Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

"Lifting the Fog": Faulkners, Reputations and the Story of Temple Drake

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

"Lifting the Fog": Faulkners, Reputations and the Story of Temple Drake

Article excerpt

WHAT MAKES CONSIDERING THE MOVIES associated with William Faulkner not simply interesting, but necessary? Why Faulkner and film? These are the questions that explicitly frame this issue, but anyone working on or teaching Faulkner frequently grapples with similar questions implicitly posed by colleagues whose work focuses on what we might call the more "literary" aspects of an author's work; by students who, while they often find Faulkner's novels and stories unnecessarily difficult and complex, also have trouble finding a way into the films; and by nonacademic family and friends, who do not completely understand just what it is we do and why, who wonder why the study of film has made its way into literature courses.

My own immediate response to "Why Faulkner and film?" is simple: The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not, even Land of the Pharaohs and The Long Hot Summer. Faulkner's screenplays and the films adapted from his own works are, to the Faulkner scholar interested in popular culture, fascinating, even when they are not, admittedly, very good movies. Like the literature, the films within Faulkner's corpus are complex, problematic, wonderful works that I love to watch, study, and teach, and, in the most basic sense, I know that I will always defend Faulkner's films as necessary because these works dazzle me, engage me, startle me, and often make me laugh out loud (even when they do not intend to).

But if this response seems naively aesthetic, "campy," or too personally motivated, there is a different, perhaps more pragmatic, more pedagogical tack: Faulkner's films are necessary precisely because we can ask that question in the first place. That is, Faulkner's work and reputation are so irrevocably intertwined with twentieth-century American literary and critical history that grappling with the text we know as "Faulkner," in all its permutations, is essential to understanding where we have been and how we got to where we are now. The ever-- diminishing gap between high and low culture in academic discourse and curricula makes the study of Faulkner's films not only "legitimate" but vital if we are to break down the rigid "literary" reputation Faulkner has and investigate what that reputation we are so familiar with might actually be hiding. Perversely, then, in other words, we should study Faulkner's films precisely because custom-the weight of Faulkner's reputation and his role in American literature-inclines us not to.

A number of recent critical works illustrate this attempt to pierce that "American Writer" facade and look at the more controversial and sometimes critically unpopular issues involving Faulkner and mass culture, including, by extension, gender trouble. Indeed, Faulkner studies has been enriched, despite some complaints to the contrary, by insights gained from current critical trends such as feminism, race theory, gay and lesbian and cultural studies. On this basis alone, I can make a compelling argument about what makes Faulkner's films necessary to academics, but I am not sure-and despite my enthusiasm, test runs bear me out on this-that this historical and political explanation is fully compelling when laid before my friends who are in sales, advertising, or computer science, and who have not touched "literature" since college. It is also less likely to make Faulkner film afficionados out of my students who have never read any Faulkner and have never seen any films connected to him. If they are not already convinced of the significance of exploring literature and film in tandem, and if they don't see these texts as having much to do with their own lives, will the thrill of rethinking the accepted account of Faulkner's rise to literary glory, and his infamous "failures" in Hollywood, move them to see the error of their ways?

Pedagogically, this presents a problem. It is hard to see the power and promise of rewriting a mythic tale when you have never been under the sway of the standard version in the first place. …

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