrown straight up into the air, loyally retrace its trajectory to Earth."

- Anthony Reveaux

A Dance Film Inspired by the Music of Jim Morrison, by Toni Basil, (1968, 2m, color, sound)

Perhaps the first film to combine classical dance with dancing of "the street." "dancers in white face groove out in photomontage on a black backdrop to the music of Jimi Hendrix…" – from "Paper Monument: A Journal of Contemporary Art," review by Naomi Fry of the exhibition "Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle" at NYU

First Film, by Russ Tamblyn (c. 1966, ~8 min., 16mm, color, silent) (restored print from the Academy Film Archive)

A fast –paced view of the times and activities of Russ Tamblyn, largely edited in camera. Glimpses of scenic locales, artistic possibilities, people on the move, and the full gamut of filmic manipulations.

Rio Reel, by Russ Tamblyn (c. 1968, ~6 min, 16mm, color, silent) (restored print from the Academy Film Archive)

Similar in style to First Film, Tamblyn filmed a journey to Rio.

Selections from Topanga Rose (George Herms, 1960s, 25min., film transferred to video color, silent)

This selection of ethereal home movies shot in and around Topanga Canyon paints a rich portrait of Los Angeles as it once was….(The footage compiled includes beautiful landscape photography, the Birds of Chaos sculpture, Neil Young's wedding, a protest at the construction of a trailer park, a palm trees study, Gena's (a local waitresses) wedding, and footage of Herms' and Paul Beatties' families)


Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles, 1945-1980 will feature over 24 shows between now and May 2012. Alternative Projections is Filmforum's exploration of the community of filmmakers, artists, curators and programmers who contributed to the creation and presentation of experimental film and video in Southern California in the postwar era. Film series curated by Adam Hyman and Mark Toscano, with additional contributions by David James, Christine Panushka, Rani Singh, Abraham Ferrer, Terry Cannon, Stephanie Sapienza, Amy Halpern, and more.

The Alternative Projections website at contains oral histories, articles, and a searchable database with individuals, films, organizations, and exhibitions, and archival content. This will be the first database of its kind and will give scholars and the public a much richer understanding of art production in Los Angeles for years to come.

Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles, 1945-1980 is part of Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980. This unprecedented collaboration, initiated by the Getty, brings together more than sixty cultural institutions from across Southern California for six months beginning October 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the L.A. art scene. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty. The presenting sponsor is Bank of America.

Primary funding for Alternative Projections was provided by the Getty Foundation, with additional support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. This screening series is supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission; and the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles. Special support provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Additional support generously provided by American Cinematheque.


Saturday, December 3, 2011
8:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Armory Center for the Arts
145 North Raymond Avenue, Pasadena CA 91103