Saturday, January 02, 2010

William Faulkner and Film Noir

Ed here: I've been reading a collection of Faulkner's short stories and decided to see what I could find about him on line. Even when I was reading him back in my high school days I felt that he had a kinship with crime writers. Hard to get much darker than Faulkner at times. I mean Sanctuary alone would win would him Top Five Standing in the Existential Misanthropic Society. I came across this excellent piece on the Bright Lights Film Journal site.

Faulkner and Film Noir

"Some good pictures come out of Hollywood.
God knows how, but they do." — William Faulkner


This article originally appeared in issue 12 (Spring 1994) of our discontinued print edition. This issue featured several articles on film noir and neo-noir, all of which are now available online. See the table of contents below.

"In their movie Barton Fink (1991), Joel and Ethan Coen presented a character, W P. Mayhew, who was William Faulkner in very thin disguise. The image that lingers is a sad and disturbing one — Faulkner drunk and raving, wasting his genius and talent in the service of loudmouth producers of low-budget movies. But the Coens' depiction of Faulkner as a hapless drunk being destroyed by the Hollywood studio system is misleading. Though he was an alcoholic and hit some very low periods in Hollywood and elsewhere, Faulkner did not drink himself "into an early grave between B movie scripts," as one reviewer of Barton Fink concluded (Behrens, 25). In fact, Faulkner worked off and on as a scriptwriter for over 20 years, from 1932 to 1954 (even after receiving the Nobel Prize), and did not shuffle off this mortal coil until 1962. Far from destroying art and artist, it may be that film writing is all that enabled Faulkner to survive and get his work done. As his biographer Frederick Karl points out, "Faulkner not only survived, but thrived, some of his best work coming out of his early Hollywood years" (Karl, 483). It is also clear that Faulkner's work as a novelist and scriptwriter had an important influence on the film noir style from which the Coens have taken so much inspiration."

for the rest go here


Todd Mason said...

You remember the anecdote in which Manly Wade Wellman won an EQMM-sponsored award that Faulkner was shortlisted for, and a drunken Faulkner made himself personally unpleasant to Wellman...who apparently did not take the opportunity to deck Faulkner, though temted. Faulkner showed up, one gathers, because he both wanted and need the cash prize, but I suspect Dannay got no little delight in rubbing his face in it.

Matt said...

After my first time screening The Big Sleep, I wondered - what if Faulkner had been allowed to do Red Harvest next?

RH has never had a truly proper production. (Though Miller's Crossing through homage and theft is fantastic.)

But if Faulker had done one, I really don't think Yojimbo or its legions of imitators would have had the same impact on cinema history.

Instead of films living in the shadow of Kurosawa, they'd instead exist in the shadow of...Faulker?

Well...maybe. It just seemed like a tantalizing alternative universe. One I'd like to visit. Or so I'd thought after my first time with The Big Sleep, anyway.

This article was a nice reminder.

And I should say that, in addition to kvetching about the Kindle and praising at the altar of Ed and other writers who hang here, links like this one are exactly why I come to this site. Thanks.

Max Allan Collins said...

I thought BARTON FINK was about Clifford Odets.

Deb said...

Perhaps the time is ripe for a film version of The Old Man/The Wild Palms (two Faulkner novellas that used to be packaged together). Part pot-boiler, part Southern gothic, part meditation on man's place in the universe.

Max: Barton is based on Odets, but Mayhew (whose secretary appears to write all of his work) is based on Faulkner, or at least the Coen brothers' version of Faulkner.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Faulkner was a big mystery fan; his library included works by John Dickson Carr, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Rex Stout. He wrote six stories with lawyer Gavin Stevens that appear in _Knight's Gambit_ (1949). See also _Intruder in the Dust_ (1948).

Go to this URL to see a cover of _Knight's Gambit_ and magazines with Faulkner's mystery work: