Correspondences – letters as films


“For us, even lines thrown randomly on the paper of a letter are poetry, the most moving poetry”. Pier Paolo Pasolini was just 20 years old when he wrote this note. Yet a glimpse of him appeared, in the literary potential of the letter, of a roll of the dice; an impetuous and snatched gesture that consisted in turning the typewriter, shaking it in the hope that some letters may fall as little by little they detached from the paper. In this figurative momentum that pushed writing to yet another of its possible limits, the typewriter rebelled against itself and against the uniformity of expression. This is how the pinnacle of free form was reached: typographic poetry.

It is precisely these “lines thrown randomly” that expand the tunnels of fantasy, of mystery and of discovery, as if suddenly these letters were looking at us, observing our childhood just as our most-loved films did, as noted Serge Daney. Sometimes, just as with these films, we feel under the influence of these pages: if the world holds its secrets, it is to unveil them. Only then does the letter unfurl like a space of dreams, like a screen that we approach, in which we submerge ourselves. The correspondences that succumb to typographic poetry, with its “errors”, its arbitrary punctuation, its repetitions and variations in tone, its gaps and ends, its enchanted dances; even seem, we tell ourselves, to look at the camera. This writing “thrown randomly”, sometimes unpredictably, reveals the deepest layers of the writer’s personality. And not just with its graphology, but also because these lines seem, above all, to be the result of live, intimate writing, that has not yet been corrupted by the laws of public cause. These letters that look at us – and that look at the camera – are linked to work or to life, to the originality of an analysis or to the most sincere affections. They allow us to access the very deepest possible strata of the psyche of this person, who moreover, is a filmmaker.

Much more than a mere collection (of letters and images), this book proposes a composition, a network of relationships and juxtapositions, of associations between the letters (the columns of the text) and the reticles of photograms. Its reading – from left to right, from top to bottom – favours the jump in the line just as one sequence passes to another. Every cut should generate an energy shift. However, none of this would be justified if, above all, it were not for our intuition when faced with a possible meeting. The fact that the letters that come from furthest away, upon an embrace, generate the greatest emotional charge, is latent proof that in this book nothing had been planned. Each letter must have undergone an original disconnection process, leaving various drawers (no matter how light or dark, how dusty or not they may have been) to reach this point. Each letter grazes, caresses, touches, changes and amplifies the next, just as each image does, or each image and each letter. In every combination, each of this book’s elements is newly illuminated by the others, changing scale at each turn. This is what the materiality of the object-book is made of.

“There is no art without material”, filmmaker Jean-Claude Rousseau reminds us. Upon recalling the genesis of his film La Vallée close, he spoke of how he moved the different reels of Super 8 from one pile to another, hoping that the elements would find a position based on a first tension in which they recognised each other, consenting to harmonise, separating or drawing closer, reaching a consensus, corresponding in the right combinations, entering into alignment, thus revealing the film. This book arises from the same process spoken about by Rousseau: if two elements attract, in this case a text and an image, this line of strength is generated, guided by the tension that they arouse. This is how the book was unlocked.

In La Vallée close we hear a study by Henri Bergson about De Rerum Natura by Lucrecio. In this atomistic materialism, the elements drive each other forwards. It does not matter if they are not connected, as they encounter their position gravitating around the same orbit. The atoms move following a principle of analogy, of magnetic resemblance, according to which, as Rousseau explains, the elements align like stars, but do not connect, rather they merely agree in their equivalences, upon a rotatory movement that musters the concept of a particle accelerator: it is the similarity of the letters, of the images, of the documents, in their beauty, by the poetic position that they share, which is not chronological or geographical. Each letter, each image in this book had followed this precise process: all of them pre-empt the others, they return, they affirm themselves with each return in infinite rotations.

Sometimes, a marvellous letter did not find its place in this book, this fantastic place that it seemed to occupy when it was alone. In this respect, the work of assembling or programming a film series is exactly the same as that done in this book: above all, it consists of admitting this rejection as a possibility. As Pavase said, “we can only assess one thing by filtering it through another”. And given that it was never about creating an assembly by putting the same coloured pieces together (the letters, the images, the image-letters, the letter-images), we above all celebrate the accidents, which are always much stronger than any will. At best, we have conjured up and performed the odd spell.

The variations and movements of one letter to another, from one chapter to another, are particularly connected to rhythms, tones and affections, with each of them generating their own reverberation. For this reason, this book can move any way it wishes: here and there, sudden twists, spirals… Given its double sequentiality (that of reading the text and that of reading the book with all its materials), Correspondencias: cartas como películas (Correspondences: letters as films) proposes its own language and own device, which is neither that of film or of books, rather an intermediary hovering between the two.

