Sandro Montalto

Beckett and Keaton:
The Comic and the Angst

Translated by John Rugman


ISBN 978-0-9861061-7-0 1
170 pages, $20

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A history and analysis of a major work by Samuel Beckett, the neglected 1965 film called simply Film, starring Buster Keaton. The author repudiates previous skimpy criticism holding the work to be minor, and examines the work in detail, providing its plot, history and a reinterpretation of its meaning and significance. It places Film within the Beckett corpus, demonstrates its centrality and level of excellence, and explores its relationship to psychoanalysis, surrealism, existentialism, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Sartre and other writers. It also discusses film techniques, perspective and philosophy.

Author Bio:

SANDRO MONTALTO, born 1978 in Biella, Italy, is Editorial Director of the independent publishing house Edizioni Joker. He co-founded the Associazione Italiana per l'Aforisma and the literary award Torino in Sintesi. His published works include poetry, plays, aphorisms and literary criticism. He edited Umberto Eco - l'uomo che sapeva troppo (Edizioni ETS, 2009), Fallire ancora, fallire meglio (Edizioni Joker, 2009), Temperamento Sanguineti (Edizioni Joker, 2011) and several anthologies of aphorisms and plays. He translated twenty-five sonnets by Shakespeare into Italian, Scrivo sempre di te (Edizioni Strade Bianche di Stampa Alternativa, 2016). Montalto is also a musician and composer, he is active as a choir director and arranger. He has written essays on Erik Satie, Percy Grainger, Igor Stravinsky and other composers. He works as a librarian in his hometown.



"In response to the critical dearth surrounding one of Samuel Beckett's most enigmatic works, Film, starring Buster Keaton, this book examines the creative process used by the Irish author from inception to final cut. Parallels are drawn with the silent film epoch, while all-new interpretations bring together cinema, philosophy and literature. Film has become a crucial nerve center within the Beckett oeuvre, as stereotypes and simplifications are laid to waste."

~ Paolo Bertinetti, University of Torino, Italy


Excerpt from Beckett and Keaton: the Comic and the Angst


Keaton (L) and Beckett (R) on the set of Film, 1964



This book aims to analyze, or better, to experience, Film, a major work by Samuel Beckett, the screenplay of which he wrote in 1963. The 1965 release starred none other than Buster Keaton. Though articles and essays on Film have appeared, they constitute a very small portion of the huge amount of critical writings on Beckett. Almost all the focus on Film either concurs in attributing minor importance to the work - a view repudiated herein - or makes use of the work as a pretext to discuss other topics (for example, filmmaking technique, general reflections on Beckett's conception of mankind, etc.), or is limited to shabby plot summaries. Thus the demand for a radical shake-up of critical interpretation of Samuel Beckett's Film.

Our analysis does, however, begin with a detailed, point-by-point inspection of the plot, which provides the sole vehicle for reflecting upon and highlighting the richness of this short film, and also allows us the opportunity to point out the many inaccuracies perpetrated by critics. Also provided, from the start, are several all-new interpretations, as well as technical information and reflections from literary and philosophical perspectives, along with a few suggestions on further inroads for exploration. Moreover, this examination seeks to place Film within the Beckett corpus in order to demonstrate the work's centrality and, with regard to certain aspects, the levels of excellence attained.

Cinematographically speaking, there has been an absence on the part of critics, thus several reflections are in order. These will be less in depth than, though surely not disconnected from, the literary and philosophical contexts. From exploring the reasons behind making a silent black-and-white film, preceded by a rapid overview of early twentieth-century filmmaking's theoric and philosophical situation, we turn our attention to Beckett's well-known interest in silent film, as we attempt an albeit anachronistic placement of Film within the history of cinema.


With God out of the picture, the subject may rely only on himself for strength. As Beckett writes in the script, eliminated every extraneous perception, or animal, or human, or divine, self-perception continues to exist. Self-perception is thus the last hurdle to overcome in the intention of annihilating oneself. We are fully and finally in the lands of the "absurd" - a life lived solely for oneself, in a universe void of sense because there is no God to resolve the contradictions. In short, we are at last in that dimension that Kierkegaard defined as "desperation", the same desperation that also lies at the center of Dostoevsky's poetics. Thus, the man in Film attempts to flee from his pursuer, he does not want to be perceived, does not want to facilitate the agony. He attempts to not exist, but one cannot escape from the perception of oneself. In English, "I" and "eye" are pronounced in the same way, and this too is a sign of the desperate (attempted) flight from the pronoun by the protagonist in Film.

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