ponedjeljak, 15.10.2007.



1965, 21 minutes, B&W
Directed by Alan Schneider
Produced by Barney Rosset
O: Buster Keaton
Nell Harrison: Passerby
James Karen: Passerby

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Beckett's own cinematic short, starring a somewhat reluctant Buster Keaton. Foxrock provides the following synopsis:
Samuel Beckett’s only venture into the medium of cinema, Film was written in 1963 and filmed in New York in the summer of 1964, directed by Alan Schneider and featuring Buster Keaton. For the shooting Mr. Beckett made his only trip to America. The film, which has no dialogue, takes its basis Berkeley’s theory Esse est percpii, that is “to be is to be perceived”: even after all outside perception -- be it animal, human or divine -- has been suppressed, self perception remains. Film was edited by Sydney Meyers and the cinematography was by Boris Kaufman, both of whom were preeminent in their fields. Film was produced by Barney Rosset and Evergreen Theater.

Film by Samuel Beckett

by Katherine Waugh & Fergus Daly

1995 marks the 30th anniversary of the premiere (at the New York Film Festival) of Film by Samuel Beckett. Although remade in Britain in 1979 for the B.F.I. this original version with it's remarkable assemblage of collaborators remains definitive. Few films in the history of cinema deserve renewed attention as much as this little known masterpiece. Ironically, one of the rare gestures made towards its existence within the Irish cultural scene of late was the (admittedly humorous) pastiche of the film in the video for the song 'Glen Campbell nights' by the band 'Bawl'. Despite the recent frenzy of self-satisfied pronouncements regarding the renaissance within Irish cinema, there is little sign of any serious work being created with a similar experimental quality to Beckett's project, which the philosopher and film-theorist Gilles Deleuze has called "the greatest Irish film." Indeed its importance is magnified by the very fact that it is one of the few Irish films of any note which attempts to explore a uniquely Irish intellectual tradition. The problematic which Beckett establishes in the script (which he intended to be read in conjunction with the viewing of the film) is that of the 18th Century Irish philosopher Berkeley: "Esse est percipi" ("to be is to be perceived") or to quote Berkeley in his more detailed formulation "all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world have not any subsistence without a mind - that their being is to be perceived or known." Beckett's cinematic venture can therefore be contrasted with the glut of 'home produced' films which, although fulfilling all the criteria necessary to receive the 'Guaranteed Irish' stamp of approval, tend to reproduce the clichéd forms of a Hollywood production rather than attempting to enquire into the history of Irish conceptual peculiarities which resonate through the various media of our present cultural life. Hence, even though it was filmed in America with an American cast and crew, Beckett's film can be seen to deserve the tribute paid to it by Deleuze which emphasises the specifically Irish aspect of its greatness. For Deleuze the entire film is "the tale of Berkeley who has had enough of being perceived and of perceiving. The role, which could only have been taken by Buster Keaton, is that of Berkeley, or rather it is the passage from one Irishman to another, from Berkeley who perceived and was perceived to Beckett who has exhausted all of the 'happinesses of the perceiver and the perceived'."
This film, shot in black and white and lasting 22 minutes, was directed by Alan Schneider under the personal supervision of Beckett whose commitment to the project was demonstrated by his decision to travel to New York and be present throughout the shooting - an effort he was never prepared to make in relation to any of his theatre works, almost all of which Schneider had premičred for him in America. Schneider later speculated as to whether the opportunity to work directly with Buster Keaton had motivated Beckett's unusual decision to travel. It has even been suggested that the inspiration for Waiting for Godot might have come from a minor Keaton film called The Loveable Cheat in which Keaton plays a man who waits endlessly for the return of his partner - whose name interestingly enough was Godot. Beckett's respect for and fascination with the rudimentary silent film and the burlesque tradition of which Keaton was a part (and which undoubtedly had a major influence on many of his dramatic works other than 'Godot') must have contributed to his decision to make his film a silent one. The sole sound present in the film is a sibilant 'ssh' which is heard early on in the work. It is fascinating that the cinematographer chosen for Film was Boris Kaufman, brother of Dziga Vertov (whose original name was Denis Kaufman), a fact which must have added to his value in Beckett's eyes given the writer's well-known preoccupation with the great Russian silent film-makers. Kaufman was the cameraman who had worked on many French silent films prior to his collaboration with Jean Vigo on L'Atalante and who later worked in America with directors such as Kazan (On the Waterfront) and Lumet. The French critic Jean-Claude Biette has stressed the influence of Vertov on Kaufman, especially in his development of a specific lighting technique which in exteriors has the effect of condensing surfaces - for example his known predilection for filming walls and buildings in an expressionistic manner - and in interiors finds its form in a narrowness and verticality which has the effect of heightening the intensities which work on the body in a confined space. Certainly, Kaufman's stylistic techniques contributed greatly to the overall look of Beckett's film. Others have commented on the influence of the Surrealist film-makers, particularly Bunuel and Dali, on Beckett's cinematic imagination and significantly Beckett sets his film in the year 1929, the year Un Chien Andalou was made (and of course the first year of the sound film). In addition the film opens and closes with close-ups of a sightless eye which would seem to refer to the notorious opening sequence of Un Chien Andalou in which a human eye is sliced open with a razor blade. In fact 'Eye' was Beckett's original title for Film.
In Film Buster Keaton plays a character who in Beckett's words is "in search of non-being, in flight from extraneous perception breaking down in the inescapability of self-perception." Beckett explains in his script that he has sundered his character in two: the character played by Keaton is called 'O' or the object who throughout the film is pursued by the subject 'E' or the 'camera-eye'. As long as the camera or 'E' stays behind Keaton (O), 'O' will avoid being perceived. The camera is designated, in Beckett's phrase, an "angle of immunity" of 45 degrees which it must not exceed at the risk of causing 'O' to experience the "anguish of perceivedness."
