Isou's Traite de bave et d'eternite (Treatise on Slime , or, in the case of its English-language title, Venom and Eternity , 1951) and Lemaitre's Le Film est deja commence? (Has the Film Already Started?, 1951) both feature marks made directly on celluloid via painting, bleaching, and scratching. These interventions into the filmstrip, however, did not seek to represent inner vibrations, introduce new ways of seeing, or reveal hidden truths, but were used to complicate, deface, and destroy filmic representation via an attack on the material of film itself. In so doing, the Lettrists hoped to discomfit, confuse, and provoke the spectator.
The Romanian-born Isou, ne Ioan-Isidor Goldstein, had begun Lettrism as a teenager during World War II, and the film serves as a kinetic update to the manifesto he had written in 1942. Isou's background was not in film but experimental poetry (Traite de bave et d'eternite begins with a static shot of a pile of Isou's writing). Though often written about as a precursor to Situationism, it is important to remember that Lettrism was a unique movement comprising myriad artistic practices. It is thus not surprising that Isou's film finds kinship with a number of forms and practitioners, referencing literary sources (such as Hugo) and painters (Cezanne and Picasso) as well as filmmakers (the film anticipates its hostile reception by invoking the cascade of boos and hisses that met Bunuel's L'age d'Or ). The film's dedication is to Griffth, Gance, Chaplin, Clair, Eisenstein, von Stroheim, Flaherty, Bunuel, and to others "who have contributed something NEW or left their hallmark upon the Art of Cinema."