Film & Notfilm

DATELINE:  Intrusion by Omniscence


As irritating documentaries go, we found our match in Notfilm, the true story of ego runamuck in terms of movies.

It is a fascinating two hours with director Ross Lippmann and his study of the only film made by playwright Samuel Beckett, which he titled Film, in pure arrogance of someone who never made a film, knew nothing of technique or technology.

Beckett wrote the famous and infamous Waiting for Godot. As an English major with several degrees in the subject and after teaching as a professor for many decades, we have come to the conclusion that Samuel Beckett proves his character as a typical intellectual blowhard.

We are not enamored of his work, but are willing to give due respect. We were intrigued with the notion that Beckett, a filmmaker amateur, made a film in 1964, his first and only effort.

It roughly rivals work that Jean Cocteau did, but with far less professionalism and proficiency. Beckett wanted to show how modern technology intrudes on privacy—and the camera cruelly chases Keaton who wants to hide. Fascinating concept.

Beckett tried to engage Charlie Chaplin to star in this little short movie made in New York. However, Chaplin avoided Beckett’s experimental film, despite their friendship. It fell to another screen legend Buster Keaton, on hard times as usual, who could not fathom the script, but chose to make the film for the money he needed.

Keaton was the best thing to happen to the movie and to Beckett. Alas, the great playwright refuse to listen to any suggestions from a man who was making great silent pictures 40 years earlier. Keaton was a master of cinematic technique and even sight gags. Everything he suggested was rejected by Beckett.

Pompous Beckett would have none of Keaton’s insights.

When the short film did emerge, at various film festivals, it was Keaton who won the accolades and attention. Keaton said he had no idea what Film was about, nor did most of the celebrity audience at Cannes in 1965. But, they loved Buster.

This documentary is a marvelous analysis and record of the collaboration between Keaton and Beckett. If there is one fault, despite giving us many clips, Lipman does not show us the short film.

That’s an utter disappointment.