The film is divided into three parts moving from the street to a stairway and culminating in a room. Following the opening shot of the eye, we see Keaton rushing forward and following a horizontal path along a large wall, all the time desperately trying to avoid being seen by the camera. He jostles with passers-by who look at him in bewilderment and then at 'E' the camera with horror. 'O' then encounters an old woman in the film's first 'interior'; she collapses to the ground on seeing 'O' and again looks at 'E' in horror. The final section of the film is set in a run-down room. When 'O' enters the room he systematically expels all that is thought to represent 'extraneous perception'. After repeated attempts he manages to remove a cat and a dog from the room in a sequence reminiscent of many of the early slapstick Keaton films. (Keaton in fact wanted to heighten this slapstick element in the film by inserting an old gag of his whereby a pencil would be pared until it disappeared - Schneider rejected this idea). 'O' next closes the curtains, covers a mirror, a parrot in its cage and a fish in its bowl. He tears a print of 'God the Father' from the wall, and even appears nervous in the face of a headrest which seems to be perceiving him. Finally he settles in a rocking chair and removes photographs from a folder, inspects them (they appear to show scenes from his early childhood right through to adulthood) and proceeds to tear them into pieces. He closes his eyes and begins to rock. This enables the camera to take advantage of his lapse of consciousness and to exceed all previously limiting angles. The character 'O' is for the first time seen from the front and in a reverse-angle shot 'E' is revealed to be 'O's double: Beckett offers us a visualisation of self-perception. We see the same face, Keaton's with a patch over one eye, but with differing facial expressions - 'O's being one of anguish, 'E's one of acute intentness. 'O' closes his eyes and the rocking of the chair subsides. In Beckett's words, it is not "until the end of the film that the pursuing perceiver is not extraneous but the self." Self-perception is unavoidable.
It is important to understand that Beckett's attempt to investigate the perceptual referentiality of cinema as an art form differs quite markedly from the attempts of other film-makers to deal with problems of perception as encountered in this medium. At a time (broadly speaking the '50's and '60's) when directors such as Hitchcock with Rear Window, Michael Powell with Peeping Tom and Antonioni with Blow-Up were all incorporating explorations of the problems of spectatorship/voyeurism into the very structure of their films, and the American avant-garde (through Brakhage, Belson, Snow etc.) was drawing attention to the very materiality of the cinematic process (the frame, screen, projector, grain patterns, the pellicular essence of the medium) Beckett chose a radically different perspective. To appreciate the depth of the cinematic problematic Beckett confronts us with, it is essential to take into account the extent of his immersion in the history of philosophy and in particular in the paradoxes and impasses of 17th and 18th Century European epistemology. Various works of his emphasise the writings of some philosophers over others; Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz in Murphy, Locke in Malone Dies, Leibniz again in How It Is, Berkeley and Hume in Watt. Beckett in effect creates his own Burlesque theatre of philosophers in which the intellectual problems which they formulate are presented through his characters often playful gambits. His revival of Berkeley in Film sees him turning to the cinema for solutions to some of the problems of perception which no other medium was perhaps capable of providing him with. It is interesting to note that at roughly the same time other novelists such as Robbe-Grillet and Duras followed a similar route.
In a forthcoming study on Leibniz and Neo-baroque Literature, which is ground-breaking in many respects, Garin Dowd offers clues as to how Film forms part of a whole series of works in the Beckettian oeuvre which are similarly structured. "In Beckett projects are usually subject to an unfaltering errancy: a project is painstakingly pursued until such point as the subject, although 'going on' (as at the close of the The Unnameable) finds all teleology linking it to it's object (the project) broken down. Such fugal projects are those of waiting in Godot, fabulation in Company, rememberance in Krapps Last Tape, inventory in Malone Dies, work in Watt, and death in The Lost Ones." 'O's flight from perception which breaks down in the face of the inevitability of self-perception extends this series.
Ironically, this series might never have been initiated if one of Beckett's own personal projects hadn't also broken down. In 1936 Beckett, at an impasse in relation to his literary endeavours, became smitten with the idea of changing the direction of his life and becoming a film-maker. In that year he wrote to Eisenstein but we have conflicting versions of the contents of and desires expressed in this letter. Whereas his biographer Deirdre Bair claims that Beckett offered to work as an unpaid apprentice to Eisenstein doing whatever he wanted him to do, it is now generally accepted (through the confirmation of the leading Eisenstein scholar Jay Leyda) that Beckett in fact wrote to Eisenstein of his wish to study at the Moscow State School of Cinematography. Unfortunately for the cinema, but providentially for literature, Eisenstein never got to see the letter. It had been a bad year for Eisenstein, mostly due to the fact that the production of his film Bezhin Meadow had to be stopped due to an outbreak of smallpox. The confusion which ensued as Eisenstein, forced into quarantine, began to doubt his original script and desperately tried to rewrite it meant that during the upheaval Beckett's letter was lost.
It is extraordinary that Beckett could have reached a position whereby he actually considered such a plan. It is also interesting to speculate upon what might have influenced such a decision. Whereas Bair claims that Beckett read books by Pudovkin, Arnheim and Eisenstein whilst in Paris in the early '30's and that he in fact contacted Pudovkin when he failed to get a response from Eisenstein, the most that can be said is that, in terms of books on film-making which might have been in print, Pudovkin's book 'Film Technique' would have been widely available in Paris and more than likely would have been read by Beckett because of his passionate interest in the cinema at that time. Moreover one has the impression that traces of Pudovkin's theory and practice of film-making made their way into Beckett's own film, especially the Russian's belief that inanimate objects when related to the human character in a film and shot in a specific way could be as photogenic and resonant with meaning as human faces. Hence one might find Pudovkin's influence in those shots in Film in which 'O' perceives faces or the human gaze in inanimate objects. But of course Eisenstein echoes these ideas in his essay 'Dickens, Griffith and the Film Today' where he repeats Dicken's observation "even the kettle watches me."
But whatever sources Beckett may have drawn upon in conceiving his film - from the philosophy of Berkeley through to the Burlesque and on to those films and theorists we have mentioned - the work succeeds in creating that singularly Beckettian universe which is so recognisable from his plays and novels. For this reason, in a year in which the 100th anniversary of the cinema is being celebrated, and having just commemorated the 5th anniversary of Beckett's death, it would be fitting if his film could be re-viewed in a way which might lead to it attaining to the stature of his highly acclaimed written work.

