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Katherine Weiss (University of Arizona)
Samuel Beckett’s Film: A Tribute to James Joyce

Samuel Beckett’s Film has been the focus of several articles in the past ten years. Most scholars who have written on Film, such as James Knowlson and Jonathan Kalb, track the influence of silent films, surrealist art and the avant-garde in Beckett’s failed cinematic excursion. Some theorists, such as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, examine the associations that can be drawn from Buster Keaton’s appearance in the film. Still other critics, like Jonathan Bignell, have explored the implication of the film’s generic title. While these investigations are diverse, what they share is their dependence on biographical data to support their readings of Beckett’s short film.

Despite the use of life material, none of the critics to my knowledge have drawn on Beckett’s friendship with James Joyce which dates back to 1928. While there are no direct references to Joyce in this obscure film, O’s eye-patch and dress is eerily reminiscent of Joyce. Moreover, Joyce’s own venture into the film industry has been well-documented. In December of 1909, Joyce opened the Volta, Dublin’s first cinema. Although the Volta failed to captivate the Dublin public and closed two years later, Beckett would most certainly have learned about this business enterprise from Joyce. Likewise, Beckett would have known about Joyce’s meeting with Sergei Eisenstein in 1929 to discuss the possibility of filming Ulysses. Indeed, the setting of Beckett’s film “around 1929”, although partly referring to silent films staring Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in addition to the decline of silent films, is again a reference to Joyce’s impact on this work. Seven years after the Joyce-Eisenstein meeting, Beckett would write his own letter to Eisenstein asking to be admitted into the Moscow State School of Cinematography. Both of these Irish noble prize winners admired Eisenstein and utilized his montage technique – Joyce in Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake and Beckett in Film.

It is my intention to re-examine Film, asking how the work pays homage to Joyce and how Joyce’s presence has shaped this film. I will make use of archival material, secondary criticism and primary texts, mainly Film and Ulysses.

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