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10 December 2017: Samuel Beckett and Cinema Book Launch


In celebration of the publication of his book Samuel Beckett and Cinema, Anthony Paraskeva introduces Beckett's Film and a rare screening of Comédie.

In 1936, Samuel Beckett wrote a letter to the Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein expressing a desire to work in the lost tradition of silent film. The production of Beckett’s Film in 1964, on the cusp of his work as a director for stage and screen, coincides with a widespread revival of silent film in the period of cinema’s modernist second wave. 

Drawing on recently published letters, archival material and production notebooks, Samuel Beckett and Cinema is the first book to examine comprehensively the full extent of Beckett's engagement with cinema and its influence on his work for stage and screen. The book situates Beckett within the context of first and second wave modernist filmmaking, including the work of figures such as Vertov, Keaton, Lang, Akerman, Epstein, Flaherty, Dreyer, Godard, Bresson, Resnais, Duras, Rogosin and Hitchcock

By examining the parallels between Beckett’s methods, as a writer-director, and particular techniques, such as the embodied presence of the camera, the use of asynchronous sound, and the cross-pollination of theatricality and cinema, as well as the connections between his collaborators and the nouvelle vague, the book reveals how Beckett’s aesthetic is fundamentally altered by his work for the screen, and his formative encounters with modernist film culture. 

Alan Schneider
1964 | 24 min | B/W | Digital

Film is set in 1929, a year which marks the beginning of the end for silent film production. It was produced in 1964, during the rediscovery of silent film by the nouvelle vague, and a great revival of interest in Buster Keaton’s silent comedies. Henri Langlois had programmed a season of Keaton films at the Cinémathèque Française in 1962 to popular and critical acclaim. Beckett’s film is both a silent Keaton chase comedy, and also a disquisition on camera-consciousness and the split-subject. In this respect, it belongs to two contexts: the self-reflexive exploration of the limits and conditions of the medium in sixties art cinema, and the widespread resistance to the end of the silent era in 1929, signaled by the crucial effect of Keaton’s star persona as faded icon, contemplating his own distant and irretrievable past. 

Samuel Beckett & Marin Karmitz
1966 | 18 min | B/W | Digital

In 1966, Beckett co-directed with Marin Karmitz a film adaptation of Comédie (Play), a highly technical project involving filmmakers at the vanguard of contemporary modernist film. Karmitz had previously worked on films by Rossellini, Godard and Duras. For Karmitz, the project represented an opportunity to bring together certain aesthetic tendencies between Beckett and the cinema of the nouvelle vague: "There was, in the late 50s, an incredible moment in the functioning of the French culture […] the Nouveau Roman, Beckett’s and Ionesco’s theatre […] the Nouvelle Vague in cinema." Beckett insisted on casting Delphine Seyrig, one of his favourite actors, signaling the importance of her persona to the film’s effect. After starring in l'Année dernière à Marienbad, Seyrig had become an icon of cinematic modernism. Beckett and Karmitz also worked closely with the film’s editor, Jean Ravel, highly regarded for his work on Chris Marker’s La Jetée, to develop a cubist approach to editing, one of the film’s most distinctive innovations.

Many thanks to Marin Karmitz for kindly authorizing this screening.

Anthony Paraskeva is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton. He is the author of The Speech-Gesture Complex: Modernism, Theatre, Cinema.