The culmination of a seven-year filmmaking journey, Ross Lipman’s cinema documentary Notfilm is a meditative and mesmerizing exploration of one of the strangest ventures in cinema history—a collaboration between Irish playwright (and future Nobel Prize winner) Samuel Beckett and comic genius Buster Keaton. Notfilm is in the final stages of completion and producers Amy Heller and Dennis Doros of Milestone and filmmaker Lipman are turning to friends, Beckett fans, cinephiles, and the film community for funding to finance necessary improvements and clearances. Milestone hopes to release Notfilm in time for Film’s 50th anniversary this fall.
Lipman, a renowned film restorationist (Killer of Sheep, The Connection, Shadows, Wanda) and independent filmmaker, first encountered Film decades ago when he read Beckett’s published screenplay for the short film shot in New York City in the summer of 1964.
Years later, when he learned that Film needed restoration, Lipman sought out its producer Barney Rosset, the maverick publisher whose many legal battles against censorship enabled Americans to discover the writings of William Burroughs, D. H. Lawrence, and many others.
During one of their many meetings in Rosset’s New York walkup apartment, Lipman inquired if there were any outtakes from that legendary film shoot. Rosset replied no…but that he did have some “scrap” in a cupboard. Lipman then foraged under the kitchen sink, where he found piles of rusty film cans, unopened for many years.
When he examined the footage, Lipman discovered a long-lost sequence, described by Rosset a few years before his death in 2012:
Originally, Film was meant to run nearly thirty minutes. Eight of those minutes were to have been used in one very long shot in which a number of actors would make their only appearance… Sad to say… the extremely difficult shot was ruined by a stroboscopic effect that caused the images to jump around. We went on without that shot. Beckett averted this incipient disaster by removing the scene from the script.
Inspired by this astonishing discovery, Lipman began to envision a film about the making of Film. His ambition was further charged when Rosset delivered more than two hours of audio recordings from Film’s production, including impassioned conversations between the rarely recorded Beckett, director Alan Schneider, cinematographer Boris Kaufman, and Rossett. Until this discovery, there were only small fragments of Beckett’s melodious Irish voice on tape or video, totaling just a few minutes.
To explore both the making of Film and its larger meaning, Lipman sought out Beckett’s beloved actress Billie Whitelaw, close friend and biographer James Knowlson, Alan Schneider’s widow Jean Schneider, Rosset’s childhood friend Haskell Wexler, and Rosset himself. Lipman also interviewed film historians Kevin Brownlow—who was able to shed light on both Beckett’s and Keaton’s thoughts about their collaboration—and Leonard Maltin, who actually visited the set of Film as a 14-year-old silent film fan.
Weaving together these interviews, his own insights into film history, clips from Film, scenes from Buster Keaton comedies, and other materials, Lipman has created a wonderfully absorbing and beautiful “kino essay.” Famed composer Mihály Víg’s score, at times melodic and at others, boisterous, adds to Notfilm’s seductive charm.
Although it is still a work-in-progress, early reviews have been spectacular:
“Ambitious, thrilling and illuminating… Notfilm represents an invaluable addition to Beckett scholarship. Superb.” — James Knowlson, OBE (Beckett’s biographer and founder of the Samuel Beckett Archive)
“A two-hour documentary film about a half-hour film sounds ridiculous, but not if the film is Samuel Beckett’s Film. The confluence of Beckett, Buster Keaton and Alan Schneider is joined by Ross Lipman, who functions here as a cultural archaeologist of the highest order. Notfilm joins the very short list of great movies about the movies.” — Scott Eyman (film historian and author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend)
Lipman’s “kino essay” examines the meaning and making of the unusual collaboration between playwright Samuel Beckett and silent film legend Buster Keaton on the 1965 short film, Film
Kickstarter campaign launches Bastille Day (Tuesday, July 14, 2015)
in honor of lifelong Parisian, Samuel Beckett and celebrates Film’s 50th anniversary!
Link to Kickstarter here