UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


Trail 5: Screeches and scratches on the silver screen

By Rebecca McKeown

For two hours, the audience sits spellbound.

On the screen, a brooding man paces up and down the streets of Paris with no apparent destination, the narrator bemoaning the ills of conventional cinema.

Without warning, the room is filled with a horrible screeching – the sounds grates against sensitive ears and bottoms shift uncomfortably in their seats.

The screeches turn to chanting. The images on the screen twist and turn: sometimes “right way up”, sometimes upside-down.

Each film fragment bears no resemblance or relevance to the last. Soon, even the integrity of the celluloid goes under the knife. The images become riddled with squiggles, scratches, and swirls – the film attacked by dyes and knives.

For a hundred and twenty minutes the audience shuffles. Most sit staunchly through until the end.

This is the work of Isidore Isou, the Romanian founder of Lettrism – an avant garde movement aimed at revolutionising art, poetry and cinema. The film is “Venom and Eternity” (1951), Isou’s rebellion against conventional cinema, complete with desynchronised soundtrack, deconstructed story, and physical manipulation of the celluloid.

Attending the screening proved an excellent reminder that Romanian creativity and artistry stretches far further than the much-loved works of Eminescu, Porumbescu and their peers. Isou’s ode to (and attack on) cinematography may be a difficult watch, but it is no doubt also an important contribution to the field.

Many thanks to the Romanian Cultural Centre for organising this screening. The Cultural Centre schedules a variety of events celebrating Romanian art, music, and traditions. Visit the Romanian Cultural Centre's website