In 1965, Waiting for Godot playwright Samuel Beckett visited New York to make a short motion picture with his friend and longtime collaborator Alan Schneider. There was only one problem with the plan. Beckett and Schneider were both men of the theater, and, for all their many notable accomplishments, neither of them knew the first thing about movie making. The result was an absurd, mostly silent, 24-minute chase scene, laden with existential dread and featuring early film icon Buster Keaton, who knew quite a lot about making movies but was utterly baffled by Beckett and his screenplay.
Beckett, who was nearing the height of his fame and only four years away from winning the Nobel Prize for literature, didn't always understand Keaton, either. He'd originally wanted Charlie Chaplin or Zero Mostel, but the famously stone-faced comedian was available and needed the work.
Beckett called his project Film and considered it to be a qualified failure and strong evidence that his peculiar brand of performance didn't translate well to the screen. Nevertheless, the curious artifact functions as a kind of movie trailer, teasing images and themes Beckett explores more thoroughly in plays like Endgame and Rockaby. It does so beautifully thanks to cinematography by Academy Award-winner Boris Kaufman.
Ross Lipman tells the story of Beckett's struggle to understand the language of film and of his difficult relationship with collaborators like Keaton and Kaufman in Notfilm, a narration-heavy documentary screening alongside Film at the Brooks this week.