Showing posts with label William Faulkner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Faulkner. Show all posts

14 August 2019

The Breaking Point

David Edgerley Gates


I'd never seen The Breaking Point, although I'd heard things about it, but now there's an excellent DVD transfer available on Criterion. I'm here to tell you it's one hell of a movie, undeservedly neglected.


First, some background. The story goes that Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway are on a hunting trip. Hemingway's bitching that Hollywood can't make a decent picture out of any of the books he's sold them. Hawks says, They don't get the books. And you do? Hemingway asks him. Hawks shrugs. Sure, he says. I could take your worst book and make a terrific picture out of it. We imagine a very long pause here, and then Hemingway goes, Oh, yeah? And just which one is my worst book? Hawks doesn't miss a beat: To Have and Have Not. Okay, asshole, Hemingway says. You got the rights. Put up or shut up.

Hawks goes back to L.A. He calls in William Faulkner. Faulkner probably isn't that big a Hemingway fan in the first place. He tells Hawks the novel's unfilmable. You'd never get it past the Hays Office, for openers. C'mon, we gotta do something, Hawks says. They sit down with Jules Furthman, another longtime screenwriter, and hash out the back story, what happened beforehand. They make up so much, Hawks later says, that there was enough left over for a whole other picture.


You guessed it, The Breaking Point. Which is actually credited to Ranald MacDougall, who just for goobers and grins, also worked on Mildred Pierce; The World, the Flesh, and the Devil; and Dark of the Sun. No slouch, he.

The degrees of separation - or cross-pollination - are I think significant. To Have and Have Not (1944), Bogart and Hawks. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Bogart and John Huston. We Were Strangers (1949), Garfield and Huston. The Breaking Point in 1950. Directed by Michael Curtiz, who made some zingers, but never breaks into the top lists of auteurs. Maybe that's an oversight. The Breaking Point is certainly atypical of Curtiz. It actually has a lot more in common with Sierra Madre and Strangers than it does with Casablanca. You wouldn't think of Curtiz as a noir guy, but here he delivers in spades.


Then look at Garfield, in context. The Breaking Point was his next-to-last picture; he died after the next one. He himself thought The Breaking Point was his best and most transparent performance. You have to give a passing glance at his politics, which were resolutely Leftie. He wasn't blacklisted, but he was skating on thin ice. Maybe he died before the bastards could get to him. They would have loved to nail him, just because he was Julie Garfinkle from the Lower East Side. 

Garfield never did overtly political parts. Gentleman's Agreement, mmmh, maybe. Force of Evil? The movie itself is about moral choices, and Garfield's character makes the leap of faith in the end. But he isn't represented as Everyman. It's not a Marxist fable. The closest he comes is in We Were Strangers, and even there he keeps his distance. He seems mistrustful of absolutes. He's missing the zeal of the convert.


In this, The Breaking Point is completely consistent. In the most basic and classic sense, it's existential. The guy does what he does because of who he is; or put it the other way around, he demonstrates who he is because of what he does. Skip the philosophy.

Oh, and as if I had to tell you, you're never going to look at Patricia Neal the same way again.


The Breaking Point, moment to moment, is tighter than To Have and Have Not. It might even be a better picture. I think it is a better picture than We Were Strangers, and We Were Strangers, trust me, ain't no dog. I'd go so far as to say The Breaking Point rivals Treasure of the Sierra Madre. No, it doesn't have Bogart disintegrating like a sprung watch, but it's got a decent guy going over the edge, and you don't know if he's coming back.  Neither does he.

27 June 2018

The Big Sleep

David Edgerley Gates


If not the most celebrated of noir private dick pictures, The Big Sleep is a pretty tall stick on the way there. Right from the get-go, you know what country you're in, the leads in silhouette, Bogart lighting Bacall's cigarette, behind the titles, the foreboding Max Steiner score. The mansion, the butler, Carmen with her up-from-under look, the general in the hothouse full of orchids, "nasty things, ...like the flesh of men." Not a lot of wasted motion.


It was shot in 1945, right after To Have and Have Not, but Warners didn't release it until '46. In the meantime, they did some reshoots - the famous horse-racing exchange, for one - and Hawks re-cut the picture. The first edit actually makes more sense, and there isn't much difference in the run-times, but the finished product is paced so fast you never get a chance to catch your breath.

People complain the story's too hard to follow. Fair enough. Did the Sternwood chauffeur drive himself off the pier or was it staged? It's a dropped stitch, there's more than one, and nobody gets that worked up over it. Some of this is because of the Production Code. There was stuff they were never going to get away with. The biggest for instance is that Carmen can't have killed anybody, at least not and walk away, so they have to blame it on Eddie Mars. (In the book, Eddie lives to fight another day, and Marlowe even respects him on certain levels.) The book dealer, Geiger, sells pornography to a very select client list that he also blackmails, and the Lundgren kid is his boy-toy. That didn't make it into the picture. Big sister Vivian of course wants to help Carmen out of a jam, but she's not an accessory to murder. And so on. The problem being that if you subtract a key piece, the puzzle falls apart.

