Directed by Alan Schneider
with a talk with film theorist Ed Halter
The launch for the film series A Door Ajar will bring together a screening of Beckett's Film, Jean Genet's Un Chant D'Amour, and a talk by curator and film theorist Ed Halter.
Nobel Prize-winning playwright Samuel Beckett’s only screenplay, Film (1965), was inspired by George Berkley’s philosophical pronouncement, “to be is to be perceived” (“esse est percipi”). In one of his last film appearances, Buster Keaton is cast as the object of observation by an all-seeing eye. Film documents the chase between camera and pursued image, raising questions about the nature of recorded and projected images. Beckett once summarized Film in the following manner: “It’s a movie about the perceiving eye, about the perceived and the perceiver—two aspects of the same man. The perceiver desires like mad to perceive and the perceived tries desperately to hide. Then, in the end, one wins.”
Hailed by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze as “the greatest Irish film,” Film was commissioned and produced by Grove Press’ Barney Rosset, directed by Alan Schneider, and features the cinematography of Academy Award-winner Boris Kaufman. The screenplay was written in 1963 and filmed in New York in the summer of 1964. For the shooting, Samuel Beckett made his only trip to America. Film has received numerous awards, including the Film Critics’ Prize at the 1965 Venice Film Festival, the Special Prize at the Oberhausen Festival (Germany) in 1966, and the Special Jury Prize at the 1996 Tours Festival (France).
Un Chant D’Amour (A Song of Love) is the only film created by the French novelist Jean Genet. Created in 1950, the silent film is a powerful work of homoerotic cinema, depicting the relationships between male prisoners in adjacent cells and the guard who watches over them. Un Chant D’Amour influenced Barney Rosset, who commissioned Film from Samuel Beckett in 1964.
Note: this film contains scenes of nudity, and sexually explicit scenes.
Ed Halter is a New York City-based critic and curator. He is a founder and director of Light Industry, a venue for film and electronic art in Brooklyn, and his writing has appeared in Artforum, The Believer, Bookforum, Cinema Scope, frieze, Little Joe, Mousse, Rhizome, Triple Canopy, and the Village Voice, among others. He is a 2009 recipient of the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant, and his book From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games was published in 2006. From 1995 to 2005, he programmed and oversaw the New York Underground Film Festival, and he has curated screenings and exhibitions at Artists Space, BAM, the Flaherty Film Seminar, the ICA London, the Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum, PARTICIPANT INC., and Tate Modern, as well as the cinema for Greater New York 2010 at MoMA PS1 and the film and video program for the 2012 Whitney Biennial. He teaches in the Film and Electronic Arts Program at Bard College, and is currently writing a critical history of contemporary experimental cinema in America.
Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) was an Irish avant-garde playwright, poet, and novelist. Strongly influenced by fellow Irish writer, James Joyce, Beckett is sometimes considered the last of the modernists. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969, “for his writing, which—in new forms for the novel and drama—in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation.” He attended Trinity College from 1923 to 1927, earning a bachelor’s degree in French and Italian.
Beckett won his first literary prize with the poem, “Whoroscope,” which imagined René Descartes meditating on the nature of time while waiting to be served an egg at a restaurant. He then published Proust, a critical study of Marcel Proust’s work and Beckett’s only published, long-form work of criticism. In 1935, he published his first novel, Murphy. He released his most famous work in 1953, the minimalist play, Waiting for Godot. Beckett’s later work, which focused on themes of entrapment, went through many phases, culminating in three “closed space stories” in which he interrogated the nature of memory and its effect on the confined and observed self. His final work, written in 1988, was a poem entitled “Comment Dire” (“What is the Word”), which dealt with the inability to find the words to express oneself.