Coming to theatres tomorrow, Friday, April 1: NOTFILM
Ross Lipman’s comprehensive exploration of Samuel Beckett’s only film made its bow at BFI London last year. Other engagements have included CPH:DOX, Rotterdam, Hong Kong, Dublin, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Film Comment Selects series, and BAFICI.
Presented in conjunction with screenings of FILM, the twenty-minute short Beckett wrote starring Buster Keaton which was directed by Alan Schneider in 1965, Lipman’s ambitious, sprawling essay takes a deep dive into all aspects of that divisive project, from its origins to its legacy among Beckettian scholars and cinephiles. Approaching Beckett’s cinematic foray as a fundamental chase film, the story of “O,” or Object, portrayed by Keaton, as he tries to evade “E,” or Eye, the camera, Lipman contextualizes FILM within the larger bodies of work of Beckett, Keaton, and even Grove Press’ Barney Rosset, who commissioned and produced the project as one segment of a proposed but aborted three-part series made by notable writers under his imprint. Clocking in at over two hours, Lipman’s film is often demanding, drawing from his expertise as a film preservationist and restorer at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Perhaps recognizing the probable self-selecting nature of its likely audience, the film takes as a given a general familiarity of the work and life of the visionary Irish author, and at times strays too far down an associative path to contemplate only tangentially-related theatre pieces. This free association yields more satisfying dialogue on the film side, with clips from Eisenstein, Vertov, Buñuel, Chaplin, and, of course, Keaton, while more conventional behind-the-scenes stories about the production lend a welcome insight, as do newly rediscovered audio recordings made by Rosset of conversations with Beckett explicating his script. Even if FILM remains an esoteric curiosity, Lipman’s analysis serves as a thoughtful, and appreciative, work of scholarship.