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Textual Cinema and Cinematic Text:
The Ekphrasis of Movement in Adam Thorpe and Samuel Beckett.

H. Martin Puchner


The impact of the emerging cinema on the established genre of the novel has long become one of the most common topoi of literary criticism, which traces narrative techniques such as montage, sudden shifts in perspective, and close ups to the modernist cause célčbre: the emerging silent film. The evident truth behind these observations tended to disregard the fact that the nineteenth-century novel had developed some of these techniques long before the brothers Lumičre. Flaubert's Madame Bovary features the famous scene at the agricultural fair, which exploits a radical cut/counter-cut montage with voice over and cut-in pieces of dialogue, and Dickens zooms in on embarrassing, trivial, and symptomatic details as if he had spent most of his afternoons at the movies.1 Criticizing the simple history of influence from film to novel, Sergei Eisenstein, in a now famous essay, considered the nineteenth-century novel a precursor for the cinematic imagination.2 It is, therefore, difficult to specify the ways in which the emerging cinema changed narrative fiction. The nouveau roman--and in particular the oeuvre of Robbe-Gillet, which consists of film scripts, such as L'année derničre ŕ Marienbad, as well as of novels--represents one of the cases in which the medium of film reshapes literature: the narrative perspective is assimilated to the single eye of the camera, and the narrative is reduced to an external, at times geometrical, description of the field of vision. Even in Robbe-Grillet's oeuvre, however, one can trace the influence of his early literary texts on the poetic strategies of his actual staging scripts. Perhaps it would be more adequate here to speak of a mutual influence of film and novel on one another. Robbe-Grillet's oeuvre therefore continues Dickens's cinematic narrative, but also translates actual forms of the cinema into textual practice. The relation between film and the novel thus has a history of multiple crossings and translations, since both depend on a narrative as well as a visual syntax; it may therefore not come as a surprise that the textual visuality of the novel and the visual narrative of the cinema constitute a closely--at times inextricably--knit web of connections, correspondences, and exchanges.

