Light Movement 21: Joseph Bernard

Light Movement 21
Sontag 7. Mai 2017, 8pm, Spektrum Berlin
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This month it is a huge pleasure to present the films of visual artist Joseph Bernard. From the mid 70s to the mid 80s, Bernard made over 100 super-8 films, all fairly short, all but one silent, and with a visual immediacy that extends the possibilities of the collage film with both the warmth and intimacy of the personal, and an insistence on the frame as a formal carrier of rhythm and colour. A student of Stan Brakhage in the 1970s, and previously trained for an extensive period as a painter, Bernard began to be interested in the possibilities of filmmaking after seeing Brakhage's Mothlight - a work which has always remained critical to his sensibility as an artist.

Along with with the work of artists and filmmakers, poetry and music also remained highly influential to his filmmaking. The sense of rhythmic presence in the work, the shifting colour fields and abstractions of spectral light, the rapid montage of visual detritus, is often quite suddenly interrupted by an opening up onto a scene, a depiction of a particular space, which draws the formal language of the work back into the quiet immediacy of the poetry of the everyday. It is at these points of division that Bernard's subtle uniqueness as a filmmaker speaks, in a language closely connected to, and reflective of, the small format of super-8.

After these 10 years of intense, almost obsessive filmmaking, Bernard turned his attention back to painting and collage after becoming frustrated with the costs of film stock and the lack of exposure this type of filmmaking generally received. After a three-decade career of teaching fine arts at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Bernard's films finally began a second life, being restored and digitised with the assistance of former student, culminating in a 40-film blue-ray edition of previously unreleased films.

Recent years have seen a number of significant screenings take place, until recently mostly in the United States but now also in Europe. We are extremely lucky to have the opportunity to present this selection of films from "one of avant guard cinemas overlooked masters." The program, curated by Bernard himself, half of which is being shown publicly for the first time, will be a sensitive visual treat, and a journey into one filmmakers very personal, celebratory yet humble language.

P R O G R A M  (all films are Super-8, but screened digitally)

Celebration: The Loving of Things Seen
  1978, 6:09 mins, color, silent
An early set of discoveries that helped provide vocabulary to an aspiring, self-taught filmmaker. The title was meant sincerely as the visualization of surroundings, friends, objects, as well as light, color and movement themselves, became reason for being.

Fixation  1980, 9:49 mins, color + b&w, silent
A somewhat obsessive meditation on melancholia, losses and memories.

The Detroit Films (Reel #2)     1985, 9:48 mins, color + b&w, silent
Only three more titles followed this one as I transitioned back into painting, having grown increasingly frustrated with Kodak and the lack of public attention to filmmaking. I began large clear tape hangings that encased gorgeous debris; film frames, thread, petals, hair, ink, onion skins; all of which eventually grew into 8-foot wall panels. But of the film, (Reel #2), this is the level of metrics, the visual resonance I was always after.


Broken Nights  1980, 10:05 mins, color + b&w, silent
A suggestion of drifting psychosexual dreams fragmenting in & out of events, places, time itself. Locations include a Detroit basement, a Provincetown (a northeastern U.S.) night carnival and an artist’s studio. Details and darkness become the conduit.

Semblance: Frampton Brakhage Relation  1981,    5:21 mins, color, silent
A simplistic analogy of obvious disparities between these two masters, concocted on the beach in Provincetown. No disrespect, just koaning around.

Full Circle (It’s Always Been Around)  1984, 14:56 mins, color, silent
This film references my first viewing of Brakhage’s Mothlight and continuing regard for his work. Full Circle ends with a “4 SB” tag. (I’d add now, “with love & everything”).


Visual artist, Joseph Bernard was born in Port Chester, NY, educated at the University of Hartford Art School and School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied with independent filmmaker, Stan Brakhage.

For 35 years, Professor Emeritus, Bernard taught fine arts at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. Experimental collage sensibilites are evident in his paintings, films and photographs. Contemporary poetry and music remain as influences. His work is informed by travels to Provincetown, Southern California, Austin, Nashville and other locales.

His films have been exhibited at Toronto’s Funnel Theatre, Detroit Institute of Arts, Chicago Filmmakers, Rutgers University, San Francisco Cinematheque, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Dartmouth College, Indiana University Cinema, Third Man Records in both Nashville & Detroit and NYC’s Museum of Modern Art, among others.

An ongoing project is the restoration and archiving of his over 100 Super-8 silent films and prints made between the mid-1970’s to mid-80’s. Joseph Bernard and wife, MariaLuisa Belmonte, live in Troy, Michigan.


Implications of a Totality: Frames for the Films of Joseph Bernard,  Phil Coldiron, Cinema Scope 63, 2015


with extended thanks to Joseph Bernard


Light Movement 21: Joseph Bernard
Sontag 7. Mai 2017, 8pm, Spektrum Berlin

Bürknerstraße 12,
12047 Berlin

U8 Schönleinstr.