Critipeg: NOTFILM

Plays at Cinematheque Nov. 18 to 20 

Avant-garde playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett isn’t typically associated with movies. Despite being one of the 20th century’s most influential writers, no feature film adaptations of his work have been produced. Beckett’s only foray into cinema is a little-seen short film simply titled FILM. His star – perhaps the unlikeliest of collaborators – is silent film comedian Buster Keaton.

NOTFILM is a documentary examining the writing, filming and release of FILM, but it’s more of a video essay than a movie. While there are original interviews with Beckett and Keaton’s collaborators (and Leonard Maltin, oddly enough), director Ross Lipman spends most of his time editorializing, using archival materials to prop up his esoteric reading of FILM.

That’s not to say NOTFILM isn’t fascinating. When it’s dry, it’s very dry. But it still provides real insight into Beckett’s creative process, which is even weirder than you’d hope it would be. His complete disregard for conventional filmmaking is sometimes hilariously obtuse. He abandons little things like story and character in favour of bizarre experiments. 

For example, he ascribes mystical power to the angle at which his camera photographs Keaton: if it’s more than 45 degrees, Keaton can’t see the camera, but if it’s less, he is physically wounded and must escape. When one of his collaborators asks how the audience is supposed to understand this, Beckett can’t understand why they wouldn’t.

Fans of portraits of this type of hermetic artist should give NOTFILM a try. But don’t expect Waiting for Godot.

Published in Volume 71, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 17, 2016)

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