Film (1965)

‘Shh’

‘Film’, directed by Alan Schneider and written by Samuel Beckett in 1965, is an American short movie, the only film written by the Irish avant-garde playwright. A man, played appropriately silently by Buster Keaton, is followed by a pursuing camera from the streets of New York into an apartment block. His face for the majority of the film is never shown, the camera staying behind him with his head covered. He takes refuge in a room and sets about removing observers: he evicts a cat and a dog, places a blanket over a mirror, covers a fishbowl with his coat and removes a painting from the wall. Once his preparations are complete, he settles into a chair and leafs through photographs from his past, before destroying them one by one. After this, he nods off and, for the first time, the camera swings around the room to confront him. Waking, the man stares at the camera and, in a point-of-view shot, we discover that the camera is in fact his doppelganger. It’s a film that, at first glance, means little, but oddly when watching the remake from 1979, it becomes clear how crafted and deliberate the movie is. In the original there is one sound: a woman hushing the man, and the subsequent silence elevates this moment. This is probably the point, in Beckett, small incidents and abstracted dialogue are made more important by the form the take and the nature of the performance around them. There is something genuinely creepy about this film, the way it touches on themes of surveillance, doubles, paranoia, and the way it takes an actor with such a famously expressive face and reduces him to only two expressions: the dying shock of the observed and the impassivity of the doppelganger. Watching this soon after binging the new series of ‘Twin Peaks’, it is clear where David Lynch drew some of his inspiration for his claustrophobic and unsettling cinema.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s dense and difficult but short. I would suggest watching it, as I did, in a double bill with its own remake. This not only gives a sense of what was and wasn’t in Beckett’s script, but also feels apt when watching a movie about a doppelganger.

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