NOTFILM di Ross Lipman

Reading Bloom
13 min readApr 25, 2017


“Curiously, the credits for Notfilm list Lipman as writer, photographer, editor, and narrator, but not as director. Does this imply that a director is merely the sum of the other skills? Or is it an attempt at modesty? If the latter, it is belied by the ambition, scope, research, and exhilarating sweep of his project, by his decision to call it a “kino essay” — a calculated nod to Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov — and by his sallies into textual interpretation of Film. […] Lipman’s kino-essay has legs beyond its immediate theatrical appeal, and enough merit and seriousness to maintain its place as a continued resource for film students and Beckett scholars.”

Critics’ Pick

“Ross Lipman’s studious, rigorous, and surprisingly tender documentary […] gives us access to Beckett at work. Lipman finds insight and pathos in the gulf between what Beckett aspired to in Film and in what he actually achieved.”

“When the filmmaker is a fellow named Ross Lipman — noted for his terrific restorations of works by Chaplin, Welles, Altman, Cassavetes, Shirley Clarke and Kenneth Anger — and who turns out to himself have a tremendous talent for documentary filmmaking, you had best put his movie Notfilm on your must-see list. That is, if you have any reverence for Buster Keaton, Samuel Beckett, cinema history and the artistic and filmmaking processes.”

Notfilm leaves you with the unmistakable sense of Film as a failed, fascinating experiment, a grand harnessing of craft and creative genius that couldn’t gel into coherence. Yet, for all of its shortcomings — failures that Beckett himself eventually acknowledged — Lipman finds in Film genuine insights about Beckett’s work as a whole, and even about the nature of the movies.”

“[Beckett’s Film] is now the subject of an intelligent, affectionate documentary by Ross Lipman, titled Notfilm. […] A charming, earnest, sometimes ungainly mixture of history, criticism and high-minded gossip, Notfilm testifies to an almost inexhaustible fascination with the pleasures and paradoxes of cinema. […] in exploring the intersection between the Beckettian and the Keatonesque [Notfilm] finds a hitherto uncharted dimension of human and cinematic experience.”

“Completely fascinating […]. A thoughtful, incisive meditation on its decades-old events, Notfilm is gossipy and philosophical by turn, joining microscopic analysis of the filmmakers’ lofty intentions with juicy morsels of information about exactly what happened when theory met practice on the steamy summer streets of New York City where Film was shot. […] Hearing the rarely recorded Beckett speak in what turns out to be the most lyrical Irish voice is one of Notfilm’s special treats. […] for moviegoers who care about film not just as a title, Notfilm can be unreservedly recommended.”

“In his Notfilm, Lipman, who also restored Film for the UCLA Film & Television Archive, […] regards the movie as an object worthy of study primarily for all the disparate talents involved. […] the labor of love Notfilm is largely a one-man show behind the scenes. […] Lipman has ensured that the singular Film, which itself portrays the passage of time as a process of elimination, won’t be forgotten.”

Notfilm and Film are must-see cinema for any cinefile worth his/her salt. […] Lipman, a movie restorationist and indie filmmaker, worked on Notfilm like a man obsessed with an Ahab-like monomania, for seven years, unearthing pieces of celluloid here and film history there. […] his documentary is worthy of its lofty subjects. This double feature is required viewing for all serious aesthetes, film students and lovers of the cinematic stuff that dreams are made of.”

Notfilm is enthralling. […] Listening to Beckett’s verbal melody is one of the primary pleasures offered by Ross Lipman’s Notfilm. […] as we witness Rosset and Whitelaw struggling beneath the oppressive weight of age, the documentary becomes about memory and its fading. In other words, the obliteration that awaits us all-the foundation of Beckett’s art.”

Lee Wochner Blog

[Notfilm] is a smart and fascinating film, and also a personal one, as director Ross Lipman gives us his thoughts about [Film], its underlying meaning, and the confusions that arose among its creators.”

“Lipman […] unpacks two hours worth of historical context, biographical insights, conceptual musings and structural poetics into Notfilm (2015), his complex and moving documentary — also black and white, but rarely wordless (except to emphasize the gorgeous score by Bela Tarr’s main man Mihály Víg).”

“Lipman has made a film that is both about Film, and about film itself. […] As the shift from analogue to digital converts the medium of film into ‘notfilm’, Lipman’s essay is a reminder of what has been lost, while he explores the contributions of two men, Beckett and Keaton, who sought to wring the most from each frame.”

“A fortiori Lipman’s Notfilm re-contextualizes Beckett’s life and art in a way few critical or biographical studies have thus far managed to do. […] Notfilm is highlighted by interviews with a variety of individuals capable of shedding light on the project.”

“Notfilm provides a rigorous reconstruction and analysis of the conception and production (and a little bit of the reception) of Film. This is state-of-the art film historiography and Lipman convincingly shows that film can be used very effectively as a medium to present original historical research. […] his arguments remain intriguing and open up the debate — exactly as an essay should do.”

“Ross Lipman’s fascinating Notfilm is a self-described “kino-essay” about the little-seen work that will be manna from heaven for film and theater buffs alike. [Lipman] delivers many insightful observations that make this effort a work of solid scholarship as well as delicious dish. That it works equally well on both levels makes it as entertaining as it is educational.”

“[Ross Lipman’s] fascinating video essay Notfilm, […] exhaustively documents the conception, realization, and public reception of Film. As a documentary, it could use a tighter edit and a more generous music score, but as a research project, it’s impressive.”

