Lipstick Traces Pt. VII: Greil Marcus

August 29, 2007

A Review

Lipstick Traces: Greil Marcus

Part VII

The Assault On Charlie Chaplin

by R.E. Prindle


     Apparently satisfied with the attention called to themselves by The Invasion Of Notre Dame in 1950 Isou and the Lettrist International next made an assault on the film industry and Charlie Chaplin.

     Mr. Marcus doesn’t say where Isou announced his views on film or if anyone was listening but…


     …(Isou) both pronounced and demonstrated the manifesto of cinema decrepant, mixing up his images and his soundtrack, negating the filmic aspect of the film with torn and scratched celluloid, intentional flickering and passages of blank screen.  “I believe first of all that the cinema is too rich,” he proclaimed.  “It is obese.  I announce the destruction of the cinema, the first apocalyptic sign of rupture in this fat organism we call film.”


     What does one say to such grandiose nonsense as this?  What does “the first apocalyptic sign of rupture” mean?  While Isou was concentrating so heavily on letters he should have worked on the vocabulary of words a little bit.  How many people listened or cared?  Not many.  No one, actually.  Cinema decrepant?  Well, it was a concept but when you peeled away all the meaning, the ‘fat’, and showed nothing but black or white film, and made the strips of blank film unconscionably long, what then?  No one was willing to sit thrugh four and a half hours of blank film.  Once you’d seen one frame you’d seen them all, literally.

     Attention was required.  How to get it?  The Invasion Of Notre Dame had gotten the proto-Lettrists world wide attention.  That was one successful prank.  If coopting someone else’s gig worked once then it ought to work twice or perhaps three or four times running.  Well, that’s questionable, the old adage is never try the same joke three times running.  Isou, Debord and the other guy hadn’t heard that old adage.

     The second running of the joke got results but not all that much attention.

     The Lettrists stormed the citadel of the cinema at the Cannes Film Festival in a blazing display of chutzpah.  The boys were resisted but through the efforts of the homosexual lobby led by Jean Cocteau the Lettrists had a modest success.


     Through the graces of Cocteau, the festival actually awarded Isou the ‘Prix de l’ Avant Garde’ which was contrived on the spot.


     With or without the Prix de l’ Avant Garde few people were interested in viewing four and a half hours of blank film.

     The joke worked twice so the boys decided to ‘epater le bourgeouisie’ one more time without variation.

     Charlie Chaplin was coming to Paris to premier his film ‘Limelight’.  Chaplin was already in the afterglow of his long career.  Limelight wasn’t his last film but it should have been.  By the time he produced A Countess Of Hong Kong his career had turned into one eternal yawn.

     The boys launched a campaign printing leaflets of the most insulting and tasteless content.  Except that they were of the Left they would have been jailed.  An excerpt:


     Go to sleep, you fascist insect.  Rake in the dough.  Make it with high society (we loved it when you crawled on your stomach in front of little Elizabeth.)  Have a quick death, we promise you a first class funeral.


     All chutzpah and no civility.  It’s like these guys crawled out of the sewer for the occasion.  Three in a row was no charm.  Who the hell cared about Charlie Chaplin?  In the first place he was a Commie not a Fascist.  But you can’t call a guy a Commie and insult him in France.  What was he compared to Easter Mass at Notre Dame or even the pitiful Cannes Film Festival.  Next to nothing.  Nothing.  Three strikes and you’re out.  The not very interesting notion of cinema decrepant made little progress.  Even the ‘films’ have disappeared.

     I hope Mr. Marcus was being intentionally funny or perhaps his humor was unconscious but he says that although the film had disappeared he was working from a printed ‘script.’  It apparently takes more to write about a blank screen than to show it.

     So much for cinema decrepant.  So now the Lettrist-Situationist International is in mid-career from 1950-52 to 57 when Debord and Isou split.  So far these guys have made no impression at all.  It might be of interest to note that Lawrence Sterne in his eighteenth century novel, Tristram Shandy, had a chapter that was a blank page so Debord and Isou had an illustrious predecessor.

     At any rate we’ll next attempt a review of the last chapter, titled Lipstick Traces, before returning to the first chapter.  When I first saw the title Lipstick Traces I leaped to the conclusion of lipstick traces on a man’s collar betraying clandestine activities but Mr. Marcus following his song source closely gives the chapter title in full as Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette.) Nothing clandestine there, just vulgarity.  To Part VIII.

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