Category: Archive

Minimalist Beckett gets the big-screen treatment

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Michael Gray

The recent New York Film Fetival gave the city its first glimpse at one of the most important cinematic endeavors to come from Ireland in recent years. Two films from the Beckett Film Project, an ambitious RTE/Channel co-production, were featured — Neil Jordan’s "Not I" and Atom Egoyan’s "Krapp’s Last Tape."

The project, produced by Gate Theatre supremo Michael Colgan, will ultimately bring to the screen all 19 of Samuel Beckett’s stage plays. Seventeen of them have been completed already by some of the top talents in the film industry, and nine of them were screened at Venice and Toronto Film Festivals prior to their appearance in New York.

Jordan’s "Not I" stars Julianne Moore, the impressive lead in his most recent feature, "The End of the Affair," and concentrates for its entirety on the actress’ mouth, at dental exam proximity, as her unnamed character spouts a torrent of observations on having her hearing restored after years of deafness.

Egoyan, a leading Canadian director of Armenian origin, usually obsesses with voyeuristic themes on the big screen, but for "Krapp’s Last Tape" he, too, switches to hearing. His sole actor, John Hurt, plays an aging audio-diarist who amuses, embarrasses and appalls himself as he listens to his arrogant younger self expound on life, love, and bananas, on tapes he had made three decades earlier. With scarcely a handful of non-taped lines in the whole play, Hurt’s lived in-face conveys the perplexity, mischief and regret Krapp feels reflecting on his wasted years, in a role previously embodied by David Kelly.

Kelly himself makes an appearance in "Rough for Theatre I," co-starring fellow veteran Milo O’Shea under the direction of Kieron J Walsh. Among the other directors involved in the series are David Mamet, Conor MacPherson, Damien O’Donnell and Anthony Minghella; their casts include actors of the caliber of Michael Gambon, David Thewlis and, in his final screen appearance before he died, John Geilgud.

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Beckett’s empathetic studies of human frailty and decrepit interdependence have generated a positive response at the festivals and it’s likely that the rest of the Beckett Film Project will be showcased in U.S. cinemas later this year (bundled together several at a time, as many of the master’s minimalist scripts fall short of full feature length). Watch this space for more details.

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