September 4, 2011

I had never seen this before (courtesy Samuel Beckett’s Only Cinematic Project: A Silent Film from 1965 | Brain Pickings and Ready, Steady, Book):

Buster Keaton in Samuel Beckett’s 1965 Film. It’s wonderful.

Good things:

An old Buster Keaton is still, through a combination of his hat and locomotion, still recognisably Buster Keaton, but with strong elements of decay and therefore tragedy about his floppy athleticism.

The way that light, and lines of sight become the physical objects negotiated by physical comedy and slapstick. Very like Molloy. What was once the obstacle course of a rail handcar or construction site with its pulleys and planks is translated into an invisible and abstract environment.

The atmosphere of terror, with numerous perhaps rather surprising baroque, or Victorian ghost story elements: the grotesque head-carving on the chair, the stalking camera, the briefly-seen back of Keaton hurrying up the stairs.

The more minimalist elements of same, the terror constructed out of observation, death and identity. I’m sure there are all sorts of film and camera theorists who can elucidate this endlessly, but on a simple level – camera as self, camera as death. The deadly reflection that this engenders.

[edit:] I should have said here, I think, ‘The combination of baroque or literary stimuluses to fear with the elements that make up existential fear”. I think this is what gives the film a good deal of its character and force.

The elements characteristic of his novels – the choreography of the main character, very like Murphy, or Watt. The rocking chair, such a central object in Murphy: the only thing that gets faster and faster and then stops, if I remember the book correctly.

The classic silent film comedy of the cat and dog. The dog!

The way the minimal structure and expression allows all sorts of clear, unobstructed symbols to be present without being cluttered; to take one: the death of the vicar/priest figure compared to the destruction of the Egyptian idol.

The broken landscape.

What a Sunday morning treat.