Samuel Beckett’s “Film”: An Interesting Failure

Fifty years ago, two of the most important figures of the 20th Century in their respective art forms – Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton – collaborated on a now overlooked project simply titled Film.

Commissioned by Barney Rossett of Grove Pross, it was to be Samuel Beckett’s only film. Originally, he had imagined Charles Chaplin for its leading role. Then, among others, Zero Moster. Finally, Alan Schneider, who was to direct, convinced Beckett to insist on casting Buster Keaton, who at this point was mostly retired.

One would presume that Keaton would jump at the opportunity of working with a figure such as Beckett, so late in his career. But this was not so. Beckett on the other hand, had reportedly tried to cast him for his plays before, and there is speculation that says that his masterwork Waiting for Godot was inspired by a minor work in Keaton’s filmography called The Lovable Cheat. Seemingly, Keaton had read the work, and didn’t get it – much like the screenplay of Film.

What persuaded him to work on this production was his wife, telling him this could have been his Les Enfants du Paradis, and a hefty sum – 2 million dollars – for only a few weeks works. Throughout the production, Keaton grew increasingly frustrated with his leading man’s poker face and general disinterest for the project. Despite their creative divergences, it is also true that at this point, Keaton was very ill and would die of lung cancer eighteen months later. Alan Schneider claimed that often he seemed like he “simply wasn’t there”.

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