Ulverton, the first novel of the contemporary British author Adam Thorpe, engages with this intricate media history of film and text.3 Like Robbe-Grillet's oeuvre, it participates in the tradition of the cinematic novel, however not by trying to introduce the camera and its visuality into forms of narrative representation, but by using the film's own textual apparatus as a literary form: the last chapter is written entirely as a shooting script for a film, and includes dialogue, camera angles, frames, and sound track.4 This chapter thus does not attempt to replicate the experience of watching a film, but recycles the textual surplus of the cinema, otherwise seen only as the textual means to an cinematic end, to become a proper literary form. The film script has not yet been considered as a textual genre in its own right, even though we can look back to a long publication history, and even though we are no longer surprised to find film scripts included in the collected works of authors.5 Occasionally these film scripts will not have been transformed into an actual film, for various, but usually financial, reasons. However, film scripts are rarely considered outside the process of production that leads to a film in contrast to the dramatic text, which has always been considered as a proper textual genre and thus can have a long reception history without having ever been produced in the theater. The closet drama constitutes the climax of this tradition, because it transforms the dramatic genre into a literary form, which does not even depend on the play appearing in the theater; like the novel, it transposes theatricality into acts of textual representation.6 Unlike the dramatic form, the film script has not achieved the degree of canonization that would allow for a corresponding closet screenplay, or film text. In the context of Ulverton, which consists of a number of disjointed narratives set in different historical times and written in corresponding styles of narration and diction, the film script finally acquires literary status. The fact that this last chapter, which uses the film script as a narrative form, is the only one set in modern times, may appear to be a slightly heavy-handed attempt to 'modernize' the novel. Its wit and power, however, lies in the idea to see the cinema not as a threatening agent of a visual culture that seeks to extinguish the written word, but as a cultural phenomenon that can provide the novel with a different form of textuality.7 Ulverton thus can be seen as a new kind of literary rapprochement between novel and the cinema.

Interestingly enough, Thorpe's next novel does not develop the form of the film script further, even though it constitutes a more direct attempt to engage with the history of the cinema. This next novel, Still, continues Thorpe's literary interest in the cinema, but develops an entirely different textual strategy for integrating film into literature.8 Still is a novel writing back to the cinema, without either integrating the film's textual form into the novel, as Ulverton had done, or by translating cinematic techniques into narrative strategies, like Robbe-Grillet. In a surprising gesture, the entire novel is presented as a film that is being shown at a New Year's Eve party; an iconoclastic film consisting of text only.9 In order to support the main argument of the novel--namely that the text we are reading is really a film --Still unfolds a whole network of film references (as opposed to literary references). Amongst them are those in which the director-narrator is anxious to differentiate this textual film from another iconoclastic film, Derek Jarman's Blue, a film that not only has no pictures (only the blue screen) but also no text, and instead relies exclusively on the spoken words of the voice-over. Still, in contrast, presents the text--its only medium--as a visual experience: the text of the film, supposedly, is being shown on screen in a cinema. This is a crucial difference from Blue, because the textual correspondence between film and book, on which the claim that the text of the novel is being projected onto a screen relies, is one of the driving forces behind Still's narrative and formal setup.10 Every word the reader of the novel reads is part of the film that is being watched at a party, so that the film is nothing but a string of words, arranged in single words, sentences, and paragraphs, visible on a screen. The medium of film is thus essentially reduced to a text.

The imagined identity of text and film is not only supported by the abundant film references that the narrator of the novel indulges in, but also through a set of additional gestures that enable Still to point towards its double existence as text and as textual film: the introduction, for example, is called "trailer" and it is distinguished from the main body of the film/text by the count-down that usually precedes a film, "5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1" (79-84),11 printed in mirrored numbers on consecutive pages. These moments, in which the novel tries to play at being a film, systematically confuse the difference between novel and film. One could say that Still stages a chiasmus between film and novel in which the novel becomes a film and the film becomes a novel: there is nothing in this film that could not be part of a text and that does not look like a text, while the text we are reading poses as a textual film. The common ground for this congruence between film and novel is the visuality of the text.12 Because of this fundamental identity between novel and film, I will differentiate between the two by referring to the actual novel as "Still-the-novel" and to the novel posing as film as "Still-the-text-film." In order to analyze the ways in which Still crosses over to film, it is necessary to keep apart its actual, textual form, printed in a book as a novel, and its imaginary form as a film--not a script--that consists of nothing but letters on the screen.

