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“Hollywood is a place where a man can get stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder”*…

 

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Cartoon of the brothers Warner drawn by Faulkner for his daughter Jill. Early 1940s. Center for Faulkner Studies, Southeast Missouri State University

 

William Faulkner disparaged his two decades of work in film, even though he spent the equivalent of four years in Hollywood and worked at MGM, Universal, Twentieth Century-Fox, RKO, and Warner Bros. Biographies of Faulkner treat his film work as more or less ancillary to his life and fiction, but in fact his screenwriting transformed his conception of himself and his writing. An understanding of the man and his work changes when his contributions to cinema are integrated into a capacious conception of his career…   – “The Cinematic Faulkner: Framing Hollywood

Jill Faulkner Summers found the screenplay for the vampire film Dreadful Hollow among her father’s papers in 1999.  An adaption of Irina Karlova’s lesbian vampire tale of the same title, it remains unpublished (except for excerpts) and unproduced… but not unstudied:

The screenplay is an important contribution to Faulkner scholarship in particular and film adaptation studies in general because the script has not been altered or edited in any way by anyone other than Faulkner. Because the film has not been produced, the multiple script revisions that usually occur when a film goes into production have not happened.  The script is completely Faulkner’s own and reading the screenplay allows a rare glimpse into Faulkner the screenwriter after he had been at it in Hollywood for over ten years. This essay provides the first thorough analysis of Faulkner’s unpublished screenplay for Dreadful Hollow. The first section gives an overview of how the script came to be, Hawks’ attempts to get the film made, and a detailed summary of the screenplay with new plot details not mentioned in earlier published summaries.  The second section focuses on the screenplay as a vampire narrative that borrows conventions from earlier vampire texts and catalogues the significant changes Faulkner made to the vampire novel on which the screenplay is based.  Faulkner chose to emphasize the vampire’s lesbianism to a greater extent than any earlier female vampire text, which is all the more striking because a female vampire film had not been made since Dracula’s Daughter (1936).  He also added details and made filmic changes to the story that cause the vampire’s destruction to appear as a rape or lynching and a revenge response to her lesbianism.  Finally, the essay shows how Faulkner reworks the novel’s conventional detective narrative for the film by including his own specific interests in crime narratives to give Hawks another vehicle for his vision.  He was rewriting the detective stories, “Knight’s Gambit” and “An Error in Chemistry” for publication while working on the screenplay and had just completed the screenplays for To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946) for Hawks…

Faulkner wrote Dreadful Hollow immediately following To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, and so it should be read along with those two films as indicative of the kind of work he produced for Hawks at the time. The screenplay reveals Faulkner’s approach to adaptation was to add elements that could deepen an audience’s appreciation of a form. In doing so, he resists the Hollywood Studio system’s tendency to whitewash corners and soften the shadows of source materials, something that would have been appreciated by his friend and sometimes employer, Hawks. Because the film has not been produced, the multiple script revisions that usually accompanied any script Faulkner wrote for a studio have not happened and the script is completely Faulkner’s own. The screenplay reveals him to be a serious and focused screenwriter with a wide knowledge of early film narratives and techniques who by 1945 had become quite good at his trade. Faulkner stamped the screenplay with his signature multiple times and so it contains large traces of his more canonical work. These echoes serve to further blur the lines between his “literary work” and his “commercial work” and suggest, instead, that for Faulkner, the distinction was perhaps not as clear as scholars have made it out to be. It therefore, should be considered a supplement to his more literary work. I wholeheartedly agree with Kawin’s 1977 assessment of the script: It’s Faulkner’s best screenplay and it deserves a place among his better-known and published work…

Grateful TotH to friend CE…

For a review of Faulkner’s entire career as a screenwriter, visit the essay cited at the top: “The Cinematic Faulkner: Framing Hollywood.”

* William Faulkner

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As we reframe fame, we might spare a thought for Martin E. Segal; he died on this date in 2012.  A Russian emigre to the U.S., Segal built a successful international human resources and employee benefit consulting firm.  But he is much better remembered for his passionate support for the arts– perhaps most particularly, as a champion of Lincoln Center and as the co-founder (in 1969, with William F. May and Schuyler G. Chapin) of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and as its first President.  Now know as Film at Lincoln Center, it hosts The New York Film Festival and (with the Museum of Modern Art) the New Directors/NewFilms Festival.

As The New York Times noted in its obituary, while Marty “was generous with his money, he was perhaps most admired for the donations he managed to extract from others. He used to say he had no trouble giving people the ‘opportunity’ to contribute to the causes he cared most about, whether it be Lincoln Center’s redevelopment project, which updated the campus; Public Radio International [now PRX], of which he was a founding member; or the Library of America, a nonprofit publisher dedicated to publishing, and keeping in print, editions of America’s most significant writing.”

sub-segal-obit-superJumbo source

 

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”*…

 

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Naeem Hayat as Hamlet, with the Shakespeare’s Globe company, performs to migrants in the Jungle refugee camp on 3 February 2016 in Calais, France

 

William Shakespeare lived in an age of uncertainty. His society was traversing a number of unpredictable challenges that spun from the succession of the heirless queen Elizabeth to the ascent of a new class of merchants. But the biggest issue had to do with religious conflicts. In the premodern world, religion provided absolute certainty: whatever we knew was implanted in our mind by God. We didn’t have to look any further. Once that system of beliefs started to collapse, Europe was left with a yawning gap. Religion no longer seemed capable to explain the world. René Descartes and Shakespeare, who were contemporaries, gave opposite answers to the sceptical challenge: Descartes believed that our quest for knowledge could be rebuilt and founded on indubitable certainties. Shakespeare, on the other hand, made uncertainty a leitmotiv of all his works, and harnessed its creative power…

Lorenzo Zucca considers the poet as a philosopher: “Much ado about uncertainty: how Shakespeare navigates doubt.”

Of possible parallel interest: an informative review of Scott Newstok’s How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education.

* Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 5, Scene 1

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As we back the Bard, we might recall that it was on this date in 1600 that four plays, three by Shakespeare– Much Ago About NothingHenry V, and the source of today’s title quote, As You Like It— plus Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour were officially entered into the Stationers’ Registry.  Readers will recall that the copyright regimen was strict in Elizabeth’s time, as is now.  But back then, copyright was literally that, the right to make a (first) copy: the Queen, concerned with sedition and determined to keep a tight rein on any and all published material in her realm, had decreed that no work could be printed in England without a license from the Stationer.  In this particular instance all four plays were “stayed”–meaning that they were specifically noted in the registry as works not to be printed.  The stay didn’t hold for long; within a few years, three of the four were published.  Only one held out: for reasons scholars still debate, As You Like It didn’t appear in print until the famed First Folio edition of 1623.

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Written by LW

August 4, 2020 at 1:01 am

“When I see a white piece of paper, I feel I’ve got to draw”*…

 

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The Nuremberg paper mill, the building complex at the lower right corner, in 1493

 

Paper made its first appearance in Europe in the 11th century, but was expensive and suffered from poor quality.  By the 15th century, it was inexpensive and of good quality– and that dramatically boosted the level of Renaissance art:

Paper created a monumental shift in European art. … Drawing is a primal urge, … but drawing only became a standard art form when paper became available. In the case of Europe, this occurred dur­ing the Renaissance, when paper was still a new idea on the Continent. Previously, there had been very little informal use of parchment for art because it was too expensive and too difficult to erase. At first, European paper was also too expensive to be used to dash off a quick sketch and had too low a standing to be used for serious art. But by the late fifteenth century, this had all changed. Paper opened up the possibility of the sketch. Renaissance artists sketched out their work before they drew, painted, or sculpted it — or, in the case of Albrecht Dürer’s woodcuts, carved it. This new ability to not only plan but toy with ideas raised their art to a level not known in the Middle Ages…

Sixteenth-century artist and historian Giorgio Vasari, whose Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects is the leading source of biographical information on the Italian Renaissance artists [see here], tells the story of a sketch by Michelangelo that was displayed in the Palazzo Medici for art students to copy. Since the sheet, like most of Michelan­gelo’s sheets, had a variety of sketches on it, students started tearing off pieces of it, and they became ‘scattered over many places.’ According to Vasari, those fortunate students who ended up with a remnant treasured it and regarded it as something ‘more divine than human.’

