Thursday, April 7, 2016

"Off-Screen Cinema: Isidore Isou and the Letterist Avant-Garde" by Kaira M. Cabañas

978-0-226-17459-4 University of Chicago Press

"Off-Screen Cinema: Isidore Isou and the Letterist Avant-Garde" by Kaira M. Cabanas (University of Chicago Press)

After going to a series of films in various theaters lately, I have now come to the conclusion that the cinema is truly dead.  It is like time stopped about twenty-years ago and nothing has changed.  For inspiration, I have always looked back at an age that seemed to embrace the new.  I have become fascinated by the Letterist movement due to their interest in art, cinema and literature.  In fact, their work usually consists of all three mediums in the same world, or even spot.  Over-all, they have challenged the idea of an audience watching a film, and the interaction between the viewer and what is projected on the screen.   I purchased a film "Traité de bave et d'éternite' (on DVD) by Isidore Isou.  Which is sort of ironic, because I'm sure the film works better in a theater environment than say my living room with two speakers.  Nevertheless, I imagine myself in the theater sometime in the post-war years in Paris, and being confronted by this work.  In many ways, it is a city film - being Paris. Makes it interesting just due to the character of the urban dream of that time.   Kaira M. Cabanas' book length study on the films that were made by the Lettersets - is much needed.  Besides Isou, there were Guy Debord, Gil J. Wolman, Maurice Lemaître, and François Dufrêne.  Due to the rarity of these films, I haven't seen all of them.  So, of course, the book raises one's curiosity - but Cabanas' take on these works, just makes it more interesting.  The illustrations that are in the book are superb, and this is clearly a must-have if one is interested in avant-garde cinema, but also the culture of the Letterists which eventually turned into the Situationists - and beyond that to the world of Yves Klein and Marcel Broodthaers.  There is also a touching set of letters from Stan Brakage to both Isou and Lemaître.   Superb book. 

Isidore Isou in his film Traité de have et d'éternité

- Tosh Berman

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