On the other hand, it mostly doesn't matter. The movie's all misdirection. It's character, and dialogue. How many pictures have so many amazing bits of business? The script is credited to William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman, with an uncredited assist from Philip Epstein. More than a little comes straight out of Chandler. Can you beat it?

The cop, Bernie Ohls, describing Sean Regan: "The ex-legger Sternwood hired to do his drinking for him."

"I don't like your manners."
"I don't like 'em, either. I grieve over them, long winter evenings."

"Is he as cute as you are?"
"Nobody is."

"You know what he'll do when he comes back? [Canino] Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling."

"You're a mess."
"I'm not very tall, either."

Hawks later said the picture proved something he'd already suspected, that with enough foreground razzle-dazzle, you didn't have to worry about narrative logic. "I never figured out what was going on," he told an interviewer, and at the end of the day, nobody else could, either.

Bacall gets the last word, right before the fade-out, after Bogart hangs up on the cops.
"You've forgotten one thing," she says. "Me."
He looks at her. "What's wrong with you?" he asks.
"Nothing you can't fix," she tells him.

01 June 2018

300 and counting ...

by
O'Neil De Noux

On Wednesday, May 7, 1718, the city of La Nouvelle-Orléans was founded by French explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, on land inhabited by the Chitimacha. It was named for Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, regent of France at the time. On May 7, 2018, we celebrated the city's 300th Birthday.

Known for her musical and culinary heritage as well as her laid-back lifestyle, New Orleans has a literary heritage. Don't have room here to list all the writers who were born here or lived her or came here for inspiration or for po-boys and muffuletta sandwiches – I took a morning to go around and photograph some of the places I could locate where some writers lived and worked.


UPPER PONTALBA BUILDING

The long red-brick Pontalba Buildings on either side of Jackson Square house shops and restaurants along their first floors and apartments along the upper floors. They are often referred to as the oldest continuously-rented apartments in the United States. The Pontalbas were the first buildings to use lacework wrought iron balcony railings in the city, now a prominent feature of New Orleans architecture.

Along the Upper Pontalba Building a door bears the address 540 Saint Peter Street. A Literary Landmark plaque next to the door reads: Residence of Sherwood Anderson, author of "Winesburg, Ohio." While living here, Anderson hosted literary salons that powered the careers of guests William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Carl Sandburg and John Dos Passos. Anderson lived in Apartment B where he wrote his best selling novel DARK LAUGHTER.



Where William Faulkner wrote his first novel, Soldier's Pay, is easy to locate on Pirate Alley, just across from Saint Anthony's Garden at the rear of Saint Louis Cathedral.


FAULKNER HOUSE - pale blue doors

Built in 1840 as a French colonial prison, the narrow three-story building at 624 Pirate Alley now houses FAULKNER HOUSE BOOKS, an antiquarian bookstore specialzing in southern writers. Sitting on the second-story balcony, Faulkner wrote newspaper vignettes to support himself as he wrote his first novel SOLDIER'S PAY .



Built in 1842, the Avart-Peretti House at 632 Saint Peter Street was the residence and studio of Italian-turned-American citizen artist Achille Peretti who was also a sculptor and anarchist. In 1946-47, Tennessee Williams lived here and wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning play A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE.


TENNESSEE WILLIAMS Apartment - white door



Tennessee Williams later bought a townhouse a 1014 Dumaine Street, still in the French Quarter and lived there on-and-off from 1962 until his death in 1983. In his MEMOIRS, he wrote, "I hope to die in my sleep ... in this beautiful big brass bed in my New Orleans apartment, the bed that is associated with so much love ..."


TENNESSEE WILLIAMS TOWNHOUSE

Just up the street at 1054 Dumaine, George Alec Effinger wrote his critically acclaimed science-fiction Budayeen books (WHEN GRAVITY FAILS, A FIRE IN THE SUN and THE EXILE KISS) and his Hugo and Nebula Award winning short story "Shrondinger's Kitten."


GEORGE ALEC EFFINGER lived upstairs, right apartment

Still in the French Quarter, at 1113 Chartres Street stands the Beauregard-Keyes House (erected 1826) where Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant de Beauregard lived after the Civil War. Nearly a hundred years later, author Frances Parkinson Keyes (pronounced like 'skies') purchased the house and wrote numerous books there. Her famous New Orleans novel DINNER AT ANTOINE'S is a "least likely person" murder mystery, notable for playing fair with the reader with clues embedded in the novel to solve the case.


