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Jonathan Bignell (University of Reading), 'Adaptation and Convergence: Beckett on Film'

The Beckett on Film project (2000) adapted all nineteen of Beckett’s theatre works, creating screen versions that were shown at film festivals, as television broadcasts, sold as a DVD box set and distributed via online video streaming. This paper argues that these evolutions of the project are more significant than simply repackaging the content produced in one medium for consumption in another. Rather, they work with and reflect on the borders between mediums, often selfconsciously and reflexively, and address the ways that creative works fit into new medial environments. Beckett on Film can be seen not as a fixed text (or collection of texts), but as a mobile and mutable work that changes in relation to medium and audience, with different spatial and temporal specificities across the history of these adaptation processes. 

The paper traces the British and Irish stories of how the Blue Angel production company, the Irish broadcaster RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) and the British Channel 4 television channel framed Beckett on Film in its various manifestations. The paper addresses the project’s genesis, production, scheduling for cinema and its television screenings addressed to specialist, general and then educational audiences. It also considers how the project’s subsequent adaptation into the “new” media of DVD and online YouTube video framed the series as a cultural asset and a prestige collectable, aligning it with discourses of taste and connoisseurship. The paper makes the case for Beckett on Film’s resilience and its fit with an emergent culture of media convergence in which medial boundaries were being renegotiated. 

Jonathan Bignell is Professor of Television and Film at the University of Reading. He works primarily on television drama and the methodologies of television and film analysis. His work on Beckett includes the monograph Beckett on Screen, the collection Beckett’s Afterlives (with Anna McMullan and Pim Verhulst) and several articles in Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui and the Journal of Beckett Studies. His recent chapters on Beckett’s screen drama include contributions to Beckett and Media, Samuel Beckett and Technology, Beckett’s Voices/Voicing Beckett and Pop Beckett. He is a Trustee of the Beckett International Foundation and member of the Samuel Beckett Research Centre.

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