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Roll Away the Reel World: James Joyce and Cinema (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 48, Number 1, Fall 2010
pp. 188-191 | 10.1353/jjq.2010.0042

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These essays, first presented at the Volta Cinematograph Centenary Celebration Conference in January 2009 as part of the twentieth Annual Trieste Film Festival, portray the reciprocal relation of films to Joyce’s texts and are complemented by the Italian-Irish cultural encounter created by the founding of the Cinema Volta in Dublin. Within this scope, the iteration of Joyce’s “motion writing” neutralizes the precedence of the real to reel.1 The process is circular, situated between the reality recoded on film reels and the real in writing, dialogic like the film technique of Jean-Luc Godard called the shot-reverse-shot2 and the text of Roll Away the Reel World. The book contains a valuable bibliography including over a hundred authors and contemporary film directors and also a list of titles revealing films seen by Joyce and presented at his Volta theater during the five months of its activity; only one-fifth of them survives.

A synoptic presentation of the Volta project’s development forms the core of the book’s first part. While Erik Schneider’s Triestine perspective provides information about Joyce’s cinema partners—who were affiliated also with the Volta cinema in Bucharest—Luke McKernan approaches Joyce’s involvement from the Dublin side, describing his “engagement with cinema as metaphor itself” (27). McKernan argues that movie comedies, in particular, projected a new visual language, developing out of the possibilities of the medium. The impact of such films and of early cinema more generally on Joyce’s work are explored in the second part of this collection. These six essays discuss Ulysses in various ways and focus particularly on the “Circe” episode. Many follow McCourt’s lead in pointing to one of the first essays on the cinematic aspects of Joyce’s writing and the mechanics of their meaning, written in 1928 by Alfred Döblin, the author of Berlin Alexanderplatz.3

Comparing Bloom’s protean attitude in “Circe” to the quick-change artist Leopoldo Fregoli—whose name Joyce mentioned in that episode’s notesheets4—Marco Camerani points out each man’s tendency to speak in different languages depending on the context. In addition, Camerani refers to the use of “l” in “[o]ne two tlee: tlee tlwo tlone” (U 15.2007) and observes that the passage “sounds like a parody of the Chinese language” (114). He reads the passage as “inspired by one of the characters of Fregoli’s Eldorado, ‘A-tu-kul – clown chinese (parodia)’” (114). Camerani continues by drawing similarities between costume changes in the episode and certain technical characteristics of the Fregoligraph, the artist’s invention composed of a 4-by-3-meter screen framed with electric light bulbs, which could be seen in Joyce’s Trieste (110). This medium, upon which films of several directors were projected during one evening, also allowed the performer behind it to assume different identities and voices. Similarly, Keith Williams, who is completing a monograph on James Joyce and Cinematicity, traces the way Ulysses “extends the classical principle of ekphrasis—verbal imitation of visual representations—into the age of moving images,” giving examples from two film versions of Ulysses that both follow Sergei M. Eisenstein’s emphasis of cinematicity of Joyce’s interior monologues (158).5

Essays by Maria DiBattista and Philip Sicker focus on references in Ulysses to the films of George Méliès. In DiBattista’s essay, Joycean ghosts are compared to the specters of silent cinema, taking into account the “self-projecting Ego” and the “ghost-selves” over which Méliès sometimes loses control (64). Sicker writes on Joyce’s delight with “what Richard Abel terms ‘the beauty of erasure’” in “Mirages in the Lampglow: Joyce’s ‘Circe’ and Méliès’ Dream Cinema” (75).6 In seeing Stephen’s and Bloom’s fantasies as reminders of Méliès’s dreamers, Sicker compares the director’s tendency to depict dreams within dreams to the characterization of dreaming in psychoanalysis as a cinematic event. Sicker argues that, in “Circe,” everything shifts from frame to frame and that the episode is a repository of stop-motion, scene-splicing, multiple exposures, dissolves and fades, sequences of angle shots, and similar temporal elisions...

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