INTRODUCTION TO THE ARCHIVE OF ENIGMA screening of BERNIE O'REGAN'S FILMS; at the Dancehouse, Melbourne, June 15th, 1998
I like the title of tonight's presentation of the late Bernie O'Regan's films.
It's an "archive of enigma" because he didnt, apparently, leave his work in any discernible order --that is, apart from his work-books, which would have to be as important a legacy of his work as his completed artefacts & recent projects.
He's an enigma in himself and, dare I say it, to himself. Of course that's true in varying extent for anyone, --so it's the extent of mystery, of doubt, in respect of origin, derivation, prospect, perspective, attitude, direction, accent & subject that makes Bernie O'Regan so much more of an enigma as person & poet-photographer.
As Jude Telford states in her perfect & poignant reminiscence, Memories of London, (that is, the London of 1971), "for some of us poetry was in film"...
Important to establish this right from the start --Bernie O'Regan was a film-maker/photographer in an environment whose crucial language was poetry. For some film-makers this is a boon, for others a deadweight. Some of that is covered by Stan Brakhage, who deals with it problematically though of course so very interestingly. Bernie would have found in Brakhage the inspiration for an instinctual or natural film-making, just as he would have found in Frederick Sommer a yielding to the given --the given image as a meeting of internal & external nature perhaps.
Bernie's first poet friend was the English poet, John Hall --John had been a student at Cambridge [in the mid 1960s], where everyone's a poet and has been forever --and John was publishing poetry within what came to be known as the Cambridge School fraction of the New British Poetry.
John had the English tradition in him --Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wyatt, et al --but I think only as established by Ezra Pound's canon. He had encountered Charles Olson & Robert Duncan through his teacher Jeremy Prynne's influence. He read his Black Mountain school and also his New York school...
Bernie got that much closer to whatever of the New Poetry he'd read through knowing John Hall.
I met Bernie at the Totnes Arts Festival in South Devon in 1972 . I'd met John Hall in 1970 [in Southampton] and we'd corresponded --he was the first of my blue-pencil critics on the English scene --poets whose criticism I trusted. He'd invited Bernie O'Regan as the film-maker for the festival. I was one of the poets [David Chaloner was the other]. And a friendship & colleagueship began.
I remember that the movie Bernie showed at the Festival was silent , accompanied by a tape of rock music --I seem to recall the Rolling Stones. I dont think any of his films had sound aside of music.
I also think that words, especially poetical conceptions/poetry, surround his photographs --and that the photo sequences he produced later in his life are like films...
Certainly, our unfinished photo & text collaboration, which I called BIOAUTOGRAPHY, was a kind of film which would have been seen as a book as well as an exhibition.
I want to suggest that as a film-maker/photographer among poets, Bernie constructed a poetics which derived at least equally from poets as from film-makers & photographers.
Part of a poem by John Hall called European History, is a chronology --"the chronology," says the poet, "is that of poignant grief." "The story begins / with wonder and pilfering just like poetry."
The last 3 items are :
"(24) history is bigger than any of us, hence 'tragedy' or, if the doomed aren't
there is no direct mention of war, partly because the astute always see it
coming and partly because I understand it as little as I do peace or poetry
this history is about daily life : the details fill themselves in."
Another book [of poems] by John Hall, Meaning Insomnia [Grosseteste,UK, 1978], is dedicated to Bernie. It was published 20 years ago. It contains a prose-piece, The Field in Bernie's Photograph, and I'll quote : " If it is the first or second day of 1970 and you are walking towards Toby's Point, there is snow on the ground in the fields that you pass. (...) Bernie, who makes photographs, passed by this field during the two days in which, according to our hypothesis, you may also have been there. The snow is not the whitest thing in his photograph; there is whiter in the sky...."
In 1983 I published [in H/EAR magazine, #4, Melbourne] a sequence of poems by Bernie entitled "1981 : A series of Photographs in the manner of one of my poems?" I quote :
"a man is walking
he is carrying something yellow
we can not see that it is yellow because this is black and white photography
however it has yellow written on it.
he is out of doors.
he is resting
the yellow thing he is carrying is like a flag
we cannot read the word yellow completely because it hangs down half furled"
I can imagine them with a title not mentioning photographs --and a poetry reader being quite satisfied with them as poems...
I'll close by quoting Bernie's poem in which he records his debt to [Melbourne poet] Ken Taylor, and some of the poem he refers to by Ken Taylor :
"(...)I have heard Ken Taylor / read Maurie speaks of a secret Australia / while in Iceland/ it is changed / or a rechanged / or recharged / it can save your life / literally / or at least my life / Frank O'Hara / you will know / I do not often speak of ten pin bowling / I said to Finola, with respect / after this I can become an Australian artist / with respect (...)"
"(...)Maurie told me of / a secret Australia, / of nurses and wood-cutters, / farmers, a young man / with cancer, / isolated behind the / cast-iron fence, / a Base Hospital in / a country town, / mid-week races on / a radio somewhere, / men in dressing gowns / to stop other men / in the street / to buy bottles of beer / through the cast-iron fence..." And from the end, "(...)Death in a cicada / summer and / everywhere / a sense of life / as cold / and as still / as that swing, said Maurie, / pointing."