Lettrist film  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Lettrist film are the films produced by the Lettrist movement. They are the most radical kind of art and anti-films; initiated by Isidore Isou who felt that notwithstanding the considerably more recent origins of filmmaking compared to poetry, painting or music, cinema's own first amplic phase had already been completed. He therefore set about inaugurating a chiselling phase for the cinema. As he explained in the voiceover to his first film, Treatise on Slime and Eternity:

"I believe firstly that the cinema is too rich. It is obese. It has reached its limits, its maximum. With the first movement of widening which it will outline, the cinema will burst! Under the blow of a congestion, this greased pig will tear into a thousand pieces. I announce the destruction of the cinema, the first apocalyptic sign of disjunction, of rupture, of this corpulent and bloated organization which calls itself film."

The two central innovations of Lettrist film were: (i) the carving of the image (le ciselure d’image), where the filmmaker would deliberately scratch or paint onto the actual film stock itself. Similar techniques are also employed in Letterist still photography. (ii) Discrepant cinema (le cinéma discrépant), where the soundtrack and the visual track would be separated, each one telling a different story or pursuing its own more abstract path. The most radical of the Letterist films, Wolman’s The Anticoncept and Debord’s Howls for Sade, went even further, and abandoned images altogether. From a visual point of view, the former consisted simply of a fluctuating ball of light, projected onto a large balloon, while the latter alternated a blank white screen (when there was speech in the soundtrack) and a totally black screen (accompanying ever-increasing periods of total silence). In addition, the Lettrists utilised material appropriated from other films, a technique which would subsequently be developed (under the title of 'détournement') in Situationist film. They would also often supplement the film with live performance, or, through the 'film-debate', directly involve the audience itself in the total experience.

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