Michelangelo used a great deal of paper, [and] … almost any piece of paper he used contained a few sketches. A few are finished drawings. A stunning drawing of the resurrection of Christ is also marked with a shopping list. Masterful drawings were folded up, with notes about the banal ephemera of everyday life jotted on the reverse side. …

Michelangelo may have been among the first to jot down quick ideas for himself. Some 2,000 letters from and to Michelangelo have also been collected. Letter writing is another practice that blossomed with the widespread use of paper…

Leonardo da Vinci was notorious in his lifetime for his inability to complete projects. … Fortunately, there was paper, on which Leonardo could capture his genius. Though he is usually thought of as a painter, only fifteen paintings, some unfinished, have been found, along with two damaged murals. He also attempted some sculpture, though he never finished one piece. But he left behind thirty bound notebooks. Unlike Michel­angelo, he did want people to see this work on paper, including the notes he made in his mirror-image script — a curious response to being left-handed. He left drawings depicting all kind of inventions, and notes on literature, arts, mythology, anatomy, engineering, and, most of all nature….

Leonardo also left behind four thousand sheets of drawings of stag­gering beauty. He was the first artist to be recognized for his drawings on paper. Leonardo’s work became the standard for art in Renaissance Florence. Studying art now meant working on paper, learning to draw. Leonardo had learned art that way himself, in the workshop taught by Andrea del Verrocchio. Artists have been trained on paper ever since.”

More at “Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Paper,” an excerpt from Mark Kurlansky’s Paper: Paging Through History, via the ever-illuminating Delanceyplace.com.

For more on the enabling technologies of art, see “Primary Sources: A Natural History of the Artist’s Palette.”

* Ellsworth Kelly

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As we sketch, we might spare a thought for Joseph Severn; he died on this date in 1879.  A painter of portraits and literary and biblical subjects, he was a close friend and traveling companion of John Keats.  His works hang in museums including The (British) National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Tate Britain.

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Severn’s portrait of Keats

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Self-portrait

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Written by LW

August 3, 2020 at 1:01 am

“I don’t think that there is any such thing as an old film; you don’t say, ‘I read an old book by Flaubert,’ or ‘I saw an old play by Moliere.'”*…

 

Stop Motion

 

A reprise of a sort…

If you were going to pick just one silent era stop motion short to watch–just one!–I’d happily recommend an early work by Ladislas Starevich: The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912). Yes, you’re reading that right–from 1912! Because despite being over a century old, it showcases a timeless skill, serves as an excellent introduction to silent era stop motion, and is pretty funny, if you ask me. Plus, depending on how well you know your classic comedies, the story just might be familiar…

 

If Buster Keaton had been Russian… and had worked in stop-motion: “Thoughts On: ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ (1912)

* Alain Resnais

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As we meet the beetles, we might send grateful birthday greetings to James Arthur Baldwin; he was born on this date in 1924.  An essayist,  novelist, playwright, poet, and activist, he explored the intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in essays (as collected, for example, in Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time) and in novels (like Giovanni’s Room and If Beale Street Could Talk, which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film).  His unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, was expanded and adapted for cinema as the Academy Award–nominated documentary film I Am Not Your Negro.

In 1965, Baldwin met William F. Buckley at the Cambridge University Union to debate the proposition before the house: “The American dream is at the expense of the American Negro.”

Baldwin delivers his remarks slowly, somehow seeming both passionate and cool, like jazz. He is mesmerizing, as shown by the camera cutaways to the audience that sits rapt.

It almost seems unfair, a distortion, to excerpt Baldwin’s remarks because as a work of rhetoric, it surpasses even the best of Martin Luther King or JFK…

Perhaps it was brave of William F. Buckley to rise after Baldwin’s speech and take the opposite proposition, though it was likely far braver for Baldwin to accept the invitation in the first place. History has not provided a transcription of Buckley’s remarks, but in the video we can see that he scores some debaters’ points with some citations to authority and statistics. He garners laughs with a clever line or two. As compared to his 1961 editorial, Buckley’s stance is already moderating, as he never implies that blacks are savage and uncivilized as he does in that document.

In the end, the Cambridge Union Society took a vote on the proposition: “The American Dream is at the expense of the American negro.” The yays outpolled the nays 540-160.

Baldwin in a rout.

source  (see also Baldwin vs. Buckley: A Debate We Shouldn’t Need, As Important As Ever“)

 

 

“The future, said Herzen, was the offspring of accident and willfulness. There was no libretto or destination, and there was always as much in front as behind”*…

 

Herzen

 

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly interested in, and admiring of, plurality. Plurality—a condition of society in which people who hold widely different beliefs and are committed to quite different values nevertheless find some way to live in relative peace with one another—is to be distinguished from pluralism, which may be described as a conviction that a society in which people pursue a great diversity of ends is intrinsically superior to a more unified society. That I don’t believe. I think that our society would be better off if we were all united by a deeply shared set of convictions—my convictions, as it happens. (Imagine that!) But I would want such singleness of vision to be freely chosen, which will obviously never happen. So in default of my ideal, I say: Better plurality than tyranny, and better a tyranny presided over by others than a tyranny presided over by me.

From this point of view, the most zealous on the contemporary American left and the contemporary American right have something fundamental in common: They never ask the question, Am I fit to rule others?” I see this self-blindness not only in electoral politics but also in intra-religious and academic disputes. They take it for granted that the rightness of their convictions makes them fit: that the justice of a cause can make a perfectly straight thing out of the crooked timber of their humanity. To be sure, I continue to say, better a tyranny presided over by others than a tyranny presided over by me; but I also say, better that none of those zealots ever achieve the power they lust for—because their very confidence in their right to rule is the most absolute disqualification for rule that I can imagine. This Alexander Herzen understood.

The central figure in Tom Stoppard’s great dramatic trilogy The Coast of Utopia (2002) is Herzen (1812–70), the first Russian socialist. From exile in England, Herzen published The Bell, which the great American critic Dwight Macdonald, the editor of an English-language edition of Herzen’s memoirs, called perhaps the most effective muckraking magazine in radical history.”…

What distinguishes Stoppard’s Herzen—which I think is a reasonably accurate portrayal of the real Herzen— from Marx and Chernyshevsky is simply that his thought is more historical than theirs. Both of them believed themselves to be deeply historical thinkers, but they had, in their different ways, settled on a complete and wholly enclosed understanding of the point that history is coming to, the point at which it will effectively conclude. They shared a sense of the telos, the goal, or end, of history...

Herzen… didn’t know where history was going or how it would get there. He understands himself to be in the midst of a great procession, one of many both before and after him to take up the cause of justice and freedom. History is plurality, even among those who share a commitment, a cause. 

This is Stoppard’s image of the true scholar and the true activist alike. In Stoppard’s 1993 play Arcadia, Septimus Hodge consoles his pupil Lady Thomasina Coverly when she cries out in grief for all the lost plays of the Athenians”: We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short.” And Stoppard’s Herzen, near the end of this magnificent trilogy, finds the same consolation and expresses it with some of the same words, but even more concisely and beautifully: The idea will not perish. What we let fall will be picked up by those behind. I can hear their childish voices on the hill.”…

Why the great Russian thinker refused to pick up the axe to advance his cause: “Alexander Herzen and the Plural World.”  From Alan Jacobs, distinguished professor of humanities in the honors program at Baylor University, a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, and proprietor of a consistently-interesting newsletter, Snakes and Ladders.

* Tom Stoppard, in an essay on Alexander Herzen

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As we ponder plurality, we might recall that it was on this date in 1834 that slavery was abolished in the British Empire, as the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 came into force (though it remained legal in the possessions of the East India Company until the passage of the Indian Slavery Act, 1843).

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“Am I Not a Man and a Brother?”, 1787 medallion designed by Josiah Wedgwood for the British anti-slavery campaign

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Written by LW

August 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

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