Waiting for Beckett

WAITING FOR BECKETT profiles the life and work of Nobel prize-winning author and playwright Samuel Beckett, a writer who shunned publicity throughout his life, and yet became a worldwide cultural influence. More than five years in the making, the 1993 documentary is a blend of rare archival footage, performances of his work, interviews with friends and scholars, as well as excerpts from Beckett’s letters which provide an astonishing and often humorous insight into his personal opinions of his life and art. Co-produced and Directed by John Reilly and Melissa Shaw Smith, WAITING FOR BECKETT was undertaken with the blessing and guidance of Samuel Beckett, who died in 1989 at the age of 83. It depicts Beckett turning one of his last plays ‘What Where’ into a highly stylized video production. It stands as the only known footage of Beckett at work as he critiques the work-in-progress with collaborator John Reilly. It also features letters written by Beckett and excerpts across his body of work, voiced by Irish actor Chris O’Neil. Actors Steve Martin and Bill Irwin perform and discuss their personal response to Beckett's work. Footage shows Burgess Meredith and Zero Mostel in the first production of ‘Waiting for Godot’ made for television, along with famous performances by Jack MacGowran, Patrick Magee, Billie Whitelaw, and Buster Keaton starring in one of his last film roles in 1964, the only screenplay written by Beckett, entitled FILM. Mary Manning, the only known surviving family friend who grew up with Beckett, recounts personal anecdotes of their childhood in Ireland. Never before recorded interviews with the villagers of Roussillon in the south of France recall the important but unknown period in Beckett's life when, as a member of the French Resistance, he was forced to remain there in hiding. WAITING FOR BECKETT paints a portrait of a painfully shy man who devoted much of his life to his art, spending many impoverished years in Paris, receiving over 40 rejections for one of his early novels, before recognition slowly came his way. At the same time, we see a man who was a loyal friend, generous to a fault, full of good humor and always ready to share a bottle of whiskey over a long night's conversation. Writer and critic S.E. Gontarski said of the documentary: "No one else has this sort of footage of Sam commenting on and working with his own play. Intercutting Sam's comments with portions from ‘What Where’ makes for an extraordinary recreation of Sam at work. And seeing Sam alert and at work even in his advanced age is incredibly moving." Robert Koehler of the Los Angeles Times said: WAITING FOR BECKETT is sure to stand as one of the lasting records of Samuel Beckett's life and work." Three additional works exist in The Beckett Project series: WHAT WHERE, PEEPHOLE ART: BECKETT FOR TELEVISION, and WAITING FOR GODOT IN SAN QUENTIN.

01:57Copy video clip URL Documentary begins with a series of photographs of Beckett

02:27Copy video clip URL Title cards

02:41Copy video clip URL News broadcast from 1969 announcing Beckett as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, including a clip of Zero Mostel and Burgess Meredith in Waiting for Godot.

03:06Copy video clip URL Brief reflections on Beckett’s genius from publisher John Calder, actor Steve Martin, professor Raymond Federman, professor Martin Esslin, and writer Edward Albee, interspersed with footage of Beckett and of performances of his work

07:06Copy video clip URL “You First Saw the Light”: impressions of Beckett’s early life, including playwright Mary Manning reflecting on Beckett’s mother

09:10Copy video clip URL Clip of Krapp’s Last Tape starring Patrick Magee

10:59Copy video clip URL Professor Brendan Kennelly shares anecdotes told by Beckett about his work’s similarity to religion and his happy childhood

11:42Copy video clip URL Clip of From an Abandoned Work starring Jack MacGowran

12:08Copy video clip URL Brendan Kennelly, professor Hugh Kenner, John Calder, and Mary Manning discuss the place of Beckett and his family in Irish society

14:40Copy video clip URL “The Expelled”: impressions of Beckett’s period of depression in his early thirties. Mary Manning and Beckett’s British publisher John Calder reflect on this period of his life and Beckett’s choice to move to France from Ireland. 

17:07Copy video clip URL “To Be in the Streets of Paris”: Discussions of Beckett’s life and work in Paris, including his friendship with James Joyce, the writing of Murphy, being stabbed, and his relationship with his future wife Suzanne, and being in Paris during WWII from Hugh Kenner and Mary Manning

23:37Copy video clip URL “Mere Boyscout Stuff”: Beckett and Suzanne’s efforts in the French resistance and his time hiding from the Nazis in the south of France for which Beckett was awarded the Croix de Guerre, including reflections by vineyard owner Mme. Bonnelly, John Calder, Hugh Kenner, and M. Bonhomme, the head of the Resistance in Rousillon and clips from Waiting for Godot and What Where?

30:48Copy video clip URL “A Revelation”: Beckett’s artistic breakthrough after the war, including the composition of Krapp’s Last Tape and his first novels written in French (Molloy, Malone meurt, L’innommable, and Watt), with John Calder, Raymond Federman, Hugh Kenner

38:48Copy video clip URL “A Marvelous Liberating Diversion”: The writing, production, and publication of Waiting for Godot and its influence, with publisher Barney Rosset, Edward Albee, writer Israel Horovitz

48:26Copy video clip URL “Uproarious Pessimism”: Clip of Steve Martin and Robin Williams performing Waiting for Godot

49:22Copy video clip URL Critic Mel Gussow, Martin Esslin, Steve Martin, Raymond Federman discuss Beckett’s humor

57:22Copy video clip URL “This is a Happy Day”: Professor Linda Ben-Zvi, Brendan Kennelly discuss Beckett’s writing of women characters, interspersed with clips from Happy Days , Eh Joe, and Not I.

1:04:53Copy video clip URL “To Be Is To Be Perceived”: Professor Martin Esslin, John Calder, Barney Rosset, Joe Coffey discuss the making and concept of Film.  

1:09:35Copy video clip URL “What Where”: The 1987 American production of What Where?, on which Beckett consulted via video, with director S.E. Gontarski and footage of Beckett giving feedback. Brief discussions and clips of Quad and Quad II

1:18:30Copy video clip URL “When the Breathing Is Over”: Beckett’s final years and his legacy, with Israel Horovitz, Raymond Federman, Barney Rosset, and a clip of Krapp’s Last Tape

1:24:36Copy video clip URL Credits



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