Moving Letters: Methods for Decoding the Typographical Studies of Scott Fitzpatrick

“Moving Letters: Methods for Decoding the Typographical Studies of Scott Fitzpatrick.” Angular edited by Albert Alcoz and Alberto Cabrera Bernal (Angular, 2015): 49-51. [Spanish translation by Mattea Cussel: 13-15]. 

Scott Fitzpatrick is a filmmaker whose films are considered prime examples of a sub-genre of Winnipeg filmmaking referred to as “fun formalism.” His films also encapsulate a form of low budget filmmaking that is deeply entwined in Winnipeg’s civic consciousness. Wingdings Love Letter and Places with Meaning were both made by laser printing directly onto recycled 16mm film and both have soundtracks that are directly generated by the images lagging 26 frames (or approximately one second) as a result of the optical sound mechanics on 16mm projectors. Although it is entirely possible to approach Wingdings Love Letter and Places with Meaning simply as aesthetic visceral experiences by giving in to the rhythm and flicker of the images, in this brief essay, I suggest three alternative methods for discovering meaning in Fitzpatrick’s films.

One possible approach for studying Fitzpatrick’s films would be to study the text of the films, that is, to treat the filmic text literally as a text. By carefully transcribing the text of the film and translating it into a more familiar typography, the astute film scholar would be able to determine if Wingdings Love Letter is literally a love letter to this under-appreciated font, or if the film is simply a dirty joke given the film itself is made-up of 69 film strips.

A second approach might consist of reading the films symbolically, that is, to look for meaning in the juxtaposition of the graphic images themselves. For instance, Places with Meaning might be read as autobiographical, as a graphic travelogue, or as a metaphor for the filmmaker’s desire to escape Winnipeg.

Finally, a third approach, and more than likely, in my opinion, the one intended by Fitzpatrick, would be to combine the two previous approaches to discover higher-order messages encrypted by the filmmaker. In order to demonstrate this approach, let’s consider an unrelated example, the word “MILLENNIUM.” In Wingdings, the word “MILLENNIUM” is graphically displayed as follows:

This was, of course, no coincidence. Given that Wingdings is a trademark owned by Microsoft, it should come as no surprise that this was one of the main contributing factors to the Y2K hysteria, a corporate hoax developed to line Microsoft’s pockets. Applying this approach to Fitzpatrick’s films would require devotion, rigour, and creative problem-solving abilities. Given the brevity of this essay, this approach has not been attempted, however, it is my hope that this type of formal analysis will be attempted in future scholarship surrounding Fitzpatrick’s work.