Early in his life, William Faulkner had an epiphany: “I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about, and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it.” And so, as he told The Paris Review in 1956, “by sublimating the actual into the apocryphal” Faulkner was able to take his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, and the surrounding countryside and use it to create his own imaginary cosmos. He called it Yoknapatawpha County.
In November of 1952, the normally reclusive Faulkner allowed a film crew into his secluded world at Oxford to make a short documentary about his life. The film, shown here in five pieces, was funded by the Ford Foundation and broadcast on December 28, 1952 on the CBS television program Omnibus. The scripted film re-enacts events from November 1950, when Faulkner received the Nobel Prize in Literature, through the spring of 1951, when he spoke at his daughter Jill’s high school graduation.
There are scenes of Faulkner at Rowan Oak, his antebellum house on the edge of Oxford, and at Greenfield Farm, 17 miles away, where he is shown driving a tractor and talking with workers. Faulkner is also shown briefly with his wife, Estelle, and with several prominent Oxford residents, including druggist Mac Reed, Oxford Eagle editor Phil Mullen, who collaborated with the filmmakers on the script, and lawyer Phil Stone, who was an early literary mentor and champion of Faulkner. According to Joseph Blotner in his biography Faulkner, the famous writer put aside his usual cantankerousness when the filmmakers arrived in Oxford:
To the pleasure of director Howard T. Magwood and his ten-man crew, Faulkner showed himself to be a considerate host and an interested actor. He even offered Mullen some advice on reading his lines. He was at ease when he appeared with Mac Reed, but in a scene with Phil Stone he seemed stiff and distant.
The uneasiness between Faulkner and Stone may have had something to do with Stone’s feeling (as Mullen reportedly said later) that Faulkner had come down with a bad case of “Nobelitis in the Head.” Actually the entire film is stiff and unrealistic. It’s a bit of a shock to see Faulkner, a master of the narrative form, going through the motions as a bad actor in a horribly written story about his own life. But any literary fan should be fascinated by this rare glimpse of the master at home on his own little postage stamp of native soil.