Yesterday was the 106th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Beckett, one of my favorite novelists and certainly my favorite playwright. During my first year after grad school (the first time) I read everything by Beckett that I could get my hands on - for a while I tried to write plays, but I realized I was just trying to write Beckett for the late 20th century.
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 read the full text of Waiting for Godot while listening to a CBC audio recording of the play, read by the Stratford Festival Players, starting here.
For fans of Harold Pinter, there is also a film clip of him talking about his first meeting with Beckett, his mentor and friend.