That Time They Tried to Film Finnegans Wake

Friday A/V Club: If you're looking for a highbrow way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day...


Happy St. Patrick's Day. Did you know someone once decided to make a movie of Finnegans Wake? Or parts of it, anyway: The film's full title is Passages from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, presumably because no one is so insane as to try to fit all 628 densely packed Irish pages into an hour and a half. If you're curious to see the results—and if you've ever so much as attempted to read Finnegans Wake, you must be at least a little curious—then pour yourself a green beer, or maybe take something a little more psychedelic, and behold:

This was made in the mid-'60s by Mary Ellen Bute, who is better known for her animations. Not long afterward, someone tried to turn Ulysses into a movie too. I don't know when the word "unfilmable" was coined but I'll bet it wasn't the 1960s.

Bonus political content: James Joyce, writing in the third person, describes his ideological influences:

Among the many whose works he had read may be mentioned Most, Malatesta, Stirner, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Elisée Reclus, Spencer, and Benjamin Tucker, whose Instead of a Book proclaimed the liberty of the non-invasive individual. He never read anything by Karl Marx except the first sentence of Das Kapital and he found it so absurd that he immediately returned the book to the lender.

For those of you who don't know your old-time anarchists and/or libertarians by surname, he means Johann Most, Errico Malatesta, Max Stirner, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, and Herbert Spencer. Here's another Joyce quote:

As an artist I am against every state. Of course I must recognize it, since indeed in all my dealings I come into contact with its institutions. The state is concentric, man eccentric. Thence arises an eternal struggle. The monk, the bachelor, and the anarchist are in the same category. Naturally I can't approve of the act of the revolutionary who tosses a bomb in a theatre to destroy the King and his children. On the other hand, have these states behaved any better which have drowned the world in a bloodbath?

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)