Samuel Beckett – Film (1965 short film)

Film is a 1965 short film written by Samuel Beckett, his only screenplay. It was commissioned by Barney Rosset of Grove Press. Writing began on 5 April 1963 with a first draft completed within four days. A second draft was produced by 22 May and a 40-leaf shooting script followed thereafter. It was filmed in New York City in July 1964. Beckett’s original choice for the lead – referred to only as ‘O’ – was Charlie Chaplin, but his script never reached him. Both Beckett and the director Alan Schneider were interested in Zero Mostel and Jack MacGowran. However, the former was unavailable and the latter, who accepted at first, became unavailable due to his role in a ‘Hollywood epic.’ Beckett then suggested Buster Keaton. Schneider promptly flew to Los Angeles and persuaded Keaton to accept the role along with ‘a handsome fee for less than three weeks’ work.’ James Karen, who was to have a small part in the film, also encouraged Schneider to contact Keaton. The filmed version differs from Beckett’s original script but with his approval since he was on set all the time, this being his only visit to the United States. The script printed in Collected Shorter Plays of Samuel Beckett (Faber and Faber, 1984) states: ‘This is the original film project for Film. No attempt has been made to bring it into line with the finished work. The one considerable departure from what was imagined concerns the opening sequence in the street. This was first shot as given, then replaced by a simplified version in which only the indispensable couple is retained. For the rest the shooting script followed closely the indications in the script.’… The work is studied by and has been the subject of criticism from both film and theatre scholars, with the former tending to study the film as shot, the latter tending to study the script as written. Critical opinion is mixed, but it is generally held in higher regard by film scholars than it is by theatre or Beckett scholars. The views above represent extremes. A ‘middle-ground’ review would probably be ‘a poor attempt by a genuine writer to move into a medium that he simply hadn’t the flair or understanding of to make a success.’ Beckett’s own opinion was that it was an ‘interesting failure.’ …”
An Odd Couple: Samuel Beckett & Buster Keaton
The Films of Samuel Beckett
amazon: Complete scenario, illustrations, production shots (Evergreen original, E-502)
UbuWeb: Film (1965)

The shooting of the film’s prologue, outdoors in Manhattan, near the Brooklyn Bridge, was beset by problems. Beckett pondered what to do, and settled on a major revision of his film’s opening sequence.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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