Letters Not About Love

A key Russian formalist text, Viktor Shklovsky's remarkable novel Zoo, or Letters Not About Love (1923) was based on a correspondence between the author and fellow expatriate Elsa Triolet, which ensued after Triolet asked him not to write her love letters and he responded with many different kinds of lyrical sublimation. For this beautifully composed and poetically edited experimental film (1998, 58 min.), Jacki Ochs asked American poet Lyn Hejinian and Russian poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko to start a correspondence based on ordinary words like home, poverty, book, violence, and window, a project that lasted five years while each poet learned the other's language. In the film actors Lili Taylor and Victor Nord read excerpts from these letters (all of them in English), while Ochs accompanies them contrapuntally with documentary images. Her highly suggestive combinations of word and montage, at times evoking Alain Resnais and Chris Marker, are rich in surreal juxtaposition as well as functional illustration; music and sound effects play an important role, and Ochs fashions striking combinations of found footage and original camerawork. The result, as critic Ray Privett has noted, is a post-cold-war historical inquiry in which the imaginations of the correspondents, the filmmakers, and the spectators all interact.

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