BEAUREGARD-KEYES HOUSE

Across narrow Sixth Street from uptown's Lafayette Cemetery at 2900 Prytania Street stands a two-story yellow frame house with four square columns along its front gallery. Here F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in 1919-20, where he wrote his "Letters to Zelda."


FITZGERALD HOUSE


After the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Dutch engineers and scientists came to New Orleans to examine the levee system. They made suggestions on how to keep the water out of the city. After all, they've done a good job keeping the North Sea out of the Netherlands. Their suggestions were not implemented. Too expensive. So the levees were patched up and with rising ocean levels and future storms, we'll see if New Orleans will be around for another 300 years.

Our writings, along with photos and films, may be all that's left of New Orleans in the future.

That's all for now.
http://www.oneildenoux.com/

24 January 2018

To Have and Have Not

David Edgerley Gates


Hemingway published To Have and Have Not in 1937, the picture was released in 1944. The book isn't unreadable, but the movie's a lot better. Watching it again, I'm reminded of a couple of things. Bogart and Bacall falling in love. Howard Hawks never shot a scene that dragged in his entire career. William Faulkner was one hell of a script doctor, drunk as a skunk or otherwise.

The story Hawks tells is that he was out on a hunting trip with Hemingway. Hemingway starts bitching about how Hollywood can't get his books right. Hawks says he's selling his books to the wrong people. "Hell," Hawks says to him, "I could take your worst book and make a terrific picture." We can imagine the long, stony pause. "Yeah?" Hemingway says. "What is my worst book?"


Going in, it's obvious they won't get past the censors, and Faulkner isn't even convinced there's a movie in it. What if, Hawks suggests, we wind the clock back and tell the story that led up to the book? They bring Jules Furthman on board. Furthman's got what, a hundred credits, give or take? According to Hawks, they come up with enough back story for a whole other picture (actually made in 1950, The Breaking Point, with Garfield).

Betty Bacall was eighteen when she made the cover of Harper's Bazaar, and her picture caught the attention of Hawks' wife Slim. It was Hawks who wanted her voice to be lower in register, and it became her trademark, a smoky, throaty purr. "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve?" Bogart rolled over and paddled his paws in the air.

The echoes of Casablanca weren't accidental.  It's wartime Martinique, but it's still Vichy. Bogart throws in reluctantly with the Resistance. His common sense isn't blunted by sentiment. When de Bursac's wife loses her temper and snaps at him, it's Frenchy who apologizes. "Forgive her," he says, "she's not herself." Bogart shoots him a look. "Oh?" he asks. "Who is she?"


Another common Hawks signature: the apparent throwaway scene, which is integral to character - character being everything, in Hawks. Here, the musical numbers, Bacall and Hoagy Carmichael, "How Little We Know" (which signals what we've already guessed from her body English) and "Am I Blue?" Seriously, you have to ask? It might put you in mind of Rio Bravo, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan on harmonica. The drunk, the kid, the gimp, each of them missing a piece, you might say. And then John Wayne, self-sufficient and contained. Or you make a different calculation, that Chance is not only set apart, but isolated. The other three have a vulnerability, a soft spot he doesn't get to show. Or share.

I saw The Big Sleep first, before To Have and Have Not, and The Big Sleep has a lot of the sexual dynamic, not to mention a better score by Max Steiner, but it doesn't have quite the same energy. It doesn't have the invention, or the novelty. The way the two of them look at each other. There's nothing contrived about it. It ain't the lighting, or the soft focus. Bogart and Bacall are there.

Movies are an artifice, a construction. The camera catches reflections. The images have already been decided, and they're waiting to be arranged. But as with all things, we have to allow for happy accident. Accidentally, To Have and Have Not is a document. We watch two people get lucky. You learn how to whistle.



04 February 2013

And Where Is THAT?

by Fran Rizer




St. Mary, SC, is my town, and Surcie Island is my island.

When I wrote the first Callie Parrish Mystery, I created St. Mary, a small town on the coast of South Carolina, not far from Beaufort and Fripp Island. It's located near Highway 17. To get to Columbia or Charleston from St. Mary, take I-95 north to I-26 where a turn to the east leads to Charleston and circling round to go west leads to the midlands. I Googled carefully to be certain neither St. Mary, SC, nor Surcie Island exist. Surcie is actually based on Edisto Island before it was commercially developed (with a little Daufuskie thrown in), yet inevitably, at book signings, readers assure me that they've been to St. Mary or Surcie Island. I don't attempt to enlighten them, but it does set me thinking about fictional places I've been.

