By .txt  texto de cinema 

In this interview with Yann Beauvais we speak about the relations between film and text. Non-narrative aspects of text in filmmaking, text as image, and try to stablish a minor history of film text pieces.

Born in France in 1953, Yann Beauvais became conscious of the need to lead a “cultural battle”. Filmmaker and film critic, he organizes experimental cinema events in France and other countries. After his film and philosophy studies, he became very influenced by contemporary art (Russian formalism and minimal structuralism) and learned music, as well as by his friendship with Paul Sharits. He strives to find a balance between formalism and lyricism. He himself explains that the common denominator between all his films is that they are all constructed according to the principle : « fragility » – « disappearance » – « disintegration». In 1982 he co-founds Light Cone with Miles McKane. Amongst others he has published: Musique film with Deke Dusinberre (1986), Mots: dites, image with Miles McKane (1988), Poussières d’images (1998) and finally, Monter/Sampler, with J. M. Bouhours (2000).

 -As Keith Sanborn said in one article, you developed or invented the “text piece” films. In your cinema how could you shortly define this film (anti) genre?

Yann Beauvais: I have no precise memory of this text by Keith Sanborn, it might be something he wrote about Tu, sempre. I have been interested in the relationship between text and film. One of the first things I ever did with film was to condense the master I wrote, into a short film work. I draw directly on the filmstrip text as images in order to induce/produce meaning with an economy of means. One word at a time (on 2 or 3 frames) to experience how film works. Showing an image that gives itself as a presence: Voici (here). This word can be understood as look at this, here I am an image but in fact it’s a word as image.

The use of text has always been important within filmmaking, not only at the early years of cinema, but text has been an important component of visual information and has been displayed or included within the images by different filmmakers according to there involvement within the written or printed words. This urge of the text within the image is not specific to film if one thinks about renaissance painting, illuminations of the middle age, or comics. Within cinema the used of text by the surrealists was introduce to break the causality and linearity of the narrative. This attitude was more at stake within the avant-garde. What interested me was to have a film made of texts only. I had incorporated it very often within my diaries according to different forms: being graffiti’s on the wall of Paris, signs, etc (as in Disjet, Divers Epars…) or combined text with images such as in Spetsai, Transbrasiliana, War on Gaza, Hezraelhah.


To read requires time, the pace of reading is different for everyone despite the fact that we could always find an average reading speed, and within printed text, one makes its own time. But when one is facing text within a film or video, one is subject to the pace of the maker who has set up a certain duration for each written word. Within the film and television industry the pace is relatively formatted. You have to observe duration for people to read without being speedy. Subtitles are following this social agreement, which is given as respectful to the reader, while it is more surely a technical diktat, which imposes its aesthetic into a display of information. As if everything should be shown, produced similarly and given at the same speed.

When viewing a text within a moving projected image we are experiencing a temporality which is imposed to us, as it is the case with the plot in most films. The time of its appearance is not clear for us, we don’t know if we will have enough time to read, so often we scan the text, more than reading it. Therefore why not using the possibilities that reading can produce / induce within the scope of time based arts. I found that there were a lot of connections between film as music, and film as text, on different levels, being questions, of patterns, rhythms, duration…

Returning now to the question of text pieces films, I would say that among other people I have been dealing with such an issue and have been digging this path for 20 years, when I made this first film on/about AIDS. Before that, the text piece films were proposals dealing with theoretical issue, such as with my first film as well as with VO/ID. When I made the film the question of postmodernism was in full gear, this film addressed the question of the connection between experimental film and art. At that time it seems that the question of filmmaking could not avoid the questions that postmodernism, punk were addressing to post-structural filmmakers. In relation to the space I was creating for experimental films (Light Cone, Scratch) I could not ignore what was at stake and how to coop with theoretical issues. At the same time I wanted to articulate these issues (art, film, and their politics…) with personal issues, in order to explore the multiplicities of a “subject”.


