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Beckett on Film
Stage on Screen celebrates Samuel Beckett -- one of the 20th century's most influential playwrights.
Becket on Film backstage Samuel Beckett credits resources

Beckett on Film - Backstage

Knowing Beckett
A Conversation with Michael Colgan
Producer of the "Beckett on Film" Project

Q: Many Americans think of Samuel Beckett as a playwright whose works are difficult to understand. Obviously you disagree. How do you account for the common misconception?

Read Synopses A: We've got to look at Beckett's work in terms of looking at a piece of art. When Beckett first came out, people thought, "God, this is very difficult to understand." But nobody is saying that about Jackson Pollock's work, you know? When you start trying to understand a Jackson Pollock painting, when you start trying to find the reason for that splash over there, or that one there, or you do that with a Mark Rothko painting, then you're beginning to devalue it, because you're sort of putting it in a corner. And the best way to explain a Jackson Pollock painting is to just stand in front of it. These things are to be experienced in terms of your senses, not just in terms of your intellect. In terms of "What was the feeling I got from that?" -- not "Did I get the right thing? Did I crack it?" The people who get more out of it are willing to let it wash over them. They're willing to sit there and just get what they can from it. Get an impression.

Q: You knew Beckett, and no doubt you know that he is considered by many to be "bleak." Was he?

A: Yes, he had a reputation for being very bleak and dour. And the truth is, when these plays came out, there was no doubt that they were more attractive to the intellectuals, or maybe even to the suicidal. But the thing is, as time has gone on, we've been living with the myth and not the reality. The thing is that this was a man who was very, very funny. It was only when I did "Waiting for Godot" that we could have fun and realize that the play is very funny. I mean, a man who will say that the day you die is the same as any other, except shorter ... he's just being funny.

Q: How did Beckett's early audiences react to his work?

A: Back then, they were perplexed. There were people walking out, there were people thinking he was a charlatan, there were people asking for their money back.

Q: But that's not the reaction you see today?

View Profile A: Nowadays, I think that "Waiting for Godot" is a classic, and I think that because the name is so well-known, and people know what it's about, they go in with a different attitude. People go in and they just know that it's an emotional experience, not an intellectual one.

Q: Is there any element of contemporary culture in which you can see Beckett's influence?

A: If we didn't have Samuel Beckett, we wouldn't have had Harold Pinter. Or he would have been a very different writer. And if you didn't have Harold Pinter you wouldn't have had David Mamet, and if you didn't have David Mamet, you probably wouldn't have had Quentin Tarantino.

Q: What do you hope viewers take away from Beckett on Film?

A: I hope they want to see more. And it would be great for them to see why some people consider his work wonderful.

Q: And in your opinion, why is his work wonderful?

A: Because he is the most careful writer of the 20th century. He is the most perfect writer. And so when people say to me, "Talk about him being bleak," I say, "nobody who writes that beautifully can be considered bleak." There's nothing that comes close. And the Tom Stoppards, and the Pinters, and the Mamets, they all know he's the man. He's the main man.