Rare 1952 Film: William Faulkner on His Native Soil in Oxford, Mississippi

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.


via Bib­liok­lept

Relat­ed con­tent:

Drink­ing with William Faulkn­er

Sev­en Tips From William Faulkn­er on How to Write Fic­tion

William Faulkn­er Explains Why Writ­ing is Best Left to Scoundrels

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Comments (2)
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  • Verchul Jones says:

    Hi folks,

    Glad to see you enjoyed my uploads of the Faulkn­er films. Would you mind if I broke up your com­men­tary into its five para­graphs and added it to each of the films on youtube?

  • Dr Edward Stim, Bronx expatriate in Tokyo says:

    A good sim­ple film about a good man and a fine writer. I did not find Faulkn­er stiff or stuck up act­ing him­self. Thank you all who made this doc­u­ment very much.
    Dr Edward Stim
    Tokyo Japan

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