Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

William Faulkner, Screenwriter: "Sutter's Gold" and "Drums along the Mohawk"

Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

William Faulkner, Screenwriter: "Sutter's Gold" and "Drums along the Mohawk"

Article excerpt

OVER THE YEARS, SCHOLARS HAVE MADE (FREQUENTLY OFF-HAND) references in introductions and footnotes to screenplays that William Faulkner might or might not have written and/or collaborated upon. More tantalising are those references to his screenplays and treatments presumed lost, the content of which we are only left to speculate about. These passing remarks--found in George Sidney's and Bruce Kawin's groundbreaking work on several of the screenplays, and in Joseph Blotner's biography--are in the end only frustrating. The discovery and subsequent publication of these screenplays have the potential to reconfigure the way in which we read and think about the major fiction in at least two ways: first, they would require that we expand the Faulkner canon and that we consider Faulkner as something other than the great writer of modernist experiment and of regionalism--the literary giant who Flannery O'Connor feared would run lesser Southern writers off the rails--as a participant in Hollywood's Golden years, working for some of the great directors of the 1930s and 1940s. How might this Faulkner--a popular cultural Faulkner--sit with the Portable Faulkner and Nobel Laureate? (1) Second, the work Faulkner undertook as a writer in Hollywood must also affect the way in which we read his major fiction. What submerged patterns or meanings might they act to draw out? Finally, as regards broader disciplinary concerns, the discovery of these screenplays and their incorporation into the Faulkner canon would raise the question of just where the unpublished, collaborative and/or unrealized screenplay and treatment might sit within the field of literary studies.

Surprisingly, serious extended scholarship on Faulkner's film work is thin. Sidney's and Kawin's important work initiated the field, but very few scholars since have followed up in earnest their critical engagement with Faulkner's scenarios, even though both scholars have published many of his original screenplays and treatments: Kawin in his Faulkner's MGM Screenplays (1982) and Sidney in his 1960 dissertation, "Faulkner in Hollywood: A Study of His Career as a Scenarist." Robert Hamblin's "The Curious Case of Faulkner's 'The De Gaulle Story'" is something of an exception in its assertion that Faulkner's 1942 screenplay, "The De Gaulle Story," significantly informs both his later screenplay, To Have or Have Not (1942), and A Fable (1954). Most of the work on Faulkner and film either remains tied to the adaptations of his novels or examines and accounts for the use of filmic techniques, such as montage, in his fiction. (2) As valuable as this scholarship is, the fruitful field of Faulkner screenplay studies remains, on the whole, a neglected one, at best emerging. But this state of affairs could be about to change. Robert Brinkmeyer, in his new book, The Fourth Ghost: White Southern Writers and European Fascism, 1930-1950(2009) performs a reading of two screenplays, "The De Gaulle Story" and "Battle Cry," in light of Faulkner's newfound "role as defender of democracy" (188). Julian Murphet has recently started work on a project provisionally entitled "William Faulkner: Between Cinema and Literature," in which be examines the retroactive influence, formal, thematic and compositional, of Faulkner's work for the Studios on his serious fiction.

It is generally accepted that Faulkner undertook screen writing in Hollywood for one reason only: money. A further assumption is that be loathed Hollywood: the work, the industry, the place. The myth of Faulkner and Hollywood prevails, to be fair to its proponents, for quite compelling reasons: he made public his loathing for the place; (3) he was at rimes treated badly by the studios, particularly Warner Bros.; and his (strangely overlooked) 1935 short story, "Golden Land," presents a rather distasteful portrait of Hollywood and its decadent inhabitants. Whether or not this account of Faulkner and Hollywood is true, it has proved an almost unassailable obstacle to expanding the Faulkner canon to embrace the film work, some of which he undertook for such notable directors as Howard Hawks, John Ford, and Jean Renoir. …

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