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The pragmatic modernist: William Faulkner’s craft and Hollywood’s networks of production

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This article analyzes the screenplays and treatments for two highly popular and critically acclaimed films, To Have and Have Not (1944) and Mildred Pierce(1945), on which Faulkner worked as a salaried screenwriter for Warner Brothers. Faulkner’s collaborative writing for To Have and Have Not demonstrates his ability to participate in and extend the construction of the cinematic archetype of the Hawksian woman on the level of action and language, a portrayal that both develops and transcends the portrayal of women within his own fiction. The article also illuminates the process through which Faulkner recycled content across the high–low cultural divide, borrowing from himself to include a hybrid scene from his modernist masterwork Absalom, Absalom! (1936) in Mildred Pierce, a noir melodrama starring Joan Crawford. The article further illustrates how Faulkner reconciled himself to the narrative mode of Hollywood through his use of ‘charged realism’. As such, Faulkner’s work for the screen would seem to confound a number of presumed modernist imperatives for artistic practice: autonomy, organic production, breaking with the past, formal innovation and disdain for objective realism. The article concludes by suggesting a way to reconcile the divergent skill bases of Faulkner’s screenwriting and modernist fiction by showing how he was able to imaginatively adapt his craft to inhabit and revisualize the structures of both genres.
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Keywords: collaboration; film noir; genre; melodrama; modernism; realism; women

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin

Publication date: June 1, 2014

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  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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