Fund This ‘Notfilm’: About the 1965 Film ‘Film’ Written by Samuel Beckett and Starring Buster Keaton

By  · Published on November 23rd, 2013

Buster Keaton appeared in some very weird movies following the advent of sound pictures. There’s that Mexican sci-fi comedy Boom in the Moon I mentioned on FSR a while back. There’s the Eastman Kodak industrial film The Triumph of Lester Snapwell, in which he plays a clumsy photographer who travels through time so he can experience an easy-use Instamatic camera. And of course all those crazy ’60s beach movies, where he performed silly slapstick involving bikinis, boobs and a politically incorrect portrayal of a Native American. But his oddest has to be Film, the 1965 short he reluctantly starred in, which was scripted by absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett (his only original written directly for the screen), helmed by theatre director Alan Schneider, produced by controversial publisher Barney Rosset, edited by Oscar-nominated documentarian Sidney Meyers (The Quiet One; The Savage Eye) and shot by legendary cinematographer Boris Kaufman (L’Atalante; On the Waterfront).

Almost 50 years since its debut at the Venice Film Festival, Film is being restored by Milestone Films, the wonderful people who in recent years have resurfaced Killer of Sheep, Portrait of Jason, Word is Out and other classics in need. And its 2014 re-release will be in conjunction with a documentary feature/essay film (or “kino essay”) titled Notfilm, directed by archivist Ross Lipman. Tons of bonus footage, including deleted, alternate and “lost” scenes, has been found from the production, and we’ll get to see all that alongside interviews with Leonard Maltin, Kevin Brownlow and Haskell Wexler, among others (plus rare audio recordings of Beckett, Schneider and Kaufman). That is, if they acquire the $95k needed to finish the project. Notfilm has been crowdfunding via Indiegogo for a month now and has only raised about 20%. They’ve got another 26 days to go.

That $95k isn’t even the whole budget; it’s only half. A lot of that apparently goes into the process of restoring that bonus footage, which is said to have been found underneath Rosset’s kitchen sink. But hopefully a good deal does go into the actual production value of the documentary, which so far actually looks a bit weak. I’m talking about the interview clips and some of the sound issues you’ll see and hear in the trailer below. This is admittedly an important asset for film history they’re constructing, but just because the content is significant enough to appeal to a certain audience, that doesn’t mean it can’t also look great, too. Honestly, I’m pretty tired of seeing docs about film history and by film historians that don’t themselves strive for cinematic excellence. Of course I’ll see it regardless because I love Keaton and am curious about the story of the difficult art film called (“pretentiously,” said Andrew Sarris) Film.

If you’re mostly curious now about the subject of the documentary, there are currently legitimate and illegitimate ways of seeing Film. The best version for legal and quality assurance is the institutional use copy, which will run you $400. You could also just enroll in a good film studies program that has a copy already, but actually that will run you tens of thousands of dollars. The awful way to see it right now is to find the versions on YouTube and Vimeo, but these look terrible. You’re better off patiently anticipating the theatrical release (or DVD/Blu-ray, if you’re not near where it will play) expected in about a year. What to do until then? Well, if you pledge right, you can pile up a nice little library of Milestone films to watch, via signed copies of Killer of Sheep and I Am Cuba, as well as a set of silent films starring Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd. Another neat perk is a $2,500 dinner with 90-year-old actor James Karen (Film; Poltergeist; Mulholland Dr.). There’s also the option for tax-deductible donations, if that’s the kind of incentive you prefer.

You can also read up on the making of and interpretations of Film. I know how this sounds, but the film’s Wikipedia entry is actually a pretty lengthy and thorough primer, complete with a whole lot of citations so you can move on to more proper media. For now, watch the Notfilm trailer below and let me know if you think it looks worthy of your money and/or what you’d like to see from and in the doc.

Do you want to see this film? Enough to help fund it?

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.