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Joyce the Filmmaker

Author(s): Guillermo Sanz Gallego

Source: Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Summer 2012), pp. 201-205
Published by: Indiana University Press
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Joyce the Filmmaker

Guillermo Sanz Gallego

University College Ghent, Belgium

John McCourt, ed. Roll Away the Reel World: James Joyce and Cinema. Cork,
Ireland: Cork UP, 2010. xiii, 248 pp. $ 55.00 cloth.

John McCourts Roll Away the Reel World: James Joyce and Cinema provides a
complete account of Joyces relationship with cinema. This collection of papers presented
at an interdisciplinary conference in Trieste in 2009 combines biographical and textual
analyses. Appealing particularly to readers interested in Joyces employment as the man-
ager of a cinema, it also is a volume of general interest to all students of the relationship
between literature and film.

Keywords: James Joyce / cinema / modernism/ interdisciplinary studies

he cover of John McCourts edited volume Roll Away the Reel World: James
Joyce and Cinema is a colorful Warholian collage that represents Joyce and
Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses together. Adapting the famous Eve Arnold
photograph of Monroe reading Joyce in 1954, the cover includes four pop-art
portraits of Joyce that take their inspiration from Warhols silkscreen portrait of
Monroe. Has the Irish authors influence on cinema made him a film icon? The
actress reading Joyces masterpiece with interest can be understood as either a sign
of the influence of Joyces work on cinema or as a statement on its cinematographic
quality. Richard Brown believes that Monroes shocked expression in the Arnold
photo was elicited by an erotic passage from the final pages (17079). However,
one can also understand that, since in the photo the actress is unquestionably read-
ing from Penelope, she might not be reading Ulysses for pleasure, but in prepara-
tion for assuming the role of Molly Bloom. She would have made a great Molly
had she not died five years before Joseph Strick directed his film version of Ulysses.
The structure of this volume edited by John McCourt is divided into three
parts. The first part focuses on the Volta Cinematograph. Here we discover bio-
graphical details regarding Joyces time as manager of an Italian cinema in Dublin,
the background of the project, and the variety of films that were shown at the
Volta. These first two essays contextualize the history of the cinema in Trieste up
to the outbreak of the First World War, and Joyces role as an entrepreneur in the

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202 Journal of Modern Literature Volume 35, Number 4

industry. The reader will find here analyses of Joyces contract with Volta, of his
interests in the business, and a detailed account of his business partners. Some of
the material corrects mistakes in Ellmanns biography.
The first essay, James Joyce and the Volta Programme by Luke McKernan,
focuses on how Joyce approached three businessmen in Trieste in September
1909 and convinced them to open a cinema in Dublin. Three months later, the
Volta opened to the public. However, the business was sold in June to a British
company. McKernan points out the possible reasons why the cinema did not
survive: the distance between Trieste and Dublin; and the titles of the films,
which were mainly French and Italian. McKernan has traced half of the films
shown at the Volta in Dublin during the period in which Joyce was in charge,
and the reader can find the entire Volta filmography in the appendix of the book.
This information is extremely useful for discovering new sources for the writing
of Ulysses. McKernan mentions that Joyce was mainly interested in Italian and
French comedies because, like Ulysses, they showed young men going through
their comic routines (24). He also draws attention to some scatological films
shown at the Volta. The reader will undoubtedly agree that there are analogies
between scenes in Beware of Castor Oil! and the ending of the Sirens episode.
All this proves that Joyce was unquestionably attracted to what McKernan calls
the new language of the visual (26).
Erik Schneiders essay includes new biographical details about Joyce during
the Volta cinema months. According to Schneider, most details related to Joyces
biography are based on interviews his brother Stanislaus had with Richard Ell-
mann in 1953, nearly forty-five years after the Volta project. Schneiders rigorous
research yields reveals that one of Joyces business partners was Lorenzo Novak,
and not Francesco Novak, as Stanislaus Joyce mistakenly reported. Schneider also
contextualizes the reasons for Triestes leading role in cinematography at the time.
He throws new light on Joyces contract as a manager. One clause in the contract
made Joyce believe that he had been cheated when the Volta was sold not long
after its opening. Schneider provides alternative reasons why the Volta cinema
failed in Dublin; these came from the partners ambitions and not only from the
choice of films, as Luke McKernan assumes in the previous chapter.
The second group of essays is interdisciplinary, and treats analogies in tech-
niques and topics between Joyces work and films produced between the 1890s
and the beginning of the twentieth century. Katherine Mullin, Maria DiBattista
and Philip Sicker share the idea that Circe is the most cinematographic episode
that Joyce wrote. They also believe that George Mlis had a strong influence on
Joyce. Mullin renews the approach to Joyces work, and to Ulysses in particular,
by comparing some of the most cinematographic excerpts of Joyces work with
films the author was familiar with. Her study focuses on films from the 1890s
to 1904. They show scenes that display what she calls in the title the erotics of
everyday life (43). A common element in these films is the accidental display of
legs and stockings by means of a close-up. Mullin establishes a cinematographic
connection between the Mutoscope and Blooms voyeurism throughout Ulysses.

