Every artist knows this truism: one has to destroy to create. Creation follows and is dependend on destruction. The very act of destruction reveals beauty and truth. Something is lost too. A little boy tears apart a dinkey toy: truth revealed, love gone.
In 1951 the young Romanian born Isidore Isou (1925-2007) released his experimental and revolutionary film Traité de bave et d’éternité (Venom And Eternity), which some critics found revolting, and which became the Lettriste film manifesto. It is available on You Tube in 12 parts and also on FilmboxLive (dot com). Attacking many film conventions by chipping away at them in his film, Isou introduced new concepts, including “Discrepant Cinema” in which the sound track has little or nothing to do with the visual track. The sound track begins with jarring and the sound of rhythmic vocals (as in: mantra’s), which continue as background noise during spoken dialogue. In addition, the celluloid on which the film was recorded is attacked with destructive techniques such as scratches and bleaching. The film caused a scandal at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival and was of inspiration to many avant-garde film makers.
Venom and Eternity begins with a five-minute sound poem of complete jibberish over a black leader. It is dedicated to Griffth, Gance, Chaplin, Clair, Eisenstein, von Stroheim, Flaherty, Buñuel, and to others “who have contributed something NEW or left their hallmark upon the Art of Cinema.”
Beyond Dada and heavily influenced by De Sade, Isou states in Part I (The Principle) that the more a subject matter is spoiled and perverted, the more beautiful it is.
“When I was a child, an ambassador’s daughter used to come into one of my father’s groceries. She bought Rocqueforts, Camemberts, Limburgers. The thought that she ate stinking cheeses disgusted me. (…) As I grew older and acquired a more refined palate, I too learned to prefer Camemberts and Rocqueforts to white cheeses and a great love of cheeses to prefer those that stink.”
“Remember Marquis De Sade’s relations with women. In his search for the unknown, he reached a special kind of love known as perversion. The more ugly the woman was, the more she excited him and pleased him in love. (…)” And he refers to The 120 Days of Sodom.
The same applies to art. Cinema this time: “First of all, I believe the cinema is too rich. It is obese. The instant it attemps to broaden itself, it will burst. (…) One must go beyond the image and attack the film stock. Before anything, photography must rot. (…)… so as to destroy it and let myself be moved more by its folly than by its reasoning.”
In Part II (The Development) Isou shifts from theory to practice. It contains two love stories. Eve is an attractive Norwegian woman, resembling “the haughtiness of movie stars” and who doesn’t like people whose ideas differ from hers. Denise is more of an object. Daniel wants to please her belly and hurt her heart. He gets her to repeat “I love you, Daniel.” Denise delivers a poetic rhapsody on words and love and death and concludes with: “And when two beings meet amid the words and the people who incarnate these words, when two beings discover each other and come together, they who since their birth and the birth of the world were seperated, the shock of their contact is cosmic.” Less interesting is the part on The End: “It says The End. In reality, the drama has only begun. The decrepitude of getting old together: the kitchen, children, habits, wrinkles. Everything wears out in this hell. The very thought of our love will make people want to throw up.” Daniel discusses seeing very old couples, whom he finds disgusting: “Each has been a witness to the other’s downfall.”
Part III (The Proof) contains a number of Lettrist sound poems that “have no meaning whatsoever.” We see images of Cocteau smoking a cigarette. Isou makes an overt comparison to Blood of the Poet. Some more on Eve and Denise. “Never, never shall I accept their love, their good and their evil because they offer me what exists, and what exists is bad, because it is mortal.”
Although a bit over the top by present day tastes, what is still interesting, are the statements about art and beauty in this eccentric visual manifesto.
How to paint, when so many have already attacked the canvas and tried worm out some beauty from the material while tearing apart the canvas and abusing it?