This differentiation is necessary, because from the point of view of reception, a novel and a film can of course never be the same thing, even if they were materially identical, even if there were such a film that consisted of nothing but the text of the novel. The reader of the novel sits somewhere with a book in hand with sufficient light, typically in a secluded or quiet space, alone, in an environment necessary for a reading culture, which Philip Fisher calls the culture of engulfment. A film, on the other hand, has a group sitting in the dark, as in the Platonic cave, staring at the images that are being projected from behind onto a screen. This obvious difference between the act of reading and the act of watching a movie does not only concern the external circumstances in which each medium is being received, but it also shapes the way each medium constructs its respective works of art. Wolfgang Iser is among those who theorize the ways in which the novel thinks about its readers and develops strategies for manipulating them. The reader, which has become a function of the novel, something the novel is concerned with (and not as an empirical, actual reader), is called the implied reader.13 In a similar vein, the cinema can be said to manipulate its viewers by constructing their position within a given film: the implied film-audience.14 Still exploits exactly this difference between the implied reader and the implied viewer and thus creates a scission between the material identity of Still-the-novel and Still-the-text-film. The manipulation of the implied reader lies in the fact that Still-the-novel addresses the reader not as the reader of Still-the-novel, but as the watcher of Still-the-text-film. The readers of a novel find themselves addressed as a movie audience, sitting in chairs at a New Year's Eve party, eating popcorn, gazing upon the big screen onto which Still-the-text-film is being projected.15 The culture and practice of silent reading on which the novel depends and which it instituted, as Ian Watt and others have shown, is replaced by the culture of the movie theater.16

This substitution of the viewer for the reader is not the only way in which Still uses the assumed identity of text and film to exploit their underlying differences. Film and text cross one another yet another time, for Still includes a written account of the shooting of a film, called Haunting Mrs Halliday, which is set around 1913 and which deals with the narrator's family. This account consists of a textual description of the process of filming, the directions for the actors and the camera by the director (who is also the author/narrator/director of Still), and a textual representation of specific shots. While the description of the process of filming reads most of the time like a director's diary or an autobiography, the textual representation of the film can be seen as a particular kind of ekphrasis; not a traditional ekphrasis, in which a text represents an image--for example the paintings on Achilles' shield in book eighteenth of the Iliad--but an ekphrasis of a moving image, in other words a film-ekphrasis.17 Haunting Mrs. Halliday is a film-within-the-film and this means here, a text-film (words only) within a text-film (words only). The apparent identity between these two kinds of textual films is introduced only to exploit their differences all the more effectively. Haunting Mrs Halliday is a different kind of text-film than Still as a whole; while Still is a film that consists of nothing but text on a film screen, Haunting Mrs. Halliday is originally a "normal" film, with moving images, dialogue, and sound, which is then, in a second step, represented and translated into a text, namely a textual ekphrasis, which then in turn, as text, is projected onto the screen and joins the rest of the text of which Still is composed. Underneath the surface of a textual film, we thus find two different processes of textualization: one in which a film consists of nothing but text; and one in which a normal film is represented in a text. The latter is somewhat analogous to the narrator's style of lecturing on film at Houston University, "you know my fondness for lecturing without the moving image" (62), but again, the analogy--like most analogies in Still--is slightly off; the narrator lectures without moving images, but he uses stills, so that his mode of evoking sequences and scenes from movies proceeds through a combination of immobile image and moving narrative. Still-the-text-film, in contrast, features no images at all, not even stills, but only a moving text in lieu of the moving image.

In the course of this transposition from moving image to moving text, Still makes extensive use of film lingo for the literary purpose of reducing a film--and the process of its production--to a text: "I'm going for a long shot up at the gates. I'm the other side of the gates. I'm peeping through the wrought iron but first I am focused on the iron. It's got rust spots. . . . I'm the unseen guest, the unborn blob" (119). We do not only get a textual representation of that which the hypothetical viewer of this film would see--the gates, the rust--but also a representation of the process of filming. The "I" of the sequence is the camera eye, and we see what it sees. In this superimposition of narrative "I" and camera eye, Still for a moment comes close to Robbe-Grillet's technique of narration, which relies precisely on the identity of narrative and cinematographic perspective. This resemblance becomes even more pronounced when the references to the "I" of camera man and narrator disappears and we are confronted only with a description of what the hypothetical viewer of the film sees:

He's coming down.