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Joyce the Filmmaker 203

Numerous passages of Ulysses echo scenes from films that Joyce would have seen,
like Blooms masochistic fascination when he watches his wife with Boylan in
Mullin proves that Joyces sources were not only taken from literature but
also from films. Like Mullin, Maria DiBattista and Philip Sicker discuss the
importance of George Mlis as a cinematographic influence on Joyce. DiBat-
tista focuses on specters in the silent cinema, and reflects on the cinematographic
quality of scenes in Ulysses like those in which the reader witnesses apparitions
of characters such as Paddy Dignam, Stephens mother, and Blooms son Rudy.
All these passages bear resemblance to a series of trick films directed by Mlis
between 1898 and 1909 in which illusionism played an important role. Philip
Sicker draws parallels between Joyces Circe and Mliss dream cinema. He
alludes not only to the techniques of trick cinema, but also to details, motifs
and sequences used by the filmmaker and later on adopted by the writer. One of
these tricks is transformation, a device produced by what Keith Cohen calls the
manipulation of a discrepancy between chronological time [...] and the diegetic
time of rolling celluloid (77), and created by Mlis by stopping the camera. The
multiple exposure achieved by filming over recorded images produced phantasma-
goric scenes. Sicker draws attention to another device, self-visualization. Sicker
provides rigorous evidence that these cinematographic tricks appear repeatedly
throughout Circe.
Carla Marengo Vaglio examines the analogies between futurist aesthetics
and Joyces work. She stresses the importance of Wandering Rocks as a splicing
of cinema and vaudeville-like variety theater whereby Joyce provides sketches of
everyday life in Dublin. Drawing parallels between passages of this chapter and
futurist art, Marengo argues that Joyce had more in common with the futurists
than Stanislaus Joyce claimed when he asserted a huge gap between his brother
and the futurists in terms of ideas and theories.
Marco Camerani shows the strong resemblance between Circe and Leo-
poldo Fregolis films. Unlike Mliss films, in which the filmmaker played with
time by stopping the camera, Fregolis tricks and transformations succeeded
thanks to the artists skill as a quick-change artist. Camerani thus makes use of a
series of passages that clearly relate Blooms transformations and even his trans-
vestism throughout Circe to Fregolis films. Both Circe and films by Fregoli
have something else in common, the ability to use unexpected turns of events to
surprise the audience or reader.
Cleo Hanaway examines the intertextual use of film in Ulysses. Was the
author attracted to film by its objectivity, as David Trotter argues in Cinema and
Modernism (2007), or rather, as she claims, by its ability to blur the subjectiv-
ity/objectivity binary (122)? Hanaway is convincing when she discusses the
three forms of filmic allusions in Ulysses: parody, illustration and emulation. In
Nausicaa, Joyce parodies the voyeuristic nature of early erotic films; Circe
illustrates the influence of trick films; and Wandering Rocks emulates early
twentieth century documentaries. Linking these film forms with Merleau-Pontys

