Samuel Beckett (1906 - 1989)
Peephole Art: Beckett for Television -- Not I, 1988-1989 (1992)
A documentary that contains three performances of Samuel Beckett’s works written or adapted for the small screen: Not I, Quad I & II and What Where. It includes the American version of Not I that was filmed in 1989, performed by Margo Lee Sherman and directed by Larry Sacharow.

Not I is a thirteen-minute dramatic monologue that was written in 1972 and premiered that same year at the Forum Theatre, Lincoln Center, New York. In 1975 Samuel Beckett made a television version for the BBC, performed by Billie Whitelaw and directed by Bill Morton. In Not I a human mouth floats in the darkness, lit by a single beam of light and filmed in close up. It recites a fragmented monologue made up of syncopated phrases about an individual with a distressing past. Although the voice is female (performed by an actress), the text does not specify whether it is a man or a woman. The title is taken from the voice’s repeated insistence that the events she describes did not happen to her.

The television adaptation of the theater piece decisively influenced the work. For technical reasons, in the television version Becket eliminated a second character (of indeterminate gender) who had acted as a silent receiver in the original theater piece. On the stage, the audience saw a woman reciting a monologue, but on the screen viewers see only a mouth, an element that becomes autonomous, emphasizing its status as a physical organ. The lips of the actress maintain their original state, but they also become a sphincter and a vagina. The monologue is spoken very rapidly, broken by desperate outbursts of laughter and shouts: an incandescent mouth that speaks about itself in third person while repeatedly denying its identity.

Although cinema is one of Beckett’s lesser known facets, his forays into film are by no means peripheral within his body of work, and they have influenced contemporary visual artists such as Bruce Nauman and Sol LeWitt, among others. Beckett began to take an interest in the use of radio and television in the mid-sixties. Over a period of more than two decades, he wrote and produced one film (Film, 1964) and seven works for television, and made a film adaptation of his theatre piece Not I. In all these works, he continued the formal quest that had driven his playwriting, for “the strangeness and beauty of the pure image.”

Samuel Beckett in UbuWeb Sound