He's past the second linden.

He's past his brother. (130)

The text is a moving ekphrasis of what the film is showing, careful to replicate the speed at which the figure sees his brother advancing in the text.18 This ekphrastic mode of the text-film leads to the question of what kind of strategies Still uses to represent cinematic images. In order to convincingly transpose the film-within-the-film into writing, Adam Thorpe's Still adopts not only the vocabulary of camera-angles, montage, lenses, and perspectives, but also a way of representing objects, characters, movement within a text in the form of ekphrasis.

The material from which the narrator/director builds his film comes from his grandfather's diary and from a couple of old photographs. Again, the apparent identity of photographs and stills gives way to the underlying differences, for a photograph and a still are not the same: one belongs to a string of pictures taken at a rate of 24/sec., while the other is an old family photograph. More interesting, however, is the fact that Haunting Mrs. Halliday is based on both a pictorial and a textual source, photographs and diary.19 Thus, at the origin of the film that is being described in the text of the novel (ekphrasis), we find a combination of texts (the diary) and images (photographs). The title of the novel casts a peculiar light on the various instances when stills play a role in a novel, in which everything is otherwise constantly moving. Stills, as the narrator explains, have always been his favorite parts of films--"the film was never as good as the stills" (47)--and he even fantasizes about a masterwork made, ŕ la Glenn Gould/Bach, consisting of 32 stills (37). Stills make it again and again into Still, when it presents not only an ekphrasis of the process of filming and its (hypothetical) product, but also an ekphrasis of existing "stills" (which are strictly speaking photographs) of the narrator's grandparents. Stills are thus part of the repertoire which Adam Thorpe uses against the traditional film, but they are subjected to the same mechanisms of textualization as the film. Everything that is pictorial is reduced to textual ekphrasis, and this textual ekphrasis of the novel is the, at least hypothetically, projected onto a screen as a text-film.

While the textual representation of the film-within-the-film is an inverted mise-en-abîme of Still as a whole, the other components of Still contribute to the multiple crossings of text and film even more. The major part of Still consists of digressions from the textualized film-within-the-film to long interspersed passages that tell the story of the narrator/director, who is currently teaching film at Houston University. The story of the director/narrator explains the biographical background that lead to the filming of Haunting Mrs. Halliday. While at first, the director's story is neatly separated from the film-within-the-film, the two get increasingly intertwined, often without transitions, in the same paragraph. For this reason, the narrator's/author's story and the film he is shooting blend into one another. This oscillation between life and film leads to an central uncertainty that continues throughout the novel/text-film. Is the film that is being shown and as whose audience the readers find themselves addressed as implied viewers really coextensive with the novel we are reading; or are we reading a proper novel in which the author hallucinates about showing a textual version of a film (the film-within-the-film about the narrator's grandparents), an event which is yet to happen and may very well never happen? Is the text-film only the textual version of an actual, or of an imagined film (the film-within-the-film)? Or rather, is the text as a whole a text that is not originally a film but is nevertheless projected onto a screen? Is a text-film a film that is turned into a text, or can it also be a text, diary-style, that happens to be shown on a screen? Still maintains these ambivalences systematically, which are all versions of the underlying ambivalence reigning between film and novel. Towards the end of Still, for example, a section, called "appendix," interrupts the film and is followed by a change in perspective. Now, the narrator appears to be the previous narrator's son, reporting about the aftermath of the text-film's showing at the New Year's Eve party: "Those of us present at the party given by my father on the last day of the twentieth century . . . . at the time the film projector was knocked over have all given their own versions of events" (454). When the narrator's son concludes with a remark about his father's relationship--"- but that's something else and certainly not my idea" (456)--the next lines shift the narrative perspective back to the father. It turns out that the whole passage allegedly spoken by the son, was just a ventriloquizing on the part of the father: "It certainly wasn't mine, either. / Phantom of the Opera speaking. You'll never get rid of me that easy" (345). The assumed position after the text-film, which would place the text of the appendix outside the film-showing at the New Year's Eve party, turns out to be a false lead and the narrator/director integrates the text of the appendix back into the text-film or at least back into the ambivalence between text-film and the film shown at the party.20

