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(Credit: Milestone Film & Video)


Short of the Week: Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett's 1965 collaboration 'Film'


Both Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider are well known for their contribution to literature and theatre. Beckett’s experiments with the Theatre of the Absurd are now recognised as seminal achievements, particularly his existential play Waiting for Godot which established a revelatory new form of literary dialectics. Schneider directed the 1956 American premiere of Waiting for Godot as well as 100 other theatrical productions including Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle among others.

Throughout his career, Beckett wrote several brilliant novels, plays and poems but he ventured into the world of cinema only once. Although Beckett had been fascinated by the medium and had written to Soviet masters Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin asking to be their apprentice, his wish did not materialise. This 1965 short titled Film remains Beckett’s only screenplay.

Directed by Schneider, Film is a brilliant investigation of the voyeuristic anxiety that is associated with the medium. It features Buster Keaton in an existential struggle to escape from the all-seeing eye but his attempts are an ontological paradox. The idea for the film was partly inspired by the philosopher George Berkeley’s edict: “esse est percipi” (to be is to be perceived). While speaking to a reporter, Keaton poignantly summarised what he thought of the project: “a man may keep away from everybody but he can’t get away from himself.”

In an interview, Schneider praised Beckett’s talents: “I have rarely been moved by a modern playwright to the extent that I’ve been moved when I read the plays of Beckett. The first time I read Endgame, and I hadn’t been warned what to expect, I felt pretty much as I might had read King Lear or Oedipus for the first time. I felt I had had a tragic experience, and not tragic in the sense that the Daily News uses the word as an accidental catastrophe, but tragic in the sense that I was aware of what Man was up against, against fate or his own nature, and yet somehow able to go on, to survive, to persist to the very end.”

Watch this iconic collaboration between Alan Schneider, Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton below: