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Faulkner Reimagined

July 16, 2009


Faulkner spent only a little over 10 years entangled with Hollywood but their connection has never quite ended. With the help of Lee Caplin, the executive producer of Faulkner’s literary estate, Faulkner has enjoyed a reemergence into the national consciousness.

“I’m trying to revive the interest in Faulkner,” Caplin said in a recent phone interview.

Caplin is also the founder of Picture Entertainment Corp, the company that helps produce other Faulkner projects, along with a series of other film-related work including producing “Ali.” The company is also working on several upcoming Faulkner adaptations. The list includes “Sound and the Fury,” which is currently at the script level with Merrit Johnson working on the adaptation and announced projects such as “The Wild Palms,” “Knight’s Gambit,” “The Hound” and “The Golden Land.”

“We’re now talking to directors and trying to decide what director is most appropriate,” Caplin said.
Since Oprah supported Faulkner by promoting his literature on her show, much more interest has been shown in his work. But not everyone in Hollywood is as aware of Faulkner as they should be, Caplin said.

“I am out there on a daily basis working with writers and directors to get works in development,” Caplin said, “and trying to partner at a level where studios become interested. But they are not as literate as we imagine them to be. One studio executive asked me if Mr. Faulkner was available for a rewrite.”

Faulkner’s Hollywood

Faulkner traveled to Hollywood for a six-week contract with Metro-Goldywn-Mayer in 1932 and like most starving writers, went to Hollywood for the money. His film career has more uncredited work than anything, but of the six credited screenplays, Faulkner helped to shape the career of one of the most distinguished directors, Howard Hawks, particularly with the culmination of their partnership in “The Big Sleep.”

Faulkner stayed with MGM for less than a year but returned again to work with Hawks in 1934 on a couple of projects, including “The Road to Glory.” Faulkner then became a contract writer in 1935 at 20th Century Fox for two years. He returned five years later to write for Warner Brothers, a job he kept for about three years but was also his most profitable time.
At WB, he worked on adaptations of Ernest Hemingway’s novel “To Have and Have Not” and Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep.” Both films were directed by Hawks. In fact his only credited work not directed by Hawks was “Slave Ship” written while under contract with Fox after Hawks left the studio. The film went on to be directed by Tay Garnett, best known for “The Untouchables.”

During this time Faulkner also worked uncredited with Jean Renoir on “The Southerner,” which later won the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

After Faulkner left Hollywood, the town did not forget him. Even when he returned home, Hollywood followed by filming “Intruder in the Dust,” on location in Oxford and had the world premiere at the Lyric on Oct. 11, 1949.

Today’s Faulkner on Film

With the help of Caplin, filmmakers are taking notice of Faulkner once again.
James Franco, with his indie production company Rabbit Bandini, filmed Faulkner’s short story “Red Leaves” in 2007 in New Orleans. The short film is in post production with a supposed 2009 release.

“James has gone back to school as a full-time student at Columbia University,” Caplin said. “For now, the project is a little bit on hold.”

Franco also told Screen Daily that he also acquired the film rights to “Light in August,” but he has no projected shooting date.

Plum Pictures out of New York also is working on a remake of the Faulkner classic, “Intruder in the Dust.” The company acquired the rights in 2008 and is working to attach the script to the right director, producer Celine Rattray said.

“We are working very closely with the Faulkner estate on the script and it is a script that we very much like. We are now in the process of securing a director to begin filming next year,” Rattray said.
Plum Pictures felt that “Intruder” was the right story to reimagine on the big screen.

“We felt that it was one of his most cinematic novels and a great thriller as well as a reflection of Mississippi life in the 1930s,” Rattray said.

For Caplin, who grew up next door to Faulkner, it is about time to see renewed interest in Hollywood about what he dubs the premiere English writer of the 20th century.

“Everyone is in awe of him even more than the Steinbecks and Hemingways,” Caplin said. “He is a mythical figure himself and his books are far from straight forward in the way he depicts human emotions.”

As for “Sound and the Fury,” Caplin said that finding screenwriter Johnson was lucky.

A southerner by birth, Merritt passed Caplin’s litmus test – a four-hour discussion of Faulkner’s works.
“Other people I’ve encountered are not near as familiar and conversant in any topic that I explored with him,” Caplin said.

What is important to Caplin is not getting Faulkner on screen but capturing his language into a form of entertainment that sells and therefore keeps the story alive.

“In the ‘50s, films stripped away his language and went right into the plot line. They put some other writer in there who is not a southerner or familiar with Faulkner. Sure, the language has to be curtailed in some instances but in others, like the short stories, you have to add dialogue.

“In that case you can be on shaky ground because most writers can’t write like Mr. Faulkner.””

“Some good pictures come out of Hollywood. God knows how, but they do.”

—William Faulkner

Faulkner as screenwriter

“Today We Live” (1933); “The Road to Glory” (1936); “Slave Ship” (1937); “To Have and Have Not” (1944); “The Big Sleep” (1946); “Land of the Pharaohs” (1955)

Faulkner uncredited

“Flesh” (1932); “Submarine Patrol” (1938); “Four Men and a Prayer” (1938); “Gunga Din” (1939); “Drums Along the Mohawk” (1939); “Air Force” (1943); “Background to Danger” (1943); “Northern Pursuit” (1943); “God Is My Co-Pilot” (1945); “Mildred Pierce” (1945); “The Southerner” (1945); “Deep Valley” (1947); “Adventures of Don Juan” (1948)

Faulkner adaptations

(Made for TV excluded)

“Today We Live” (1933); “The Story of Temple Drake” (1933) (novel “Sanctuary”); “Intruder in the Dust” (1949); “The Tarnished Angels” (1958) (novel “Pylon”); “The Long, Hot Summer” (1958); “The Sound and the Fury” (1959) (novel); “Sanctuary” (1961) (novel); “The Reivers” (1969) (novel); “Tomorrow” (1972) (story); “Rose for Emily” (1982); “Kaki bakar” (1995) (story); “Two Soldiers” (2003 and 1985)

by Melanie Addington, as Published in the Oxford Town —

2 Comments leave one →
  1. John Tasker permalink
    September 8, 2009 2:11 pm

    Nearly two months later, 1 comment, accidently?
    Sort of points out the truth of having to
    revisit (resuurect) Mr. F. My daughter, driving
    from NC to Los Angeles, made a special effort
    to go by Oxford on the date this was published.
    Purpose was to tour the Faulkener house. She
    had wanted to do a script about the boy and his
    older brother-soldier, only to find out someone
    had just made a short film of the story ( couple
    of years ago now). Point is, there is interest
    and some of it from young folks.


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