February 2016, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour: Letters in movement

LE FILM EST DÉJÀ COMMENCÉ?, 1951

Flowing cascades of signs, rotating words, dancing letters, scratched, embossed, double-exposed, superimposed, animated – from the beginning of cinema printed characters have been freed from their static identity and rendered dynamic in multiple ways. Letters that succumb to movement have very different functions. They open or close films, act as a commentary or a metaphor (of storytelling), as providers of information or graphic elements, as a dramaturgical tool or as an emotionalizing factor. Writing in film opens up new areas of association asking questions about visibility and structure, perception and materialism, mise-en-scene and innovation, The Magical History Tour is making an excursion into the moving world of letters, presenting examples of how writing was examined in early avant-garde and experimental cinema, "classic" Lettrist films, and also looking at contemporary feature films with writing leitmotifs.

MATRIX (Larry Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, USA 1999, 2. & 11.2.) Like green rain, columns of figures, kana characters and letters pour down the screen - the shimmering computer codes before and after the credits of all three Matrix films have become a key visual for the franchise's marketing campaign. A computer code that leads people only to perceive a simulated reality is hidden in the digital rain. Computer hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) takes up the fight against the fluorescent superior forces.

DER ZYNISCHE KÖRPER (The Holy Bunch, Heinz Emigholz, FRG 1986–90, 3.2.) In this experimental feature film, a group of artists are confronted with their own survival when a friend dies. The "complex, great, witty, gripping painter-poet-philosophy-sex film is about the connection between buildings and bodies and landscapes, between philosophical texts and Daliah Lavi hits." (Hans Schifferle) The notebooks of the deceased editor Roy help his friends reconstruct their common past: the writer Carl, his flatmate, the photographer Liza, the architect Jon, for whom Lisa takes photos, the illustrator Fred, with whom Carl plays out situations from his novel, and the translator Bela, who collections Freudian slips.

PIERROT LE FOU(Jean-Luc Godard, F 1965, 4. & 10.2.) Neon writing, diary entries, letters, fragments of letters from large-sized signs, bookpages - Godard's treatment of writing and words in PIERROT LE FOU is similar to the radical subparts of his film universe in its citatory and fragmentary attitude. A "fever dream" (JLG) which tells the story of the gangster duo (Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo) that turns its back on Parisian society and sets off on a thieving spree through the South of France.

LE FILM EST DEJA COMMENCE? (Maurice Lemaître, F 1951, 23. & 28.2.) This landmark of Lettrist cinema was originally designed to be accompanied by interventions "This film must be projected under special conditions: on a screen of new shapes and material and with spectacular goings-on in the cinema lobby and theatre (disruptions, forced jostling, dialogues spoken aloud, confetti and gunshots aimed at the screen...)." (M.L.) Even without these performances, the film is radical: The director combines very different film scenes (including passages from Intolerance), editing in positive, negative and black film, damaged film material; he paints, embosses and scratches the filmstrips, displays text with alleged credits or warnings to the audience, insults directed at himself, collages or fragments of words. The soundtrack consists of a long monologue on which Lettrist poems are superimposed. The first screenings and performances ended in scandal - the film's impact on the Nouvelle Vague and today's avant garde is beyond dispute.

SO IS THIS (Michael Snow, Canada 1982, 24.2.) "The film is a text in which each shot is a single word, tightly-framed white letters against a black background. With formalist belligerence, SO IS THIS threatens to make its viewers 'laugh cry and change society,' (...) Snow creates a kind of moving concrete poetry while throwing a monkey wrench into a theoretical debate (is film a language?) that has been going on sporadically for 60 years." (Jim Hoberman)SO IS THIS is in a programme together with ZORNS LEMMA (Hollis Frampton, USA 1970, 24.2.) A classic of structural cinema that acquired its title from a proposition of set theory named after the German-US mathematician Max Zorn. The film "exemplifies the transition from alphabet-based thinking to cinematic thinking, in the sense that an alphabet made up of 24 images gradually replaces the old series of letters, with each image-letter holding for one second, which at today's projection speed means that it repeats itself 24 times." (Frieda Grafe)

ABSCHIED VON GESTERN (Yesterday Girl, Alexander Kluge, BRD 1966, 22. & 27.4.) Kluge's feature with its programmatic title is about a young East German migrant to West Germany called Anita G. Lawyers and probation offers try to educate her and she soon finds herself on the run again. Numerous intertitles interrupt the sober, distanced and at times ironic portrayal and pass razor-sharp commentary - "Truth, when it appears seriously, is struck dead."“ – on the social conditions in West Germany. (mg)