Skip to main content

Off-Screen Cinema

Isidore Isou and the Lettrist Avant-Garde

Off-Screen Cinema

Isidore Isou and the Lettrist Avant-Garde

One of the most important avant-garde movements of postwar Paris was Lettrism, which crucially built an interest in the relationship between writing and image into projects in poetry, painting, and especially cinema. Highly influential, the Lettrists served as a bridge of sorts between the earlier works of the Dadaists and Surrealists and the later Conceptual artists.

Off-Screen Cinema is the first monograph in English of the Lettrists. Offering a full portrait of the avant-garde scene of 1950s Paris, it focuses on the film works of key Lettrist figures like Gil J Wolman, Maurice Lemaître, François Dufrêne, and especially the movement’s founder, Isidore Isou, a Romanian immigrant whose “discrepant editing” deliberately uncoupled image and sound. Through Cabañas’s history, we see not only the full scope of the Lettrist project, but also its clear influence on Situationism, the French New Wave, the New Realists, as well as American filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage.

192 pages | 90 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2014

Art: Art Criticism, European Art

Film Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Media Studies


“Provides a richly analyzed and rewarding context for critical films and film theory from subsequent decades. Invaluable for those interested in avant-garde film and art. . . .  Highly recommended."


“Cabañas’s careful account of the Lettrists gives her readers ample material to consider just what to make of these self-proclaimed and long-heroized bad boys.”

Film Quarterly

"Given that Lettrism has been primarily a French concern for a long time and that few texts have been translated, [this study is] utterly welcome."


“Cabañas has created a marvelously entertaining and eclectic exploration of not only the Lettrist Movement but also of its causes, consequences, and brilliant conceits. . . . This book has something for any reader—from the scholarly to the casual—who is interested in the avant-garde of art that flourished in Europe, especially in France, during those shattered post-WW II years of the 1950s to the early 1960s.”

Found Footage

"The study of twentieth-century art is greatly enriched by the sustained attention Cabañas grants to Lettrist cinema's brief flourishing, particularly where she demonstrates its impact on important modes of performative and critical practice to follow. . . .  Cabañas's essential study illuminates a vital episode in the longer history of the contemporary post-medium condition."

CAA Reviews

"Each of these four chapters contributes to bringing Lettrism out of its doctrinal isolation by parsing the relationships between Lettrist works and those of their contemporaries, both artists and theorists."

Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne

“Cabañas demonstrates that films such as Debord’s Hurlements en faveur de Sade, Wolman’s L’anticoncept, and Isou’s Traité de bave et d’éternité actually materialize the history of cinema: the flicker of light/dark passages recalling the opening years of filmic rictus, or passages of silence bringing us back to the period before the entrance of synchronized sound. Off-Screen Cinema is magnificently researched and argued, a pleasure to encounter.”

Rosalind Krauss, author of The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths

“Cabañas drives a wedge into our conventional ideas of avant-garde cinema, the relation between postwar modernist art and film, and the origins of the ideological critique of cinema by revealing the neglected, yet essential, role played by Lettrist cinema in Paris in the early 1950s. In finely chiseled prose, she details the revolutionary aspect of the cinematic work of Isidore Isou, Maurice Lemaître, and Gil J Wolman, as well as the better-known Guy Debord, transforming our sense of the alternative histories and practices of cinema.”

Tom Gunning, author of The Films of Fritz Lang

“Fantastic. Off-Screen Cinema is an urgently necessary project, and a joy to read. It is an important book which I would gladly recommend to scholars of art and film history, performance history, and postwar French cultural studies. Destined to be widely read and discussed.”

Andrew V. Uroskie, author of Between the Black Box and the White Cube

Table of Contents



1 To Salivate Is Not to Speak, as Boring as Watching Dust
2 French Cinema Dies of Suffocation
3 Spasmodic Spurts of White Light on a Sphere
4 Eroticism Should Occur in the Audience


Appendix: Letters from Stan Brakhage


Selected Bibliography


Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press