is characterized by such continual crossings of film and text: a film-to-be-shot is transformed into a textual ekphrasis; a kind of director's diary is transformed into a text that is shown on a screen; the ekphrasis of this film itself is based on a diary and stills; and the audience of the still is both a movie audience and a book audience. At times, parts of Still pretend to be outside the text that is shown on a New Year's Eve party and then it seems that the entire text of Still is what a hypothetical audience is watching on a screen.21 Finally, the director/narrator himself uses language to describe films is his lectures, another mode of iconoclastic cinematography. The ambivalence between textuality and visuality appears perhaps most vividly in a slip of the tongue. Thinking about his ex-girlfriend Zelda, the narrator observes: "It'd be better if Zelda were here but writing into a void is better than not writing at all and descending into alcoholic dereliction. Did I say writing? Don't I mean filming? Oi, oi--is the purity of my calling sullied already? Can't I just zip my big mouth for more than two minutes?" (312). Is the author a narrator of a book and thus writing, or is he filming a film? If he is writing, is he writing a film script, or a novel? Is the final film simply a filming of the novel, or is it a real film, which is then described in a text? Is the author writing a text-only film, or filming a text? And if he is filming a text--the text he has written--is it the text of Still, or just the textual representation of the film-within-the-film? The Freudian slip brings these questions to the forefront and lets them hover there.22 The reason for this slip, the author speculates, may be "logorrhoea," presumably the tendency to say too much. As a film, Still is indubitably the product of a "logorrhoea," the quasi-pathological attempt to speak without cessation, to say everything and to say everything in words.23 Still is a film in which there are only words and no images, a film that shows the symptoms of an iconoclastic logorrhea, or, to put it in terms, a multiple film-ekphrasis. There is nothing in this film that exists outside a text and nothing that exists outside a book. The address to the readers as movie-goers, the flirtation of the book with the count-down before a film and the notion of the introduction as a trailer do not diminish the force with which language in the form of writing is haunting the cinema. At a time when the average cultural criticism is bemoaning (or celebrating) the image-orientation of modernism, which is epitomized in the success-story of the cinema, Still is a novel, perhaps one of the few novels, that show that the power of the written word still has something to say to the moving image.


One of the reasons that Still's textualization of film seems surprising and provocative may lie in the fact that in the era of the talkie, text has no essential function in cinema anymore. This was, however, different in the silent film, which projected text in the form of intertitles onto the silent film. I would like therefore to conclude by referring to a few features of Beckett's film Film, a silent film shot in 1971, which also exploits the relationship between text and image, but does so from a different perspective. Like Still, Film is interested in the translation from text onto film, and vice versa, but does so by presenting itself as a work that consists of a textual part, printed in program notes and published along with Beckett's dramatic writings, and a short film. And like Still, Film deals with the relationship between text and film through the attempt to describe images within texts. Since Beckett relates Film to the tradition of the silent film--rather than to visual culture in general--let me reconstruct for a moment the issues surrounding the relationship between the silent film and its use of textuality.

Choosing to make a film that is silent, except for a final "sshh," Beckett writes back to an aesthetic tradition that takes silent, visual gestures to be a primary guarantor of cinematic expressivity. The gestural aesthetics of the silent film led to a number of styles, such as Russian montage and mass movement, German expressionism, and the American schools around Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Textuality, however, is a essential part of the silent film, since it uses text in the form of subtitles and intertitles to organize its repertoire of expressive visuality; language entered the movie theaters not as the spoken word, but as writing. The written word was constantly superimposed onto the visuality of the film object, and thus became part of the technique and expressive vocabulary of the silent film and, most importantly, of the montage. Far from being a necessary embarrassment, writing was systematically integrated into the pictorial expressivity of the silent film. Sentences as intertitles were taken apart and cut with scenery, and directors selected their layout with care. The need to insert pieces of language into the succession of pictures testifies to the extent to which the visuality of the silent film needed to be inscribed by language. Especially when, as in the case of Russian film, these gestures were to be marked by specific political messages.24 With Barthes, one could speak here of a foregrounding of the social dimension of corporeal visuality and of an "anchoring" and "relaying" of the visual body, or rather its meaning, in a socially codified context through language.25 The silent film is, therefore, not simply a medium of visuality untouched by language. Although much the aesthetic debate in the teens, twenties, and thirties was invested in the distance between the silent film and the dialogue-based theater, silent visuality and silent writing constitute a complex network of expressive visuality, titles, and silent writing on the screen.26 The silent film constitutes a unique space in which visuality and language interact with and counteract one another. Adam Thorpe's Still is interested in the same tradition, when it sprinkles the hypothetical film-within-the-film with ornamental intertitles.27

