Notfilm is an oddly interesting documentary that concerns the making of an even odder movie, the appropriately titled Film. Written by the novelist Samuel Beckett and directed by Alan Schneider, Film was released in 1965 and starred dissipated silent movie legend Buster Keaton. If Beckett’s fiction isn’t far out enough, his close collaboration with Schneider in this 130 minute silent piece will convince you that he was operating on a wholly unintelligible wavelength. I won’t try to deconstruct the many interpretations this bit of avant garde nonsense encourages. Weirdness and obscurity can be fascinating concepts when filtered through a veil of humility; when they become their own goal, it’s time to run for the hills. The doc’s director, Ross Lipman, probably did the best job possible in trying to make sense of Beckett and Schneider – but I’m not sure that anyone could’ve understood what they were driving at.
Nonetheless, of interest to cinematographers is that Film was shot by the great Boris Kaufman, ASC. His prior credits – On the Waterfront (1954), Baby Doll (1956), 12 Angry Men (1957) and The Pawnbroker (1964) – show no proclivity toward such fringe material, yet his work here is noteworthy. His camera turns a sweltering Lower Manhattan into an hallucinogenic swirl at a time when that area became a ghost town between Friday night and Monday morning.
For an added bonus, Kaufman makes several appearances onscreen as we’re treated to snippets of him shooting pre-production tests. Footage of this type is so unusual that it makes perfect sense to find it here.
As a footnote to an Oscar-winning career, it’s the best thing you’ll find in Film – which is not a good film at all.