The text piece film became a way to activate and link my film making with new tools, from Still Life (1997) the use of video processing and use of computer gain a bigger space within my filmmaking. The fact that it was possible to see quite immediately the result after the rendering made it possible to think film with text as something which could be a performance but also as something  live, which I have very often performed with Tu, sempre at least since 2002. In est absente (2005) the text from the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud is appearing with different color, on black or white surface, when it is present as an installation in the Maison Rimbaud in Arthur Rimbaud’s teenager room, the texts are projected onto a mirror which reflected it into the room, until it seemed to exit through a window… This film, as VO/ID, Sid-A-ids (1993), Still Life and Tu, sempre, is a text piece film.

-Considering Stan Brakhage’s Text of Light; Michael Snow’s So is This; Jean Luc Godard’s Historie(s) du Cinema; and your film VO/ID. What could be called a text in a film, after those radical experiences?

Yann Beauvais: This question is tricky because first of all, as you know, there is no text with the film of Stan Brakhage the Text of Light, there is only the texture of the light, and reflexion of light through this glass ashtray that Brakhage used as a motives/sources for his film. Therefore when you wish to know what could be a text in film after some of these radical experiences you are quoting, I would say we have only open the field, there is plenty of ways to deal and incorporate text within time based arts. The computer, the web has modified totally the way we are thinking, producing and making images. What seems to not belong to film has been largely incorporated into new film grammar, such as for example composing, motion text, etc…. Within time based arts, text has become one element which have not any longer a specific location within their images, its appearance, its motion, its behavior have become an object with which we can paint, write the image. There is no limit in its used and one can think of this marvelous cascade of words or numbers as a way to organize new horizons, such as text as space, and this in film!

The dynamism of the motion apply to words or sentences, paragraphs or pages transform the relation we used to have with the written information, as if the concreteness of the text was at stake as soon as you deal with it through motion. Let’s not forget that the illuminating boards giving news or the stock exchanges are part of our daily environment, and this situation has much as the works of artists dealing with text create a dynamic from which film can’t be separated. It is not by mistake that works like So Is This, VO/ID or Secondary Currents have appears in the 80’s at a time when Barbara Kruger or Jenny Holzer… were questioning the master voice: his/story, and the modernism myth.

The perception of film as text has been extremely useful to decode the articulation of pro-filmic elements within the production of a discourse, but one could also thing of text as a moving pattern from which it is not necessary to master all its components than surfing over them, in order to produce or grab some meaning and not necessary a stable meaning. The text is not any longer A Master TEXT, but something from which you grab meaning from its rhythms, its localization, its motion; all poetics are given by considering the text as a visual object, something which could lead to the production of some sort of rebus which is a way to expand the possibility of the writing. Connection between texts which are overlapping, crossing, on parallel lines at different speed, all these strategies show that text has become one of the element of the image with which you can play as much as the other. The text is an object to be activate, it’s meaning is transform by its delivering.

-Following the last questions thought, what’s your opinion about the use of the concrete poem (Organismo by Décio Pignatari) in the film Cinema Falado from Caetano Veloso?

Yann Beauvais: In Cinema Falado, there is a short sequence dealing with written text as a visual object. While the presence of the text within that film is constant as oral object, as speech, it is only used as a visual object once, in one sequence if we ignore the end titles. In that sequence a line of text: o organismo quer repetir…

This sentence is also said by a man.

A kind of zoom within the text is made, fragmenting the sentence, focusing on a word in order to create another one, such as the word “organismo”, which is followed by orgasm, and a letter “o”, to make the Portuguese word orgasmo. Then, the doubling of the letter “o” evokes immediately the play on text that Fernand Léger did within Ballet mécanique: On a volé un collier de perles de 5 millions. This sentence is followed by its fragmentation in different closed-up focusing on the zeros. The use of sentences as visual object used in painting as a common practices was relatively new within film in the early 20’s. Here the play had to do with shifting of the quality of the object, passing from meaning to form within the space of the screen.

