Passages from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: The Film

Due to its styl­is­tic and lin­guis­tic com­plex­i­ty, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake ranks among the most dif­fi­cult works of fic­tion. And that is why vir­tu­al­ly no film­mak­er has ever tried to adapt Joyce’s final work for the screen. But after Mary Man­ning Howe adapt­ed pas­sages from the book for the stage (lis­ten to her read­ing from Finnegans Wake here), Amer­i­can ani­ma­tor Mary Ellen Bute accept­ed the chal­lenge and turned Man­ning’s play into a film.

Sad­ly, Mary Ellen Bute’s short films are almost for­got­ten today, but from the 1930s to 1950s her abstract musi­cal shorts were known to a wide audi­ence. Don’t miss her first col­or film from 1938.

Between 1965 and 1967, Bute cre­at­ed her last film, and only fea­ture film, Pas­sages from Finnegans Wake. The movie was screened at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val and named Best Debut of the Year (1965). The video above shows only the open­ing sequence, but the whole film can be enjoyed online cour­tesy of UbuWeb.

Bonus: You can read Roger Ebert’s 1968 review of Bute’s film here. He admits that he did­n’t enjoy it too much, but con­cedes this may have been because he had­n’t actu­al­ly read the book.

By pro­fes­sion, Matthias Rasch­er teach­es Eng­lish and His­to­ry at a High School in north­ern Bavaria, Ger­many. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twit­ter.

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  • Ajda says:

    Har­ry Pot­ter for sure! @Valentina to be clear, I read it but I had no idea what was going on nowhere near the litr­raey chops at the time. I actu­al­ly thought of anoth­er book that was prob­a­bly hard­er, though in col­lege I read Rayuela (Hop­scotch) by Julio Cor­tazar in Span­ish! Exper­i­men­tal fic­tion in your 2nd lan­guage now that was a struggle.I own a copy in Eng­lish but have nev­er picked it up … real­ly should. Oh, to have more time to read!

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