Beckett alludes to these traditions not only because he features Buster Keaton in his film script, but also because he quotes several of these cinematic conventions. Most importantly, however, Film relies extensively on the written word, not in the form of subtitles or intertitles, but through a script that is part of the work of art. An introductory note, which is part of the textual script that precedes the film, places Film in relation to other silent movies: "The film is entirely silent except for the 'sssh!' in part one. Climate of film comic and unreal. O should invite laughter throughout by his way of moving" (123). The American tradition of the silent slapstick and its repertoire of gestures and poses--gestural exaggeration, imitations and pantomimic acts--was at the heart of Beckett's conception from the beginning. Alan Schneider, the director of Film, recounts Beckett's initial idea of getting Charlie Chaplin or Zero Mostel to play the part, then deciding on the comedian Jackie MacGowran, and finally, when Jackie MacGowran turned out to be unavailable, suggesting Buster Keaton (66). This parade of icons from the silent film turns Film into a nostalgic revue of a lost era, and it also evokes a certain expectation in the viewer, who is waiting for a comeback of the old Buster Keaton. Film, incidentally, was presented as part of a Keaton revival at the New York Film Festival (Schneider 90). This expectation of the well-known Buster Keaton, however, remains unfulfilled. Except for the conclusion of the film, Buster Keaton's face is kept hidden, and his body can be seen only visible from what Beckett conceives of as a limited field of visibility. Film embraces elements of the silent film, but at the same time rewrites it; Film stages Buster Keaton partially in his habitual role, but also imposes its own aesthetic conception onto that role.

One element of Film that does not relate to the tradition of the silent film is the peculiar way in which it thematizes and reflects on its own medium.28 Film, as its title suggests, is a film about film. Its reflexive nature is introduced at the beginning of the script when Beckett presents the project as a version of Berkeley's dictum, esse est percipi. The script contains Berkeley's dictum, an outline of the scenes, and notes specifying certain constellations mentioned in the outline. Because the script is clearly not intended to be an outline for the shooting of the film, introducing, as it does, philosophical principles and geometrical directions for the camera, the film's departures from the script do not make the script itself irrelevant. The script is, rather, an irreducible textual and graphic dimension of Film and should be considered part of the work of art. In this sense, it is a counterpart to the textualizations of film in Thorpe's Still.29 The double representation of the film as script and as film can be described, as Martin Schwab suggests, as a diptych (165). It does not suffice to consider the script as a technical blueprint of the film, for it must rather be considered as a textual version of the film, which relates in several ways to the sequence of pictures on celluloid. As in Still, Beckett blends together film theory and an attempt to represent moving bodies in texts. The film script can be seen as Beckett's version of a text-film.

Beckett stages Berkeley's theory of perceivedness as a drama, by organizing the film around a figure O who is pursued by the perceiving E. Both figures are dramatic representations of the act of perception, which is thematized in the script and in all three scenes of the film. The abstract principle, esse est percipi, is represented in the splitting of the main character into the act of seeing, E, and the state of being seen, O; E plays the eye, and O the object seen. In addition, perception is represented through a complicated syntax of camera angles and a field of vision defined by them. These angles and perspectives are explained in the notes to the script, and are only comprehensible for the reader of these notes; they remain obscure in the viewing of the film. What this textual appendix--or preview-- describes is the following: E and O, when they appear within a particular constellation and within a particular angle, enact the double relation of seeing and being seen; as long as they remain outside this angle of vision, O, the object, does not "feel" the perception of E, the eye. This syntax of camera-angles is one of the many instances in which what we see on the screen and what we read in the script is not congruent: it is simply impossible to understand what is going on with the camera-angle by merely watching the film; the text provides crucial information for the viewer without which the viewer would be lost.

Like the tradition silent film, Film depends on a textual apparatus to organize or frame the silent expressivity of the screen; but unlike the traditional silent film, Film uses a particular form of textuality to do so. Beckett's philosophical speculations, his geometrical syntax of camera angles, and the 'agony of perceivedness' are necessary textual complements to the silent film. While Adam Thorpe's Still stages a total collapse between film and text, Beckett's Film makes text and film completely dependent on one another, creating a work of art that consists half of text and half of film. Both works are retrospective, one could say belated, interventions in the debate about visual and textual culture. Beckett's Film is grafted onto the silent film only to rework its icons, gestures, and textuality into a different constellation; and Adam Thorpe's Still systematically mixes up film and text, visuality and textuality, under the auspices of a narrator who is a film historian. Both works present a vital meditation on the reciprocal dependencies of text and film, one in the form of a double work in text and celluloid, and the other in the form of a novel writing back to the screen. What trace their interventions will leave on either the textual or the visual culture, or their intersection, remains to be seen.

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