August 5, 2007

Isidore Isou, 1925 - 2007.

Isidore Isou est mort.

Site officiel du Lettrisme.

Lettrists 1951

After the Traité screening at Cannes.
Third from the right: Isou. Third from the left: Debord.

[In 1951, Guy Debord] met the lettrists in Cannes, where they had showed up to create a ruckus and make sure Isou's first film, Traité de bave et d'éternité [Treatise on Slime and Eternity], was screened.

The film consisted of four hours of "discordant cinema," with its melodramatic images enhanced with scratches, shaky footage, blank frames, and a soundtrack that had no relation to the picture, consisting of monologues and "onomatopoeic" poetry (composed uniquely of sounds rather than words, onomatopoeic poetry being to lettrism what automatism was to surrealism, a kind of aesthetic matrix as well as quality label). As for casting, Isou's lettrist accomplices, who were unlikely to have been very demanding about payment, had the leading roles. The avant-garde... followed its course and decided to impose this decisive destruction of cinema (as Isou himself claimed at the time) on the assembled cinephiles, who were in principle convinced of the radiant future of their favorite art. The festival authorities ultimately agreed to show Isou's film (very possibly simply to get him out of their hair), but at the last minute presented only the film's sound track, which didn't really change things much as far as Isou's film was concerned. However, Debord and [Gil] Wolman, who were present, took from this the underlying principle of their first cinematic projects: films without any images at all. As for Isou, his success was enormous and nearly unanimous, which is to say he was booed by everyone in the audience. Even the young Godard was skeptical. (Was this the source of Debord's tenacious hatred for the man the situationists would later refer to affectionately as "the dumbest of the pro-Chinese Swiss?") The only supporters were Maurice Schérer (later known as Eric Rohmer), who conscientiously praised the film in Cahiers du cinéma, and Jean Cocteau (was he seduced by the Elvis Presley of postdadaism?), who arranged for Isou to be awarded a "Prix de l'avant-garde" that had been created specifically for the occasion.

Vincent Kaufmann, Guy Debord: Revolution in the Service of Poetry.

Lettrisme has made its way through many European movements, from the bewildering thicket of Italian isms to looser incorporations in the Russian Samizdat revival of Zaum, in the work of many Hungarians, and particularly in the large and varied body of work of the Signalists in Yugoslavia.

Karl Young introduces the Isou collection at Lettriste Pages.

See also: Venom and Eternity (1951), Isidore Isou: Musiques Letteristes and "French Letterists: 1940 - 1970s" at Ubuweb; and the Wikipedia entry.

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Posted by dwhudson at August 5, 2007 4:27 AM