Sunday, August 19, 2007

New DVD Discussion: Venom and Eternity

Isou’s Venom and Eternity’s title would indicate it is composed of two parts – Venom and Eternity. Instead, the film actually is composed of three segments – The Principle, The Development and The Proof – none of the parts are called either Venom or Eternity.
It’s clear that Venom and Eternity is a philosophic film of an unusual order. The film, in an opening crawl, explicitly declares that this is the first film deriving from Letterist thought, discusses major Dadaist and existentialist thinkers, and provides a lengthy sequence where Isou’s theoretical books are lovingly displayed (for sale?). The film is broken into three parts, which might indicate some sort of classic three-part construction – instead, the three parts have no obvious relationship to each other.

The three parts are “The Principle”, where a young man named Daniel wanders the streets of Paris and thinks about a raucous film debate he has just exited; “The Development”, where he recounts some of his romantic activity with two women; and “The Proof”, which is a lengthy sequence of Lettrist poetry over abstract animation.

But these three parts do relate to each other if one views Venom and Eternity as a philosophic film, and Isou as a philosophic film-maker. The film begins where philosophy begins, in a philosophic speech analogous to The Apology. Daniel is telling the truth about film to a hostile, prejudiced audience in a cinema club, which condemns him and throws him out. Public, politically focused philosophizing based upon reason or dialogue fails. The non-philosopher and philosopher cannot communicate well, and though the philosopher indulges in many rhetorical flourishes, he cannot overcome the audience’s hostility. Of course, the cinema club cannot execute Daniel as Athens executed Sokrates, but they do exile him. Since exile was the other possibility for Sokrates’ punishment that Sokrates rejected (but Daniel accepts), we know Daniel is not Sokrates simply. This segment’s title of “The Principle” indicates we are within the space of traditional philosophy.

Part II: “The Development” is concerned with ordering Daniel’s romantic life. Romantic or domestic life is where one flees if one has been frustrated by the public life of politics. Here the plot resembles in it’s quirky way one of the most cherished topics of the earliest Romantic literature, with Daniel picking between two women. So, Isou is turning from ancient Greek philosophy to Rousseau, with the theme of the young man confused between the two women, both of great but different virtues. Except that, of course, Isou is not a Romantic and there is little virtue to be found in erotic things in this movie. Daniel finds only a bit more satisfaction in love than he did in dialogue.

So, in Part III: “The Proof”, we turn away from philosophy to art: art of a primitive and brutal sort – harsh Lettrist poetry made up of nonsense words yelled, screamed, growled and shouted by unseen male speakers as we watch abstract animation. The title of this segment indicates that this segment is where Isou wants our intellectual journey to end. But it ends in a place that has no reason (no words to reason with) and no love (the speakers are all males reciting poetry in anger). This is not a realm of people (the images of Paris and young women earlier in the film disappear), nor one of community (none of the unseen male reciters evidence any sense that there are other humans besides himself). While “The Principle” reminded us of philosophic debates, there is no rational sense in what we see in “The Proof” is an actual proof of anything.