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204 Journal of Modern Literature Volume 35, Number 4

model of perception, Hanaway concludes that Joyces uses of film in Ulysses have
shaped the model of perception conveyed in the work.
The third part of McCourts volume addresses the influence of Joyce on mod-
ern film. The three essays focus on filmed versions of Joyces works, and also on
Joyces work as an inspiration for directors. According to Louis Armand, Sergei
Eisenstein was attracted to Joyces use of language as a means to blend different
subjects but criticized the Irish authors failure to widen the frame of literature.
However, Armand observes that Eisenstein was in fact unable to discover Joyces
skills as filmmaker, or as an author of the museum of the real (144). Armand
notes that it was Godard who shared Joyces notion of cinema as language. They
both understand the image as a discourse or as dynamic structure. Armand com-
pares Godards Histoires du Cinma with Joyces Finnegans Wake as examples of
dreamworks or montage machines.
In the next essay, Kevin Barry surveys difficulties generated by adaptations
of The Dead for the screen. Comparing the two film versions by Rossellini
and Huston, he notes that the former adopts an arbitrary method of composi-
tion, whereas the latter is much more faithful to Joyces text. Barrys meticulous
research leads to comments on the political background of Hustons 1987 ver-
sion as a crucial element in the reception of the film. He also points out that
the relation between Joyces story and Hustons version pivots on Hustons three
departures from Joyces text: Mr. Graces recitation, the on-screen appearances of
Lily the maid, and Freddy Malins embarrassment in the bathroom. These inter-
polations allow Huston to introduce his own life into the film. Barry concludes
that Hustons version proves that Joyces story can be transposed across mediums
and cultures.
Keith Williams studies the film adaptations of Ulysses in order to assess the
degree of fidelity of the various versions. Viewers who have a special predilection
for Stricks film will have to agree with Williamss analysis and admit that there
are a number of limitations in the film, such as Maurice Roevess anachronistic
interpretation of Stephen Dedalus as a young Beatle. Williams believes that
Stricks Ulysses (1967) and Sean Walshs Bloom (2003) share the same focus on the
plot. He underlines the importance of Eisensteins remarks on the cinematicity
of Joyces interior monologue. Williams deduces from this that no film version of
Ulysses should take Joyces text as a script. According to Williams, Werner Nekess
film Uliisses (1982) goes a step beyond and can be considered as the most faithful
version in so far as technique is concerned, thanks to the protean kaleidoscope
of audio-visual styles (172) created by the German filmmaker.
Finally, Jesse Meyers presents a series of parallels between Ulysses and three
modern films: Mel Brookss The Producers (1968), Sam Mendess American Beauty
(1999), and Martin Scorseses The Departed (2006). After commenting on their
correspondences, Jesse Meyers wonders whether the audiences witnessed outright
plagiarism or subliminal screenwriting. Although the screenwriters of these films
were familiar with Joyces work, Meyers believes that all these extraordinary
number of Joycean parallels (185) are the result of Joyces subliminal influence.

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Joyce the Filmmaker 205

The correspondences provided by Meyers are convincing, and underline Joyces

influence on contemporary culture through the cinematic medium.
John McCourts Roll Away the Reel World allows one to approach the multi
faceted aspects of Joyce as a manager, an entrepreneur, and a writerand as a
virtual scriptwriter and filmmaker. It explores the importance film had for Joyce
by showing how the author was attracted to this new artistic manifestation as
business and as a way to make a living, how his works reveal cinematographic
qualities, and how Joyces appeal became a source of continuing inspiration
for film-makers. McCourts careful editorial work is remarkable for the way it
interconnects the contributors essays.

Works Cited
Brown, Richard. Marilyn Monroe Reading Ulysses: Goddess or Post-Cultural Cyborg. Joyce and
Popular Culture. Ed. R.B. Kershner. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 1996. 170179. Print.
Trotter, David. Cinema and Modernism. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. Print.

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