Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Inscrutable Images and Cultural Migrations: Wartime Noir and the Compson Appendix

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Inscrutable Images and Cultural Migrations: Wartime Noir and the Compson Appendix

Article excerpt

In July 1942, Faulkner signed a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers as a screenwriter. The studio was particularly drawn to the production of noir films at the time, keen to capitalize on the successes of their noir pictures from the early 1940s: the 1941 detective film The Maltese Falcon and the 1942 wartime espionage thriller Casablanca, both starring Humphrey Bogart. Between 1942 and 1945, Faulkner was at the center of the second wave of the studios noir output, working on all three projects that defined the studio's film noir aesthetic in the mid-1940s: To Have and Have Not (1944), Mildred Pierce (1945), and The Big Sleep (1946). These three films represent the noir movement's exotic intrigue, melodramatic "woman's film," and crime incarnations respectively. During this time, Faulkner would become highly versatile in his writing for the dark cinema of wartime Hollywood. This also coincided with the period when he produced his most adept and mature work for the screen as he had already gathered extensive experience in the screenwriting craft during his stints at MGM and Twentieth Century Fox in the 1930s.

After walking out on his contract at Warner Brothers in September 1945, the first new prose work Faulkner produced was the "Compson appendix," which he completed in mid-October. The text was published in 1946 as a gloss to an extract from The Sound and the Fury (1929), which appeared in an anthology of the author's work titled The Portable Faulkner (PF). The appendix, or "1699-1945: The Compsons" as it is named in the volume, provides a genealogy of the central family of The Sound and the Fury over almost two centuries. Of all the members of the dynasty described, the section devoted to Caddy is both the longest, running to six pages, and the most dramatic in content. Faulkner describes Caddy's life after her last appearance in The Sound and the Fury, where we see her upon her return to Jefferson on the day of her father's funeral in 1912. Faulkner's appendix tells us that in 1920 Caddy marries "a minor movingpicture magnate" in Hollywood, whom she divorces in Mexico in 1925 (745). She then reappears in 1940 in occupied Paris, only to vanish mysteriously. We learn more about Caddy's experiences in wartime Europe when, in 1943, the Jefferson county librarian, Melissa Meek, finds a picture of Caddy in "a slick magazine" (746). The photograph shows Caddy in a sports car in the Riviera beside a German staff general. The way in which these new im- ages depict Caddy differs considerably from her presentation in The Sound and the Fury. Indeed, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the whole appendix is Faulkners reimagining of Caddy in this later depiction as a transnational femme fatale.

In this article, I will demonstrate that this new presentation of Caddy traffics in the imagery of Faulkner's noir screenplays rather than his Yoknapatawpha fiction. Faulkner draws particularly on the female image from his noir scripts for The Big Sleep and Stallion Road (1945), as well as his Gothic reworking of the screenplay for Mildred Pierce. In these scripts, Faulkner was able to build on his depiction of the European femme fatale in an unpublished nonYoknapatawpha short story from 1942, "Snow." By depicting Caddy as a femme fatale in his appendix from 1946, Faulkner brought a distinct new gender archetype into his Yoknapatawpha prose. To comprehend the significance of this inclusion, one has to consider how Faulkner developed the gender portrayals of "Snow" within his Hollywood work. I will suggest that his use of a popular noir figure has a number of implications for our understanding of Faulkners writing for page and screen in the 1940s. First, it reveals the generative processes of creative exchange that took place between his fiction and screenplays and, by extension, modernism and Hollywood genre cinema (in this case, film noir). Second, the troubling opacity of Caddy's image reflects noirs close association of gender difference and the visual mechanism of film, in particular the notion that the femme fatales presentation is "dependent upon perceptual ambiguity and ideas about the limits of vision in relation to knowledge" (Doane 3). …

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