Yesterday, when as we were celebrating the launch of Ulysses “Seen” as an iPad app, we heard about the death of filmmaker Joseph Strick. Strick was the first person to attempt a full-length feature film of *Ulysses*, and we’ve long admired him for his courage in taking the project on, as well as the intelligence and craft he brought to the work itself. [Strick also grew up here in Philadelphia, and first read the book here.] In reading his obituaries (and in particular this one from the L.A. Times) I was struck by the difficulties with censorship that the film encountered, long after the book had been accepted into the canon. Strick withdrew the film from the Cannes festival when certain subtitles were removed–and it wasn’t even shown in Dublin until 2000! This resonates with us.
We especially admire, though, the simple audacity of the notion that Ulysses could be made into a film. It’s long been a commonplace in Joyce scholarship that Ulysses is not a “visual” book, and Joyce was not a “visual”writer. Usually his eye problems are invoked in this context, as is his apparent lack of interest in visual arts as opposed to music, etc. etc. I think there’s some truth to it — Joyce is not a scenery painter, and we don’t get long descriptions of what his places and people look like. But Joyce was a dramatist and a lover of theatre, and a brilliant creator of scenes. We sometimes lose sight of the drama in Ulysses because we get so engrossed in the language and in following the allusions to the last fact. What Strick did with his film, and what we are able to do with this format, is restore or enhance the dramatic dimension of the work. [ Of course, we think that comics provide a flexibility that’s even better for Ulysses than film, but that’s what we would think.]
[Image: Joseph Strick from the British Film Institute: http://www.bfi.org.uk]