The short poem that we hear and read in Cinema Falado remind us of this textual dismantling used by Leger and others, transforming the size and position of the words within the frame in order to dynamize the visual patterns one could generate from of a word or a letter. In Léger as with a lot of film from the 20’s avant-garde (Dziga Vertov, Hans Richter, Charles Dekekeulaire) the used of text was certainly linked to its used within the practice of cubist painting.

In the case of Caetano Veloso, it would be difficult to forge a strong relation between the treatment of the sentences with concrete poetry, maybe because other graphic intervention within the film serve more as a quotation than as an exploration of the possibilities produced in film. One would find a lot of examples of such a practice within experimental cinema and video art of the 70’s and 80’s, where the question of meaning is linked to its visual rhythms, typos etc…. such as in the works of Gary Hill, Peter Rose, Su Friedrich, Yvonne Rainer, Manuel de Landa, Joyce Wieland, Maurice Lemaitre…

In the end titles it is the graphic aspect and the color play, which is at work. It is a question of treatment, which is not directly, connected to the meaning. It has to do with design, text in motion in color. It offers a kind of fireworks with written information.


– Once you told me about the different possibilities for a text in a film. You’ve defined those words in their relation to film images. In this sense they could be poetic, informative, theoretic, etc. Now thinking about your cinema using VO/ID or even Tu Sempre as examples, Could you talk about the texts, which appear, on them? And how can the text be directly transformed into a moving-image?

Yann Beauvais: In VOI/ID we are facing two screens and two texts which are delivered nearly word by word, one is in French while the other one is in English. If you happen to understand both languages you will experience some jokes, puns between them. Irony and wit are at stake mocking the seriousness of the general mood of what is said. The necessity to have both languages reflect the fact that as an activist of experimental film, in 1987, I could not restrict myself to a French speaking audience who was not aware of some of the critical thought occurring in the States and in England. It was urgent to have access to other information and critical exchanges outside the French debate! The use of these two languages reflected the horizons in which I was living. The sound tracks of this film is also double, on one track Mick Jagger song: Cocksucker Blues, while on the other one, Gilles Deleuze is reading a text by Nietzsche, with music by Richard Pinhas. But here the use of the voices and the content of what is said has to do with personal issues, being gay and having studied philosophy, I used these sounds to introduce myself within the scope of the film even if it is indirectly.

Tu, sempre, whatever version, is a bank of data about AIDS which have been compiled through the years, and from which I selected different texts encompassing, personal memory, activism, clinical studies, press clips  from the 80’s to the present. The main languages are once again English and French, though Arab, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese are present. The nature and the selection of the texts depended on the place where the works were shown or performed. According to this there was an emphasis on the country and its dominant language, as well as a specific research dealing with AIDS and HIV within that country or location. For example when it was shown in Tokyo, I had a Japanese version in order to give access to information to counter balance this belief which stage AIDS as a sickness specific to Caucasian. There was also some specific data about AIDS in Japan with text by Japanese writers, etc. Each opus of Tu, sempre was used as a base of information which gave an opportunity to scan the AIDS pandemic 30 years from now. This data was compiled 12 years ago and is actualized since then.

For each presentation an emphasis is given to the production of discourse around AIDS within the country, and research is done in order to have statistics related to the place where the installation and performance are taking place. The diversity of the texts brings a strange encounter between AIDS activist, religious and reactionary comments, newspaper headlines as much as testimonies, the scope of the epidemic is such that the work reflect the different directions taken within the increase of the epidemic, within the fight against the states and the big pharmaceutical companies. Novels, testimonies, are conveyed in order to have a multilayer perception of the epidemic and give an opportunity to grasp the multiplicity of this epidemic. There is an accumulative effect and a distressing effect that the crawling and appearance of text produce within the spectator. He / She has to choose what to be read, where to focus. The alternation of presentation of the text which can scroll from left to right or right to left, or can scroll from bottom to top and reverse, or appear words by words, or scroll in different direction or in parallel directions, but at different speeds induce a certain panic within the audience who has to take some decision in regard of what is happening.