The assembly of this book is in some way more sequential than time-based. In this respect, the body of the book has been composed in the same way as a reel. It can be seen and read without interruptions (with no separations or pauses), in a single, continuous flow of reading – as if there were just one image-letter – which is the same as that of the projection. Mallarmé designed his “book” using a newspaper as a tool to guide him in the composition. We have taken the photogram. For this reason, any of the images-letters that comprise this book have the same status as photograms: they encompass the entire space of the page. Here, the image can no longer be disconnected from the words, just as the words cannot be prised from the image.

If the object we have in our hands also reminds us of a file, it is because the book has in some way been produced in the same way as a film: it contains the complete succession of letters, collected as if they were small pieces of a puzzle, which knit together and intertwine to form an imaginary story, with an ending that remains hidden until the book is finished. Yet this story is essentially vertical, identical to the verticality of a photogram: even the footnotes are displayed vertically, emulating the zone of the photogram where the soundtrack is placed, so that in order to read these notes, the reader must perform a flipping movement just like the filmmaker, or the photographer when observing the film against backlighting.

Our idea of correspondence is not restricted to that being sent, rather we have decided to address the concept in all its facets, i.e.: any type of relationship that is established between elements of different sets, collections, terms or systems that each possess the same significance, nature or function. From this the diversity of the book’s materials emerges: postcards, telegrams, drawing-letters and letter-drawings, letter-portraits and portrait-letters, and above all, letter-films and film-letters (from the films sent by the Lumière operators from all parts of the world, to the 8 mm family films by Stan Brakhage, which evoke memories of albums or notebooks), they go beyond the mere notion of delivery; rather, they correspond to the levels between the letter and the film. Each fold of the book works just like a confrontation between two sheets, two planes (of sense), or even, within this diversity of materials (letters and documents), like a plane-counter plane, a confrontation. The photos and filming notebooks, the diagrams, the manuscripts, the images of locations, the notebooks, the photocopies, suggest handwriting, typewriting, photocopies or drawings. Some of them are related to textual production, other to image production; some have followed mechanical elaboration processes, and others manual processes (text/image/hand/machine).

Seeing an image consists in both contemplating it and reading it, just as a text also entails observation. Seeing and reading are not separate activities in this book. The idea of crossing the lines of the frame, or even the idea of frames within frames, suggests the possible establishment of an abyss, applied also to the body of the book. For this reason, each page is a reticle that contains an image-text (the correspondence) framed by a series of conceptual texts, just as each photogram is surrounded by the framework of its manufacture. Every word is therefore an object. Every image is a sign.

The relationship of these aspects with typographic poetry is profoundly intimate. Some of the senders in this book were poets, not all our participants are filmmakers (there are also novelists, photographers, painters, critics and historians, musicians, dancers). Some letter receivers were no longer with us at the time they were written (Danièle Huillet, Serge Daney), and many more, for diverse reasons, never received a reply. Some epistolaries were tireless (Carolee Schneemann, Stan Brakhage, Jean Renoir), which is why the selection of their respective letters remains engraved as a mark in the passing of time, as was the case of many others, who kept up the exchange of correspondences over various decades (Jean Cocteau/Jean Marais, François Deligny/François Truffaut, Jean Renoir/Robert J. Flaherty, François Truffaut/Jean Renoir).

Many of these letter do not only reveal secret friendships (Louis Lumière and George Méliès), but also unknown collaborations (Orson Welles and Robert J. Flaherty) or projects, which without these letters would have remained undocumented (Maya Deren’s idea of making a film about the circus, Pasolini’s proposal to Jacques Tati to participate in Porcile); other letters mark the end of a collaboration (Marguerite Duras, proposing a script to Alain Resnais, who after being rejected, would go on to film it herself). Other correspondences asking for help at times of creative confusion (Paul Sharits to Stan Brakhage, Stan Brakhage to Hollis Frampton, Gregory Markopoulos to Stan Brakhage); they document major historical moments (the War in the case of F. W. Murnau or Robert J. Flaherty, the political situation in Indonesia, Italy or France in the case of Joris Ivens, Pasolini or Truffaut), they appear like the chronicles of a journey (S. M. Eisenstein, Chick Strand and Ron Rice from Mexico, Warren Sonbert from Morocco, Resnais from Hiroshima, Ivens from Australia, Peter Hutton from Germany, Murnau from Latvia, Allen Ginsberg from India) or even greet other poets (like the letters-gift from Eric Rohmer, Anne-Marie Miéville or Chris Marker).

A letter is first and foremost a miniature time capsule: from the recollection of Jonas Mekas’s childhood, to variations in behaviour, the form of expression, or the use of language in the different letters – starting, for example, with the peculiarities of the correspondence of Jean Vigo with Jean Painlevé.  That which we call film should be taken as an ever-incomplete thought, like a story from which several pages have been torn. It is these gaps that the reader must fill out. This is the vocation of this book, which is formed by these pages that someone tore out from history books, pages that we find flying through the skies, across two oceans. Pages that we try to collect with open arms.