The following are a few references to films and TV shows that have been influenced by Joyce, or have at least been found guilty of namedropping. (Note -- films based on Joyce's work or biography are featured on the "Film" section of The Brazen Head.)
From the physical comedy of Bananas to the neurotic satire of Deconstructing Harry, Woody Allen has made a career of making poignant films that combine slapstick, wry intellectual humor, and painful insight into the daily perils of modern life. Though may of his films are touched by an almost Romantic nostalgia, more then a few are stylistically quite postmodern, serving up witty reflections about art, celebrity, memory, and filmmaking itself.
Though none of his movies show any serious Joycean influence, Woody Allen has name-dropped Mr. Joyce a few times, as he has with numerous other "high-brow" authors. I have not seen either of these films in a few years; if anyone would like to offer corrections or elaborations, please drop me a line.
Chris Lockhart writes: "In Woody Allen's Manhattan, there is a line similiar to 'I wouldn't say your novel is too difficult, I'm just saying it makes Finnegans Wake look like an Airplane movie." [IMDB/Amazon.com]
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Woody Allen's character jokingly confesses that he cribbed his love letters from James Joyce, which is "why there's so much about Dublin in them." [IMDB/Amazon.com]
Richard Linklater is a promising young American with several wonderful and offbeat films already to his credit. Two of these have clear Joycean influences.
A hilarious and extremely clever film, Slacker is a cult film and a low budget masterpiece. Set at a Texas University, it has absolutely no plot. Essentially, a roving camera plays the part of an omniscient eye, following one person until he or she encounters another; the camera then tracks this other person as he or she moves on until it again breaks off and follows the events of a new individual or group of people. A whole web of interactions soon emerges, showing the inter-relatedness of everything, even seemingly random things. All types of people are captured: conspiracy nuts, arguing couples, party-goers, Brian Eno-freaks, criminals, saints . . . and a few who seem to be borderline insane. . . . The camera eye also begins to undergo changes as well, the point of view occasionally leaping into other cameras....
As I was watching this film for the first time, I couldn't help thinking to myself that it was highly reminiscent of the "Wandering Rocks" episode in Ulysses, where Joyce omnisciently tracks all his characters through Dublin. And then, lo and behold, in the middle of the movie my suspicions were confirmed -- but I won't reveal how; I don't want to ruin the scene. Just rent this film! [IMDB/Amazon.com]
Before Sunrise (1995)
Another hint that Linklater was a Joyce fan was brought up by J. LeRoy Boison, who pointed out to me that Before Sunrise is a love story that takes place entirely on one day -- June 16, of course. [IMDB/Amazon.com]
Miscellaneous References in Films
The Third Man (1949)
In this classic of film-noir, a man from an audience asks Holly Martins, a writer of Westerns played by Joseph Cotten, what he thinks of James Joyce. Seeing as Graham Greene co-authored the screenplay, that may not be so surprising.... [IMDB/Amazon.com]
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Was Frank Sinatra a Joyce fan? As the camera moves across Major Bennet Marco's apartment, the Modern Library edition of Ulysses is seen on his table amidst a sprawl of other books, including Kafka's The Trail and Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. Major Marco later explains that he is a compulsive reader, and a San Francisco bookshop owner periodically mails him packages of random books -- all of which he reads, from The Diseases of Horses to the "novels of Joyce Carey." [IMDB/Amazon.com]
Promise Her Anything (1966)
A Warren Beatty film with a screenplay by novelist William Peter Blatty. From an anonymous visitor:
A man arrives at Warren Beatty's flat, and during their conversation he, the visitor, tells the latter of some relative who had spent quite some money to make an adaptation of Finnegans Wake, without words.
The Producers (1968)
This classic satire, the directorial debut of Mel Brooks, involves a shifty auditor named "Leo Bloom," played by Gene Wilder. [IMDB/Amazon.com]
After Hours (1985)
According to one member of the FW-List, there are possible Wakean elements in Martin Scorsese's bizarre comedy, After Hours:
The film is one of the more Wakean movies I've seen. The main character has a everyman sort of job in an office building (I wish I'd paid enough attention to note anything written on that building). On his way home he meets a girl in a cafe, I cannot remember the book she is reading -- Tropic of Capricorn or something. Anyway, she gives him her number and they go to their respective homes. At his house, he is watching television or something similiar when she calls and asks him to come over to her apartment, which is when the story really starts. The time on the clock: 11:32 pm. Anyway... a lot happens in one night! There are robberies going on that one person blames him for; then rumors spread all over town and eventually there is a mob coming for him. The movie ends back at his office building, the same place it began. I'm certain there is more in the movie that can be perceived as Wake-influenced, but it's been a while since I've seen it.....
Back to School (1986)
One of Rodney Dangerfield's more successful comedies, the movie places him back in the college classroom, where one of his instructors (Sally Kellerman) reads the final lines of Molly's soliloquy from Ulysses. The film also has a cameo by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who plays himself. [IMDB/Amazon.com]
An "Airplane!" style spoof of the movie Backdraft, the film involves such plot elements as a man struggling to be New York City's first firewoman, immolating toilets, and The Most Evil Man in, presumedly, the world. You get the picture. Beleive it or not, there is a surprisingly arcane Joyce reference. According to Kevin Messman:
Towards the end of the film the characters (firefighters) have to race off to some pier somewhere in the city. One character says "What is a pier" and the other pulls out a copy of Ulysses and reads, 'A thing out in the water. A kind of bridge,' or perhaps 'a disappointed bridge.'" (From the "Nestor" episode.)
American Beauty (1999)
Winner of the 1999 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture, this tale of suburban anxiety was written by Alan Ball. While some critics have noticed similarities between the film and Joyce's Ulysses -- particularly with respect to the hero, Lester Burnham -- Ball reported that it was an "unintentional" debt. Susan S. Brown has written a nice article on the similarities for nasty magazine. [IMDB/Amazon.com]
Mystery Science Theater 3000
D. K. Rathbun writes:
And on the sorely misdsed Comedy Central television show, Mystery Science Theater 3000, there was a film with a character named Ulysses. One of the show's hecklers said "Ulysses, I can read you like a book," and a second heckler piped up with "Stately, plump Buck Mulligan...." Needless to say, I was on the floor.
Law and Order
There have been two Joyce references in this critically acclaimed series. "Kevin" of the FW-List writes:
On the Law and Order episode about the revival of capital punishment in NY, detective Curtiz has a brief affair with a college girl and notes among her books, Finnegans Wake and Moby Dick. On another episode, Finnegans Wake shows up again on the crowded bookshelves of a rapist; it turns out the he's retarded and trying to hide that by filling his room with "high-brow" books.
Fellow FW-Lister Jack Kolb corrects:
Actually, the line from Law and Order: "Special Victims Unit" was "You tell
me how many retarded guys read James Joyce." It's said off-camera and
there is no indication of which Joyce work is indicated (I just checked my
videotape of the show before I record over it).
Upright Citizen's Brigade
Willian Sugrue writes:
The Upright Citizens Brigade, a sketch comedy that used to air on Comedy Central, quoted "The ineluctable modality of the visible" in a recent episode.