Visual space is constructed in juxtaposing different size of scrolling texts and transforming the screen into a volume where things come from a distance… The dynamic of the text is produced by their typography, speed of scroll and juxtaposition and density alongside its specific meaning. Contradictory information are often linked within the same frame but this might occurred in different language.

Still entre deux mondes (2011)

On another manner the use of texts within photographic images can facilitate a kind of dialogue between the two sources, or they can enter into a kind of contrapuntal relationship as in the case with music. In Entre deux mondes (2011) (being in French, English or Portuguese) the irruption of the text as paragraph and scroll delivering part of the of Louis the XIV’ Black Code illuminates differently Versailles garden, the text of Guy Debord about ecology cuts in the middle the diary filmic images of the Greek island  function similarly.

-In 1987 you’ve curated some films for a film program called Mot: dite image. Or  Words say images as we could translate losing the sense of “malediction” from the French title. Which films have impressed you in this text matter?

Yann Beauvais: I curated this show for the Centre Georges Pompidou (20 different screenings) because I had done VO/ID and wanted to explore what had been done within text in the realm of experimental film. While making that film  (VO/ID) I researched and compiled some documents from this film genre. The research was stimulating because I had to expand the way I was thinking about the relation between text and film. As you know, traditional film has always been seen and though in relation with the written topos, such as script, dialogue, etc. In that sense, cinema is always a kind of narration in which everything is made to facilitate the understanding of the text. Working with text, as an object, as a visual object will transform this perception. Like the cubists whom introduced within their paintings papier-collé, pieces of newspapers, letter as sign, within filmmaking such a practice was conveyed within its own history. Looking at silent film, one will notice the decorative pattern and framing of the titles, intertitles as a rule in their uses. It seems impossible that the avant-garde would not have done anything with such element, and of course they did. I became aware of this while searching for works, but also remembering works such as some Kino-Eye by Dziga Vertov, Man Ray, James Watson & Melville Mariner, Len Lye etc. One discovery was a film by Charles Dekeukelaire: Histoires de détective (1929), which was like pre-structural films, which could have met Oulipo! Films such as White Calligraphy by Taka Iimura, were very interesting because we were facing an historical text (the history of Gengy) but only with the design of ideogram. The works by Peter Rose and Yvonne Rainer as much as Su Friedrich, Anthony McCall & Andrew Tyndall were important because they were dealing with the possibility to narrate differently within experimental film. Today if I had to redo the exhibition the film and video corpus would be larger because since the advent of the computer the incorporation of text has been widely explore, in different ways such as for example Ryan Trecartin, Young Hae Heavy Industrie, Susan Hiller…

– Alexander Kluge once said: the history of cinema comes from the future. What possibilities do you see for the future of cinema (as a language or as a way of thinking)?

Yann Beauvais: If one thinks of cinema from it’s analogical support one would say that the future of cinema is the archives, but if one extends the concept of cinema including different time based arts such as video, flux of data of whatever type, then the history of cinema will re-fathom the history that we used to tell. Think about the shift that the computer produces within a revision of media history. It illustrates that during nearly a century, cinema put aside its graphic aspect for the narrative sake, locating that space within the special effects while it was another manner to make, perceive and conceive cinema. I am not very keen on guessing what will be the future of cinema, suffice to say that if cinema has to redefine and renew constantly itself in order to be present in the future.

Done by .txt  texto de cinema

Interview made via e-mail between, and Yann Beauvais,  July 2014 .

Translation:  Carla Lombardo

yannbeauvais.com / watch some of his works: ubuweb.com/film

*.txt  texto de cinema is a space dedicated to the development of thought and practices about moving-image and text. textodecinema.com/ kkinema.com.br