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Closet screenplay

Related to closet drama, a closet screenplay is a screenplay intended not to be produced/performed but instead to be read by a solitary reader or, sometimes, out loud in a small group.

While any published, or simply read, screenplay might reasonably be considered a "closet screenplay," 20th- and 21st-century Japanese and Western writers have created a handful of film scripts expressly intended to be read rather than produced/performed. This class of prose fiction written in screenplay form is perhaps the most precise example of the closet screenplay.

This genre is sometimes referred to using a romanized Japanese neologism: "Lesescenario (レーゼシナリオ)" or, following Hepburn’s romanization of Japanese, sometimes “Rezeshinario.” A portmanteau of the German word Lesedrama ("read drama") and the English word scenario, this term simply means "closet scenario," or, by extension, "closet screenplay."

Brian Norman, an assistant professor at Idaho State University, refers to James Baldwin's One Day When I Was Lost as a "closet screenplay." The screenplay was written for a project to produce a movie, but the project suffered a setback. After that, the script was published as a literary work.

Lee Jamieson's article, "The Lost Prophet of Cinema: The Film Theory of Antonin Artaud" discusses Artaud's three Lesescenarios (listed below) in the context of his "revolutionary film theory." And in French Film Theory and Criticism: 1907–1939, Richard Abel lists the following critical treatments of several of the Surrealist "published scenario texts" (36) listed in the example section below:

Finally, in his article "Production's 'dubious advantage': Lesescenarios, closet drama, and the (screen)writer's riposte," Quimby Melton outlines the history of the Lesescenario form, situates the genre in a historical literary context by drawing parallels between it and Western "closet drama," and argues we might consider certain instances of closet drama proto-screenplays. The article also argues that writing these sorts of "readerly" performance texts is essentially an act of subversion whereby (screen)writers work in a performance mode only to intentionally bypass production and, thereby, (re)assert narrative representation's textual primacy and (re)claim a direct (re)connection with their audience.

  • J. H. Matthews, Surrealism and Film (U of Michigan P, 1971), 51–76.
  • Steven Kovács, From Enchantment to Rage: The Story of Surrealist Cinema (Associated UP, 1980), 59–61, 157–76.
  • Linda Williams, Figures of Desire: A Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film (U of Illinois P, 1981), 25–33.
  • Richard Abel, "Exploring the Discursive Field of the Surrealist Film Scenario Text," Dada/Surrealism 15 (1986): 58–71.
  • "Eyes Wide Open" ("Paupières mûres"), "Horizontal Bar," and "Mtasipoj" (by Benjamin Fondane)
  • Don't Put a Dog Outside: A Film without Words (by Claude Sernet)
  • Whispering Moon, (by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki)
  • The Unconquerable People, The Doctor and the Devils, Rebecca's Daughters, The Beach of Falesá, Twenty Years A-Growing, Suffer Little Children, The Shadowless Man, and Me and My Bike (by Dylan Thomas)


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