“Lipman has a knack for making associations. He shows how this oddity [Film] epitomizes Beckett’s art. He unfurls a web of serendipitous connections that includes the 18th-century idealist philosopher George Berkeley, Honoré de Balzac’s 1851 play Mercadet, and the silent movie masterpieces of Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Though not as polished as Film, Lipman’s Notfilm might be that rare instance where the critical commentary is of more interest than the work itself.”

Tanya Goldman

Notfilm will have you thinking about film, perception, and memory long after you leave the theatre. It is Notjustafilm — it is much more.”

“A thorough and insightful reflection on artistic difference, the complexities of different mediums, and the ability of a work to be chaotic, messy, a failure, and brilliant. […] Notfilm is a slow, intricate and deeply worthwhile look at Beckett’s incredibly short screenwriting career.”

“Produced by the estimable Dennis Doris and Amy Heller for their New Jersey-based Milestone Film & Video company, Notfilm seems to represent a labor of love for Lipman, a veteran restoration specialist at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.” John Beifuss, “Screen Visions: Brooks screening of Notfilm revisits historic collaboration of Buster, Beckett”, 07/06/2016, The Commercial Appeal/Memphis

“In the 122-minute work, Lipman unpacks the method, reasoning, and personality behind the film; his focus on the information over presentation elevates Notfilm beyond documentary and into an essay-like territory.”

“Incorporating clips of earlier, equally meta avant-garde films, […] Lipman successfully contextualizes the intellectual and cinematic explorations that theoretically drive Film. In its best moments, Notfilm breaks free of the restrictions of its film-about-a-film roots and waxes poetic about the nature of film itself where ‘we become aware of our own being and self’.“

“Lipman blends his detailed historical account of Film’s production with good gossip and gently wandering reflections on the big questions: perception, memory, mortality, time and the fundamental nature of cinema. […] By exploring the great gap between intention and achievement, by preferring valiant failure to perfection, Lipman has crafted a poignant love letter to cinema’s possibilities.”

Notfilm must be one of the most delightful, thoroughgoing, and ingenious pieces of archival filmmaking to hit the screen in recent years. Unmatched in its depth and detail, it redefines the meaning of “the making of,” documenting not only Film’s checkered progress — from initial concept to script through preproduction, production, and exhibition — but also conducting a wide-ranging exploration of Film’s historical context through the principals involved and their relationships with each other.”

“Complesso ‘kino essay’, come ama definirlo il regista (uno dei più famosi restauratori cinematografici), Notfilm è davvero un importante film sull’arte di fare cinema, capace di spiegare le fascinazioni di migliaia di cineasti su quell’opera [Film] definita dallo studioso Gilles Deleuze ‘la più grande pellicola irlandese’.”

“La pellicola vuole essere un omaggio e un’analisi di studio e divulgazione nei confronti di due icone del ‘900: presentando materiale inedito, Lipman va alla ricerca più minuziosa di tutto quello che ci fu dietro a Film. Sicuramente un documentario toccante, capace di mostrarci la lavorazione di Film e dell’idea che ne diede vita. Un semplice, strano ma alquanto geniale pensiero, punto di partenza per un’opera da applausi.”

“Molto il materiale scovato, un archivio inatteso ripescato da scatoloni ammassati e cassetti dimenticati, un assemblaggio scrupoloso che produce un risultato di valore, il ‘cine-saggio’ Notfilm. Un film che ne compendia un altro, lo avvolge e completa, lo spiega e sottolinea, un Film si specchia in un Notfilm, così come Eye si materializza di fronte a Object. […] Sapere che Film è sfuggito all’oscurità della storia, e Notfilm lo accompagna quanto un fedele scudiero, rinfranca un poco lo spirito di questo nuovo millennio.”

Notfilm è […] un cine-saggio «di eccezionale rigore storico e accuratezza estetica» che ricostruisce e allo stesso tempo tenta di farci comprendere il cortometraggio Film (1965), l’unico lavoro cinematografico del drammaturgo irlandese Samuel Beckett. […] Notfilm però non è solo un semplice documentario sulla lavorazione di un film, ma è molto di più, è un cine-saggio [che] si interroga sul formato stesso della pellicola cinematografica.”

“Oltre a fornire una quantità impressionante di informazioni tecniche e storiche che farebbero la gioia di qualunque cinefilo, Lipman raccoglie la sfida interpretativa lanciata da Beckett e amplia il discorso sul piano filosofico, proponendo il motto Esse est percipi (essere è essere percepito) del filosofo George Berkeley come punto di partenza per capire il Film di Beckett. L’accavallarsi di indagine e interpretazione, dati fattuali e osservazioni personali, fa di Notfilm un progetto allo stesso tempo informativo e personalissimo, a testimonianza del fatto che il mestiere del restauratore non si svolge soltanto in oscuri laboratori fotochimici.”

“Nella splendida versione restaurata e rimasterizzata, curata dallo stesso Lipman, in collaborazione con UCLA Film & Television Archive e British Institute, Film mostrerà agli appassionati l’incontro epocale tra due geni come Beckett e Keaton, col primo quasi all’apice di una fama che, cinque anni dopo, culminerà con l’assegnazione del premio Nobel; e il secondo, invece, catturato negli anni del declino. A questa esperienza artistica unica nel suo genere, Ross Lipman dedicò due anni fa il cine-saggio Notfilm, un prezioso documentario che ricostruisce la travagliata collaborazione tra il drammaturgo irlandese e il genio del cinema muto.” Diego Del Pozzo, “Quando Beckett diresse Keaton e il ‘Film’ divenne metafisico”, 05/04/2017, Il Mattino



Reading Bloom