Letterist Cinema, between discrepancy and revolt
Film series put together by Eugeni Bonet and Eduard Escoffet

Letterist is an art movement founded in Paris in 1945 by the Rumanian poet Isidore Isou. Letterist activity has covered poetry and novels, visual arts and music, theatre and film among many other disciplines of creativity and thought. One peculiarity about Letterist, constantly involved in controversial manifestos and confrontational pamphleteering, is precisely the fact that it was not limited to a few specific years, but has continued right up to current times, as can be seen particularly in the cinematographic side of the movement. And, as Eric Rohmer said, Letterist (unlike the avant-garde movements of the 1920s and 30s which saw cinema as a experimental area for their pictorial, musical or literary theories) takes cinema on directly, placing it in the centre of its artistic priorities and seeing it as an intrinsic activity.

Isou and his main follower, Maurice Lemaître, with occasional input from Gil J. Wolman, Guy Debord, François Dufrêne, Marc'O and others — all very soon in disagreement with or complete disassociation from the original group — set out the bases of Letterist cinema in the early 1950s: discrepancy between sound and picture, the deconstructive chiselling of certain arbitrary images (found films, cast-offs from laboratories etc.); syncinema, or the projection seen as an event close to a happening; infinitesimal cinema (empowering the imaginary, destroying all the usual elements which we normally understand as ‘cinema'): polyautomatism or the unpredictable laws of chance …

Letterist films are attempts to smash through the boundaries of a servile concept of cinema based on technical perfection and faithful reproduction of reality and its social models, while simultaneously reopening the whole question of the film's reproductive principle. In the 1960s and 70s, the practices often had more to do with evocation than projection. In Letterist terminology, film is seen as being within the framework of a supratemporal artform which can often become performance. Lemaître and Isou's uninterrupted activity was now added to by a second generation, the best known of whom was Roland Sabatier, for his own peculiar dedication to cinema. Over the last quarter of the 20th Century, the rediscovery of Letterist cinema and the teachings and high-profile presence of veteran Letterists influenced still another generation which included, among others, Pierre Jouvet, Hélène Richol, Michel Amarger and Frédérique Devaux.

Although Letterist and the movement's corresponding cinematographic area have been the object of interest, study and reappraisal over the past few years - not only in France but also in Italy and the USA - they continue to be comparatively one of the lesser-known avant-garde movements, and it could be said that within Spain, Letterist is completely unknown. It is this gap in our cultural knowledge that made us want to produce this current film season — one with its own specific criteria rather than some kind of retracing of previous anthologies or retrospectives — as well as the book which accompanies and complements it.

Eugeni Bonet and Eduard Escoffet


Thursdays at 7.30 pm. (except Thursday October 13th)

29th September
Traité de Bave et d'…ternité [Treatise on Slime and Eternity]
Isidore Isou, 1950-1951, 120'

A cornerstone work of Letterist cinema, by the leader of Letterism himself. It is a film-manifesto introducing the principles of discrepant editing (sound/picture discontinuity), the destructive chiselling of photographic images, film as reflection on itself and on the eternity of truly innovative, truly creative cinema, against the slime or noxiousness — in the double-meaning of the corresponding French word nocif — of a slimy tradition, harming the evolution of the seventh art.

6th October
L'Anticoncept [The Anticoncept]
Gil J. Wolman, 1951, 60'

Gil Joseph Wolman (1929-1995) was - as he himself said - a conceptual artist … "but against it". L'Anticoncept, his contribution to Letterist cinema, was banned by the French censors, who must have suspected there was some kind of subversive plot under the surface of a film composed solely of rhythms of light — projected onto a spherical screen— and meaningless, even syntax-less, texts. What Wolman was after, however, was the cinematocron: a leap from cinematography towards a "physical phase in the arts".

20th October
Tambours du jugement premier [Drums of the First Judgement]
François Dufrêne, 1952, 60'

Dufrêne (1930-1982) was a multi-faceted artist: as well as his being one of the referents of contemporary sound poetry (along with Isou, Wolman, and other names from outside Letterism's sphere), his name is connected, as a plastic artist, with the Nouveaux Réalistes group. It was his previous association with Letterism that brought about this "sound film" which actually contains no images in the conventional sense of the word. This is a piece of cinema for the ears, made up of "Letterist poems", "cry rhythms" and "sung aphorisms".

27th October
Closed Vision (Soixante minutes de la vie intérieure d'un homme) (Sixty Minutes of a Man's Inner Life))
Marc'O, 1954, 70'

Although this film is considered of only marginal importance to Letterism, it does signal the passing involvement of its maker with the Letterist group, particularly as concerns the ideology of Le Soulèvement de la Jeunesse (Youth Uprising). The film, a Franco-American production shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1954, was supported by Cocteau and Buñuel but was afterwards forgotten for many years. Situated at the crossroads of various influences and affinities — or synchronicities on both sides of the Atlantic — this is a work waiting to be rediscovered.

