Sunday, December 30, 2012


If you need a key to Samuel Beckett's universe...


This film was made in 1964 in black and white and silent. The artist’s choices in the style of 1929. Obviously Beckett is not trying to make anything commercial or even popular but something artistic, avant-garde in a retrospective if not retrograde way: to go back to what it was in those distant days, even using Buster Keaton for the film, an actor who accepted to do it though he admitted he did not understand what it all was about.

The film has recently been restored and published on DVD by the French producer MK2. The introduction is from a university professor, François Noudelmann and has little interest. The documents which are testimonies from people who took part in the project insists on Beckett’s active presence on the set and that’s all. The cut scenes are in fact rushes that were not used because they were just bad, like the dog or the cat reappearing in the basket without having crossed the door back into the room.

So what about the film?

Once again it is a fair representation of Beckett’s mental and hence artistic universe. The back of an old urban industrial or residential building, the back alley cluttered with trash and rejects. One man we will never see from the front before the last scene comes up dressed in a long black coat, his face covered with some rag (so we think since we only see the back of the head) and a hat on top of it. He looks more like the Invisible Man the may H.G. wells describes him. That man walks right against the wall, pushes and frightens two people there, and finally comes around to the entrance of the building.

He hides on the down going stairs while an aging flower girl comes down from upstairs. She drops dead or something at the bottom of the stairs and the man goes around her and climbs to his room. He opens the door and enters a nearly empty room with one bed and one rocking chair. He will successively pull the blind down and draw the curtains, both on the only window, wrap up the mirror with the blanket from the bed, get the cat and the dog that were in a basket out into the corridor, one after another and since the ousted one comes back in each time the other is being ousted it does take some time. Finally with the fifth attempt, in that case the cat, he will manage to oust the cat and keep the dog out.

Then he covers the parrot in the cage with his coat and then he covers the fish in the fishbowl with the tail of the coat. Then, he pulls down a picture from the wall that had two big round black eyes and tears it up. Then he is obsessed with two holes at the top of the back of the rocking chair that look like eyes but he cannot do anything anyway and when he sits in the chair he does not see them, hence he may think they do not look at him any more, or they do not exist at all.

He then opens his satchel, gets a file out, obsessed by the string and the two buttons that look like eyes, but untie the string and get pictures out of the file. He is going to look at the pictures one after the other. They are his life in perspective and then he looks at them backward and tears them up one after the other. The pictures are typical: a mother and her new born baby, a mother and a young child, a teenager and a dog, a young man graduating from some school, a man and a woman probably on their wedding day, the man and a child and finally the man alone. That last picture reveals something happened that deprived him of his past, his wife and his child. Then he can go back and destroy all that past, picture after picture

He remains alone and haunted by the past because you can destroy pictures but not memories.

That’s when the film comes to a close and the man we have never seen from the front, whose face has always remained hidden is finally captured by the camera in a full front view. He is one-eyed and has a patch over his left eye and he sees himself in a nicer, cleaner and sterner attire, yet with the patch and that image of himself that cannot be in the mirror or any reflecting surface since there is none is the picture that haunts him in his own mind and he ends up his hands on his eye and patch blocking the view and maybe crying.

In his life there has been a crime, catastrophe, cataclysm that deprived him of his happy past and happy marriage and happy fatherhood and he feels guilty of it and he runs away and hides away from people and the world that he sees as interlopers and a ruin-looking universe, but he cannot run away from himself, from his mind, from his conscience and his conscience is like Cain’s eye in the tomb: it is looking at him.

You can find that situation all over Beckett’s works, plays, novels, whatever, and of course in this film. It is brutally visible. The only thing that the presentation of the film tells us is that in 1934 Beckett applied for a studying and working placement in Eisenstein’s cinema school in Moscow. At the time there were many other possibilities for someone who wanted to learn about and work in the cinema industry. Choosing Eisenstein at the ripe time of 1934 in Stalin’s USSR was more a political choice than anything else, was definitely a political choice. That political choice explains why he got into the French Resistance during WW2 and had direct contact with the French Communists then. That also explains why his French publisher is Editions de Minuit which is definitely labelled left-wing if not a communist fellow traveller.

All that may explain why the left loved him so much, including the communists who reduced his works and especially his plays to vast metaphoric parables about the end of the capitalistic world, or the end of the world brought up by capitalism which carries nuclear war in its own gut. French productions of the dramatic trilogy are most of them going towards that kind of a political interpretation.

This film reveals there is nothing political in the parable (that anyone is free to read as a political fairy or bad fairy tale) but the systematic exploration of the mind of people after the cataclysmic event in their lives that destroyed everything they had before and left them naked in front of fate and death that will take a long time to come out of sheer pleasure. None of these characters have the courage to commit suicide, being Catholic at heart no matter what and their hypocritical protestation.


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