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Judith Poirier—Fraktura: A Typographic Horror Movie

Still from the film Fraktura, 2020, Judith Poirier

Fri., Nov. 6 |  Judith Poirier introduced Awayzgoose attendees to the process behind her brief abstract typographic movies, showing us how she produces letterpress animation—without a camera—to create compositions in motion punctuated with discordant (and harmonious) sounds. 

Poirier began with a clip from her first movie, Unjustified Type (2001) that she letterpress printed by laying 16 mm recycled transparent film on hand-inked metal type locked-up in sign press. She then cut and spliced the film, during which she discovered the animation’s rhythm, and when viewing it, found that it had sound due to ink printed on the optical soundtrack strip. Sound is generated when a projector reads the variations of light on the film: small lines create syncopated sounds, whereas areas with more coverage create static sounds. Ink density will also vary the tone. “What you hear comes from what you see,” Poirier tells us. At first, the sound came as a surprise to her, but it became an integral aspect of her film work. 

Judith Poirier laying 35 mm film on type in Korrex proof press at the Gutenburg Museum.

New possibilities were evident in Poirier’s second movie, Dialogue (2008), where she printed with her Vandercook SP15 on recycled transparent 16 mm and 35 mm film, the latter because it provided more surface area to explore the acoustic and visual rhythm of type. She also modernized her editing process by creating digital files from the spliced film for assembly in the video software program Final Cut Pro. Soon after Dialogue, Poirier began to think in terms of movie genres: printing with wood type for her western Setting West (2015)1 and then blackletter types for Fraktura: An Abstract Typographic Horror (2020).

Poirier’s presentation concluded with the first public screening of Fraktura. This five-minute film, inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula and F.W. Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu, frames a convincing narrative built with blackletter characters, ornaments, and illustrative cuts (birds, insects, and of course, bats), printed in black and silver. Poirier notes that this film uses “negative sequences, different speeds and exploring the use of black and white textures in a chiaroscuro aesthetic.” Poirier said she also incorporated previously-shot Super 8 footage and recycled film with chemical discoloration (for a blood-red moon). Other textures were created with solvent from washing-up the forms on press. All these additions enhanced the dramatic effect.

Another brilliant turn for this film was for Poirier to mute the typographic soundtrack featured in her previous work. In its place, she enlisted organist Jean-François Gauthier to perform an original composition. His eery music heralds the frenzied letterforms on-screen (and perfectly evokes the contemporary scores for films from the German expressionism of the silent era.) In Fraktura’s end credits, Poirier lists the blackletter types set and printed at the Gutenberg Museum, Musée de l’imprimerie du Quebec, and Hatch Show Print as if they were actors—and indeed they were. After Poirier’s takes on the western and horror genres, she told us she is contemplating making a typographic comedy or a science fiction movie. Dear Ms. Poirier: please print both!


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