3rd November
Une œuvre [A Work]
Maurice Lemaître, 1968, 15'
Le soulèvement de la jeunesse: Maî 68 [Youth Uprising: May 1968]
Maurice Lemaître, 1968, 28'
Chantal D, Star
Maurice Lemaître, 1968, 26'

The work of Maurice Lemaître alone constitutes a whole branch of Letterist cinema, because of the abundance of product, particularly from the mid-1960s onwards. The programme will include three very different works, which range from automatism extended to a celebration of cinematographic detritus, to the "only creative film" — in the author's words — about the May 68 revolts, and to a dismantling of the precepts of cinéma-vérité through the Letterist counter-norms of discrepancy, chiselling and the destruction of the picture.

10th November
Les Preuves [Proof]
Roland Sabatier, 1966
Rencontres avec le Letterisme [Encounters with Letterism]
Michel Amarger / Frédérique Devaux, 1989, 38'
Respirez [Breathe]
Roland Sabatier, 1968
Le songe d'une nudité [The Dream of Nudity]
Roland Sabatier, 1968, 18'
Quelque chose de plus [Something More]
Roland Sabatier, 1970
Evoluons (encore un peu) dans le cinéma et la création [Let us Evolve (a Little Bit More) in Cinema and Creation]
Roland Sabatier, 1972, 25'

This programme brings together a documentary which allows us a closer look at Letterism's wide multidisciplinary range (emphasising, in this case, its plastic and poetic sides), and the cinema — if it can still be termed as such — of Roland Sabatier, a second-generation Letterist artist. Within the movement, Sabatier has the longest filmography, although many of his "films" are not "films" in the conventional sense of the word, but rather fall into various categories such as filmless, imaginary, supratemporal or polytannic/polytanasic/polythanatoid cinema.

17th November
Un navet [Third Rate Film]
Maurice Lemaître, 1975-1977, 31'
Une histoire d'amour [A Love Story]
Maurice Lemaître, 1978, 8'
Un film porno
Maurice Lemaître, 1978, 22'
Des scènes d'amour très réalistes, avec force détails et gros plans [Some Very Realistic Love Scenes with Great Detail and Close-Ups]
Maurice Lemaître, 1978, 18'

Third Rate Film is the hugely eloquent title of the opening film of this season which actually contains some of Maurice Lemaître's most seductive work. Taking as a starting point the inherent beauty of detritus cinema, chiselled of image, discrepant of soundtrack, the anarcho-Letterist returns once more to the subject of cinema itself, which in turn goes back to his first incursion into the medium (see Programme 9) and to the motifs of love and eroticism, which are widely represented in both his work and in Letterism in general.

24th November
The Song of Rio Jim
Maurice Lemaître, 1979, 6'
L'amour réinventé [Love reinvented]
Maurice Lemaître, 1979, 15'
Un film commercial et militant [A Commercial and Militant Film]
Maurice Lemaître, 1979, 6'
La femme n'est plus ce qu'elle était [Woman is not What She Was]
Hélène Richol, 1978, 10'
Imagogie (Imagogy)
Frédérique Devaux, 1981, 6'
· …crisses
Michel Amarger, 1981, 7'
· Un petit bol d'air (A Small Bowl of Air)
Michel Amarger, 1981, 4,5'
Cursivités (Cursivities)
Michel Amarger, 1982, 10'
Ciselures (Chisellings)
Michel Amarger / Frédérique Devaux, 1992, 4'
Signes Song
Frédérique Devaux, 1998, 10'
Bri(n)s d'images [Scraps of Pictures]
Frédérique Devaux, 1998-1999, 5'
(w)hole / t(r)ous
Frédérique Devaux, 2000, 4'

The educational aspect of Lemaître and Isou's activities produced, particularly from the late 1970s on, a renewed vigour in Letterism, due as much to the influence of their way of doing things as for the way they brought in a whole new generation. As well as including another three films by Lemaître (still active today), this programme will also include glimpses of other new focuses which range from Hélène Richol's sardonic feminism to working over the actual filmstock (splicing, chiselling, cutting, gluing on …) in the films of Frédérique Devaux and Michel Amarger.

1st December
Le Film est déjà commencé? [Has the Feature Started Yet?]
Maurice Lemaître, 1951-1952, 62'

The film season closes with another of the legendary cornerstone works of Letterist cinema, which was first conceived not so much as a film as a "film showing", or, using the neologism coined by the filmmaker himself, as syncinema: a production which involves all kinds of actions in time and space, all over the screen, and involving the audience even before the projection begins. Please be punctual, just in case when you arrive … the feature has already begun!



EN CRISI #1. Reflections at a critical juncture: Perejaume, Ignasi Aballí and Eduard Escoffet