Most photos of William Faulkner are formal and solemn head
shots, possibly because of his height of 5'5".
I like this one because it's more relaxed than most..
The first and most memorable is Yoknapatawpha County in northwestern Mississippi. I traveled there frequently in my youth and return occasionally even now. It's bordered on the north by the Tallahatchie River and on the south by the Yoknapatawpha River. William Faulkner referred to it as my "apocryphal county."

Fourteen of his next seventeen novels after Sartoris were set in Yoknapatawpha County, including my personal favorites: The Sound and the Fury; Absolom, Absolom; and The Reivers. The eight short stories set in Faulkner's own county include my favorite Faulkner short story of all time--"A Rose for Emily."


This marker directs visitors to William Faulkner's
grave in Oxford, Mississippi.


William Faulkner drew this map of
Yoknapatawpha County for
The Portable Faulkner (1946).

Now travel with me from Mississippi to Maine where we'll visit Stephen King's town of Castle Rock. This town is part of King's fictional Maine and first appears in The Dead Zone. Writings set in Castle Rock include Cujo, "The Body" (which became the movie Stand By Me), "Uncle Otto's Truck," "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut," The Dark Half, "The Sun Dog," Needful Things, and "It Grows On You."

Castle Rock is also referred to in about ten short stories as well as fourteen novels, including 11/22/63, Bag of Bones, The Stand, Gerald's Game, and Pet Sematary.

Stephen King's Maine
King openly admits to being a fan of H. P. Lovecraft who created a series of fictional small towns in New England. King follows this idea of Lovecraft's with Jerusalem's Lot (in Salem's Lot), Castle Rock, Derry (in It, Insomnia, Dreamcatcher, and 11/11/63), Little Tall Island, and Haven.

There are several real Castle Rocks in the United States in southwest Washington and in Colorado, south of Denver. King denies his Castle Rock evolved from those real places and acknowledges that he got the name "Castle Rock" from the fictional mountain fort in William Golding's 1963 novel Lord of the Flies.

Stephen King, creator of Castle Rock, Maine
King's Castle Rock has been referred to in several works by others. A signpost in Peter Jackson's alien invasion movie Bad Taste points to a town named Castle Rock. This has been confirmed as a reference to King's town. In her 1993 novel One on One, Tabitha King mentions Castle Rock and thanks "another novelist who was kind enough to allow me to use the name."
Angela Lansbury as Jessica
Fletcher in Murder, She
Wrote
While we're in Maine, let's stop off at another fictional place I've visited many times: Cabot Cove, Maine-- the small fictional fishing village where Jessica Fletcher lives when she's not flitting around New York and Europe in the Murder, She Wrote series. I have friends who will argue that Cabot Cove, Maine, really exists. "After all," they say, "we see it all the time." The fact is that the television series was filmed in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and in Mendocino, California.

David Dean revealed a few weeks ago that a reader of his The Thirteenth Child pointed out "mistakes" he'd made about their town, not noticing that Dean's town had a different name. I'm an avid Faulkner, King, and now Dean fan, but I confess I think a writer creating his or her own location is the easiest way out. (That's why I took that route, but now I'm finding that as I'm working on the sixth book in the series, I'm having to check back on some geographic facts that I myself created.)

I admit that I have even greater admiration for those who recreate accurate, believable, historical settings in their fiction. An example of that among SSers is Janice Law's Fires of London. For more examples of impressive locations, see David Dean's recent blog Location, Location, Location.


This began with my emphatic statement that St. Mary, SC, and Surcie Island, SC, are my creations. I'll close by telling you that a writer friend of mine has sold a story he set in St. Mary, SC. He used a low country ruins scene I made up for another series and actually had his character mention Emily from my story Leigh likes: "Emily's Ghost Story." He called me on the telephone all excited about the sale (and when he has a publication date, I'll share it with you), but I confess that though he called it "homage," I wasn't really joyful about it. However, if Stephen King gives his wife permission to use his town in her novel, my friend can borrow some name from me.

I never introduce a song performance nor a prose reading with an explanation. I feel that the work should stand on its own. I also am not fond of books that begin with a list of character descriptions and/or a map of the location. I prefer to learn these things as I read, yet, after writing this, I actually considered making a map of St. Mary, SC, showing locations of events such as where Bill was caught making out with Loose Lucy during the candlelight vigil when Jane was kidnapped and where Little Fiddlin' Fred is buried in his gold-plated casket as well as recurring places like Callie's apartment, Middleton's Mortuary, Pa's homeplace, June Bug's burned out "Club," Rizzie's Gastric Gullah Grill, and other spots.

On second thought, that sounds like far too much work. Callie's readers will have to be satisfied with word descriptions.

Until we meet again, take care of. . . you!