The Eye, the Object, and the Mirror: Samuel Beckett's Film (1965) and "The Agony of Perceivedness"
(at time of presentation)
Cait Harrigan is a research PhD candidate in the School of English, Media, and Theatre Studies at Maynooth University. Her own research investigates the critical implications of humour and the comic in post-Celtic Tiger Irish cinema. She received her M.Phil. in Irish Writing from Trinity College Dublin, and her B.A. in English from St. Mary's College of Maryland.
In his entire career, Samuel Beckett only produced one short cinematic work, Film (1965), directed by Alan Schneider and starring Buster Keaton. As Schneider himself described the script as “a fairly baffling when not downright inscrutable six page outline,” Film’s opaqueness, and its poor reception in 1965, has elicited a limited response within the critical field of Beckett’s work (and in film history itself). However, Film allows for an exploration of human perception and spectatorship unique to its medium, both in its technicality and in reference to the existing experimental film of the 1920’s that it specifically invokes.
This paper analyses the narrative and cinematic functions of Film in order to illustrate its innovations in challenging the role of the spectator and the illusion of perception both in cinema itself and the voyeurism of the audience that the act of film-viewing allows. Significantly, Film presents voyeurism or scopophilia as unsettling and even uncanny, as opposed to pleasurable, and the realisation of self-perception (through the characters in Film) as horrifying. The significance of Film has as much to do with its narrative as with its self-awareness of its medium within the context of cinema as a whole, including the earlier work of Buster Keaton in Sherlock Junior (1924) and The Playhouse (1921). It is not only intriguing that Film was Samuel Beckett’s only film as a point of fact, but that this specific exploration of perception and spectatorship would have been impossible on the stage.