Beginning in 2000, Michael Colgan of Dublin's Gate Theatre and the Irish Film Board determined to film 19 of Beckett's plays and monologues, each directed by a different individual. Directors included Karel Reisz, Anthony Minghella, Damien Hirst, David Mamet, and the two I've chosen below as representative, Neil Jordan and Atom Egoyan. Actors included John Gielgud, Jeremy Irons, Milo O'Shea, Timothy Spall, and Julienne Moore and John Hurt, described below. These films were never put into theaters in general release, but several of them were shown in the 2000 Toronto Film Festival.
MOUTH ON FIRE
Samuel Beckett (author), Neil Jordon (director) Not I (part of the project Beckett on Film, presenting 19 Beckett texts on film, conceived my Michael Colgan) / 2000, DVD release 2002
Neil Jordan begins his short film Not I, based on the 1972 dramatic text by Samuel Beckett, with a view of a young woman (Julienne Moore) entering to sit upon a chair. Perhaps he just couldn’t resist showing off his actor, but this clearly works against Beckett’s instructions, wherein he writes:
Stage in darkness but for MOUTH, upstage audience right, about 8 feet
above stage level, faintly lit from close-up and below, rest of face
in shadow. Invisible microphone.
The auditor, covered head to foot in a loose black djellaba, is missing from Jordan's film.
From here on, however, Jordan follows the author’s suggestions, turning the rest of the work into a film of the mouth.
The mouth—or the voice—is, in fact, the subject of this work, which concerns an older woman (seventy years of age, we later discover) whose parents, having died or disappeared shortly after her birth, was brought up without love and basic human communication. Throughout much of her life she has seldom spoke, grocery-shopping, for example, by bringing a black bag and a shopping list to the store, and quietly waiting until the clerk puts the articles into the bag.
Los Angeles, January 26, 2011
Samuel Beckett (writer), Atom Egoyan (director) Krapp's Last Tape (part of the project Beckett on Film, presenting 19 Beckett texts on film, conceived my Michael Colgan) / 2000, DVD release 2002
Actor John Hurt's portrayal of Krapp in Beckett's 1958 play put to film is absolutely brilliant, despite he and director's Egoyan's small changes to Beckett's text. The realist setting of the play, with the spots of bright white light, gives a grand theatricality to Krapp's world, a world in which, under the light, he feels safe while being surrounded by darkness wherein, as Beckett himself described it, "Old Nick" or death awaits. On his sixty-ninth birthday Krapp, yet again, forces himself to interact with a younger incarnation.
Krapp is an everyday man with romantic aspirations, or at least he was, it is apparent, at age 39, the time when we are all have arrived in the prime of life. Krapp at 39 is both a smug bore,
Spiritually a year of profound gloom and indulgence until that
memorable night in March at the end of the jetty, in the
howling wind, never to be forgotten, when suddenly I saw the
whole thing. The vision, at last. This fancy is what I have chiefly
to record this evening, against the day when my work will be done
and perhaps no place left in my memory, warm or cold, for the
miracle that . . . (hesitates) . . . for the fire that set it alight.
What I suddenly saw then was this, that the belief I had been going
on all my life, namely—(Krapp switches off impatiently, winds tape
forward, switches on again)—
a man who will not regret any decision of his life, and is a man amazingly come alive through the love of a woman whom he describes lovingly in a scene where the two lay in a small punt as it floats into shore through the reeds.
Nothing to say, not a squeak. What's a year now? The sour cud and
the iron stool. (Pause.) Reveled in the word spool. (With relish.)
Spooool! Happiest moment of the past half million. (Pause.) Seventeen
copies sold, of which eleven at trade price to free circulating libraries
beyond the seas. Getting known. (Pause.)
He has failed, obviously, even in his writing career. Unlike his younger self, so unregretful of his past, the old Krapp is filled with the detritus of his life, all those materials left over from his disintegration. If the younger Krapp declares himself as only moving forward, the elder would "Be again!"
Be again in the dingle on a Christmas Eve, gathering holly, the
red-berried. (Pause.) Be again on Croghan on a Sunday morning,
in the haze, with the bitch, stop and listen to the bells. (Pause.)
And so on. (Pause.) Be again, be again. (Pause.) All that old
misery. (Pause.) Once wasn't enough for you. (Pause.)
Lie down across her.
He gives up this, his last tape (or perhaps simply his latest) to listen again to his former self describing his sexual moment with the woman in the punt.
Los Angeles, January 29, 2011