Celebrate Samuel Beckett’s Birthday with Waiting For Godot (the Film) and Harold Pinter’s Memories

Today is the 106th anniver­sary of the birth of Samuel Beck­ett, whose pared-down prose and plays are among the great­est achieve­ments of late mod­ernism.

At a young man Beck­ett moved to Paris, where he befriend­ed anoth­er Irish exile, James Joyce. As a writer, Beck­ett real­ized ear­ly on that he would nev­er match Joyce’s “epic, hero­ic” achieve­ment. Where Joyce was a syn­the­siz­er, Beck­ett once said, he was an ana­lyz­er. “I real­ized that my own way was impov­er­ish­ment,” he said, “in lack of knowl­edge and in tak­ing away, sub­tract­ing rather than adding.”

To cel­e­brate Beck­et­t’s birth­day we bring you a pair of videos, includ­ing an excel­lent 2001 film ver­sion (above) of the most famous of his enig­mat­ic cre­ations, Wait­ing for Godot. It’s the cen­ter­piece of Beck­ett on Film, a series of adap­tions of all 19 of Beck­et­t’s plays, orga­nized by Michael Col­gan, artis­tic direc­tor of the Gate The­atre in Dublin. The film fea­tures Bar­ry McGov­ern as Vladimir, John­ny Mur­phy as Estragon, Alan Stan­ford as Poz­zo and Stephen Bren­nan as Lucky. It was direct­ed by Michael Lind­say-Hogg, who describes Wait­ing for Godot as being “like Mozart–too easy for chil­dren, too dif­fi­cult for adults.” He goes on:

The play is what it is about. Samuel Beck­ett would have said it’s about two men wait­ing on the side of the road for some­one to turn up. But you can invest in the impor­tance of who is going to turn up. Is it a local farmer? Is it God? Or is it sim­ply some­one who does­n’t show up? The impor­tant thing is the ambiguity–the fact that it does­n’t real­ly state what it is. That’s why it’s so great for the audi­ence to be part of–they fill in a lot of the blanks. It works in their imag­i­na­tions.

You can order the 19-film boxed set of Beck­ett on Film here, and list­ed to a CBC audio record­ing of Wait­ing for Godot here.

Harold Pin­ter in A Wake for Sam:

In ear­ly 1990, less than two months after Beck­et­t’s death on Decem­ber 22, 1989, the British play­wright Harold Pin­ter paid trib­ute to his friend and hero as part of a BBC series called A Wake for Sam. Pin­ter begins by telling the sto­ry of the night in 1961 when he first met Beck­ett, while in Paris for a per­for­mance of The Care­tak­er:

I’d known his work for many years of course but it had­n’t led me to believe that he’d be such a very fast dri­ver. He drove his lit­tle Cit­roen from bar to bar through­out the whole evening, very quick­ly indeed. We were togeth­er for hours, and final­ly end­ed up in a place in Les Halles eat­ing onion soup at about four o’clock in the morn­ing and I was by this time overcome–through, I think, alco­hol and tobac­co and excitement–with indi­ges­tion and heart­burn, so I lay down on the table. I can still see the place. When I looked up he was gone. As I say, it was about four o’clock in the morn­ing. I had no idea where he’d gone and he remained away and I thought, “Per­haps this has all been a dream.”

The con­clu­sion of Pin­ter’s sto­ry (you’ll have to watch the video) reveals some­thing of Beck­et­t’s char­ac­ter. Pin­ter then goes on to read an elo­quent, oft-quot­ed pas­sage from a let­ter he wrote to a friend as a young man, in 1954, assess­ing Beck­et­t’s pow­er as a writer:

The far­ther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philoso­phies, tracts, dog­mas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, noth­ing from the bar­gain base­ment. He is the most coura­geous, remorse­less writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grate­ful to him. He’s not fuck­ing me about, he’s not lead­ing me up any gar­den path, he’s not slip­ping me a wink, he’s not flog­ging me a rem­e­dy or a path or a rev­e­la­tion or a bas­in­ful of bread­crumbs, he’s not sell­ing me any­thing I don’t want to buy–he does­n’t give a bol­lock whether I buy or not–he has­n’t got his hand over his heart. Well, I’ll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no mag­got lone­ly. He brings forth a body of beau­ty. His work is beau­ti­ful.

The 13-minute film con­cludes with a dra­mat­ic read­ing by Pin­ter of the final sec­tion of Beck­et­t’s exper­i­men­tal nov­el The Unnam­able, which was com­plet­ed the same year as Wait­ing for Godot, in 1953. The pas­sage builds in a crescen­do of doubt and despair, with a sliv­er of resolve at the end:

Per­haps it’s done already, per­haps they have said me already, per­haps they have car­ried me to the thresh­old of my sto­ry, before the door that opens on my sto­ry, that would sur­prise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll nev­er know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Samuel Beck­ett Speaks

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