Director’s Statement by Ross Lipman
My new film, Notfilm, is a documentary about the embattled collaboration between Nobel Prize-winning playwright Samuel Beckett and silent-era genius Buster Keaton. Beckett’s only work for projected cinema, aptly called Film, is in essence a chase film: the craziest ever committed to celluloid.
I first read Beckett’s script for Film in my late teens, long before seeing the movie. It immediately grabbed hold of me as one of cinema’s great curiosities, and hasn’t left me since. When my friend Andrew Lampert at Anthology Film Archives contacted me about preserving Film, I jumped at the chance. In New York, I met with its producer, Barney Rosset, the legendary founder of Grove Press. Rosset soon deposited Film with the UCLA Film & Television Archive where I was working, and with generous funding from the National Film Preservation Foundation and The Film Foundation and topnotch work from my colleagues at the labs, we were able to restore Beckett’s original vision in a new edition.
But Film still wouldn’t leave me alone. During my many visits with Rosset, he often lamented the loss of a key scene. The sequence comprised a legendary long-lost prologue. Upon my gentle prodding, he revealed that he did have a few rolls of film under his kitchen sink, but he was sure they were just scrap.
You can guess the rest.
The footage was from the missing prologue—which I’ve now reconstructed in strict accordance with Beckett’s original notes. And that was just the beginning. Looking at other outtakes, I found myself immersed in a dream world of what might have been and what really occurred as film stock ran through cinematographer Boris Kaufman’s camera in 1964.
Notfilm is the result of those daydreams. Over the past seven years I’ve traveled across the world interviewing Beckett’s friends and collaborators. I’ve also had the great fortune to work with composer Mihály Víg, who’s created a score for Notfilm every bit as stunning as his music for the films of Béla Tarr. Lastly and firstly, it’s been my honor and joy to work with the extraordinary Amy Heller and Dennis Doros of Milestone Films.
Notfilm asks, as Beckett did, what cinema can tell us of the human experience. It aspires, as Beckett did, to Joyce’s dictum that artworks should not be about things, but be these things themselves.
FilmRadar managed to ask Ross Lipman a few questions about the film:
How did you first decide to pursue this project?
I actually got taken with the script of Film, in the old Grove Press edition, years before I saw the movie. When the rare archival elements began almost landing in my lap, the thought of a movie naturally arose. But oddly, it wasn’t ‘till viewing the outtakes of the decrepit room – Boris Kaufman’s slow pans over the detritus – that those idle thoughts grew into something more. I saw in those fragmentary outtakes a world I wanted to explore up close.
What makes you distrust movies about movies?
This was an attitude I had when I was younger…I didn’t yet realize that for practicing artists, their work can simply become their life. But I still have feel that internal voice arising on occasion, asking what my aims are. In the end I return to the same dictum from Joyce that inspired Beckett: he was less interested in works that were “about” things, than those that were things in themselves.
What were you most surprised to learn while making NOTFILM?
The further I delved, the more I realized that Becket was less of an absolutist than people thought. Yes, he was famously particular and exacting, but by all accounts he was quite warm, human, and even embracing of those around him. He’d even allow variances – at least in some instances – of his formal concerns when he felt they were well intended. It was partly this realization that allowed me to proceed with NOTFILM,
What do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing it?
There’s no single thing that stands out, in that I’ve intentionally tried to appeal to different interests, all of which are a part of myself. Perhaps in the same way that Shakespeare hoped his plays could be enjoyed by vastly different groups of people, in different ways. I love the meditative as well as the mundane. But if pressed, I’d hope that viewers are inspired to seek out more works by the many artists whose works feature in NOTFILM, all of whom have been great personal inspirations to me.
NOTFILM is available on DVD and BluRay.