Lettrist Lemaitre sought the destruction of film through film. His Le Film est deja commence?, was accompanied by a book of the same name, containing a score describing a number of performative and sadistic events designed to accompany the screening, including locking the cinema doors so that the assembled crowd would be forced to wait outside the theater for an hour after the publicized start time, and hurling water and talcum powder on them. When the audience is finally allowed inside the cinema, they’d find “a portable rose-colored screen” showing Giffith’s Intolerance (1916). Actors disguised as attendees and as the manager of the theater begin arguing, before Lemaire arrives onstage to introduce the actual film. As Le Film est deja commence? plays, the actors in the audience continually disrupt the image by passing their hands and objects in front of the screen or projector beam, riding bicycles in the theater, turning the lights on and off, and yelling at the screen.
As for the disruptions taking place onscreen, Lemaitre unleashes a torrent of handmade interventions onto the filmstrip, providing a “chiseling infinitely more worked-over than in [fellow Lettrist] Isou’s film.” And if Lemaitre’s application of direct techniques doesn’t share the careful construction or artistry of Lye, McLaren, or Smith, his anarchic piling-on of the photographic image is undeniably suffused with devilish energy and fury. Lemaitre paints, scratches, tints, and bleaches the film, scribbling words onto the screen, snowing in images with crude flurries of dots and crosshatches, bursting through the darkness of the theater with single-frame explosions of white leader, and disorienting viewers with dizzying jump cuts between subjects. What is more, Lemaitre exposes the mechanics of film construction by making visible the filmstrip’s black frame borders, sprocket holes, and splices. Lemaitre also appropriates and parodies cinematic materials via an edited assemblage of Hollywood logos, notices for coming attractions, and various intertitles and classified ads. By emptying these promotional and corporate texts of their intended meaning and placement and marshaling them as satirical weapons against cinematic convention, Lemaitre prefigures the Situationist practice of detournement as well as the aesthetic strategies of American avant-gardists such as Bruce Connor, whose own satirical attack on cinematic narrative and dramatic sound, A Movie (1959), would ultimately be seen by (and taught to) a much wider audience than Lemaitre’s.