series of videos, color and b/w, sound, each video 9½ minutes long, 2008–2010 (presented as an 8-screen projection)
Discrepancy is the generic title for a group of works that I distinguish with parenthetical subtitles. All versions of Discrepancy have the same soundtrack and are the same length (9 minutes, 30 seconds). Only the image tracks vary.
I derived the soundtrack of Discrepancy from the film Traité de bave et d’éternité (1951) by Isidore Isou. In the film, an actor declaims his manifesto of cinéma discrepant to a skeptical audience. This action occurs exclusively on the soundtrack; the film’s images are only tangentially related to the sound, at times are almost random, and often are in a state of decay. The fundamental principle of “discrepant cinema” is a disregard of the image in order to privilege written narration. There is no attempt to illustrate the text. The relation of sound and image can — indeed, should — be as opaque as possible. Furthermore, the images are often “chiseled,” i. e., scratched, dirtied, splattered with ink and distressed beyond recognition. Isou engages in a perverse iconoclasm in a medium conventionally understood to be primarily visual. In his manifesto, Isou argues that he does violence to the image to renew the film medium.
I discovered Isou’s film — an important predecessor to the cinematic provocations of the Situationists — in 2007, when Kino Video released a DVD of the theatrical version of Traité de bave et d’éternité that had been distributed by Raymond Rohauer in the U. S. in the 1950s and 60s. On viewing it, I immediately noticed problems with the translation. Even the title has many versions. (Bave can mean slime, slobber, or the foam that comes from a rabid dog’s mouth.)
With the help of the screenplay published in France, I retranslated parts of the film’s voice-overs. I rendered the title as Treatise of Slobber and Eternity, at variance with the DVD packaging and the credits of the U. S. version of the film. I also modernized the film’s narration slightly and condensed it radically. The film’s original running time was nearly four hours, cut considerably to 70 minutes for its American release. I edited out the manifesto’s many digressions and repetitions, further shortening the voice over to a brief 9½ minutes. I then put the text through a computer-generated voice program for a “reading.” The result, without personal expression and with only arbitrary inflections, became the basis of my works called Discrepancy.
Primarily a writer and literary theorist, Isidore Isou showed his first film to much controversy and some acclaim, but made no more films. He was unable (or unwilling) to put the exhortations of his manifesto into practice. I have decided to see what would happen if I devoted myself to the practice of cinéma discrepant, using the manifesto itself as a point of departure.
Discrepancy (Ecstasy) makes use of a video produced by the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration on the occasion of its classification of MDMA as a schedule 1 controlled substance. Ecstasy’s footage consists of one long camera setup, a medium shot of a bureaucrat at a press conference. He is seen in front of a theatrical curtain, and he speaks into a large number of microphones. In an instance of wildly inept “dubbing,” the speaker’s lips move in Discrepancy (Ecstasy), but what the audience hears is the computer voice intoning Isou’s text.
(D. P. R. K.)
The source of Discrepancy (D. P. R. K.) is another “bureaucratic” film, this one a production of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly known as North Korea. This film, Young Men of Our Country, shows a mass calisthenics demonstration held in the USSR with Joseph Stalin in attendance. The print of the film, captured by the American army during the Korean War, is in wretched shape. Scratches, blotches of dust and dirt, and missing frames abound. The film, without any intervention, is already ripe for use in a discrepant film. In Discrepancy (D. P. R. K.), a black screen accompanies the words of the manifesto. Only when there is a break between paragraphs and the voice takes a computer-simulated “breath” do images from Young Men of Our Country appear in brief flashes lasting approximately two seconds.
The image track of Discrepancy (Rewind) is a recording of patterns made while rewinding tapes in a Mini-DV deck. The tapes rewound include scenes from vintage gay porn films. This accidental digital effect makes a sort of Cubist patchwork quilt out of pornography, though it is virtually impossible for a spectator recognize anything specific or “obscene” without having been informed in advance. With prolonged exposure, the hypnotic patterns can be painful to the eyes.
(Americans Will Die If They Don’t Give Up the Bombings)
Discrepancy (Americans Will Die If They Don’t Give Up the Bombings) contains images of the Vietnam War from the point of view of the Vietnamese. A film captured by the U. S. Army, it contrasts the destruction wrought by American bombers with the Communist war effort, including anti-aircraft guns in action. Americans Will Die If They Don’t Give Up the Bombings (1965) suffers from advanced nitrate decomposition, which at times creates a psychedelic effect.
(A New All Around Leap Forward Situation Is Emerging)
With images taken from a propaganda film in lurid I. B. Technicolor, Discrepancy (A New All Around Leap Forward Situation Is Emerging) presents nuclear tests made by China in the 1960s. Though the source film was made a few years after the economic policies known as the Great Leap Forward were implemented, a reference to them occurs in a phrase from the film’s English language narration that has been adopted as this Discrepancy video’s subtitle. Two sequences of the original film, edited in ever-quicker alternations, culminate in an apocalyptic, stroboscopic mushroom cloud.
With his characteristic combination of aggression and nostalgia, Isidore Isou expresses admiration for the marginalia of commercial cinema: “I want to make a film that hurts your eyes, just like during the screening of a very old print, cut up and shredded, when you see the numbers flashing upon the screen. I’ve always loved the flashing numbers at the beginning of reels.” Taking a direct cue from Isou’s narration, Discrepancy (Countdown) makes use of countdown leader footage, which, some years after Isou’s debut, became one of the most recognizable devices of experimental film.
Video feedback, including a triangular icon (for “play”) from a VHS tape, is the main visual component of Discrepancy (Feedback). The source tape was a bootleg copy of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty that had degraded over several generations. The feedback has been obscured by digital noise that becomes progressively less apparent, resolving the image as something still abstract and (with the exception of the “play” icon) unrecognizable.
Discrepancy (Visualized) is the result of playing the soundtrack of the series through the Visualizer in iTunes. In this version, the events in the picture have a direct, one-to-one correspondence to events in the sound. When there is no dialogue, the animated patterns come to a rest. Discrepancy (Visualized) has a complementary relationship to Discrepancy (D. P. R. K.), in which the picture is only activated when the dialogue comes to a stop.