May Day weekend at Anthology Film Archives is consecrated to the most influential of post-war French avant-garde movements. “Films of the Situationist International” (April 28 through May 1) opens with situationist leader Guy Debord’s film adaptation of Society of the Spectacle and a 1994 portrait of the artist-provocateur; it includes a reconstructed Debord film-event and a pair of Asian genre films “détourned” by his disciples. But the strongest film (qua film) in the series isn’t, strictly speaking, a situationist work at all.
Produced in the early ’50s by the Lettrist firebrand Jean Isidore Isou, Venom & Eternity launched an all-out attack on conventional cinema. The nominal narrative is set among the students and cineastes of St. Germain des Prés. Isou treats the film material with the utmost contempt, inserting black leader, scratching the emulsion, running footage upside down or in reverse. Everything is accompanied by grandiose, jejune pronouncements and the ranting chant of a hyper-aggressive soundtrack: “I’d rather give you a migraine than nothing at all.” There’s even a love story that ends when the belligerent young protag kicks out his girlfriend and she is deported to Norway.
Venom & Eternity, which legend has it was once far longer than its current 90 minutes, supposedly inspired a riot at Cannes. Be that as it may, Stan Brakhage saw the movie at an impressionable age and never forgot it: Venom & Eternity, he wrote, is a “portal through which every film artist is going to have to pass.”