Faulkner’s Family Life in William Faulkner: a Life on Paper
The presence of the father – The Father? – haunts William Faulkner, a Life on Paper; daughters play a supporting role. Mothers, curiously enough, are noticeable in their absence. On both the spoken and unspoken levels, the film suggests that the power of genesis derives from the male alone. The creative power passes from father to son to grandson, or from father to daughter, and it is from this lineage that the artist is endowed to “create a cosmos of his own,” as Faulkner said of his novel, The Sound and the Fury.
First, there is the matter of the movie’s tone. Early camera shots of the Mississippi countryside, its forests and swamps, are accompanied by a melancholy melody
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The most powerful father figure to haunt this film is Faulkner’s great-grandfather, the Old Colonel. We see the frontispiece of the old man’s novel, his photograph, images of his statue presiding over his tomb. The film notes that Faulkner used the fact of his geneology as a literary calling card, submitting his first work to the publishing world and public as being that of a descent of the author of The White Rose of Memphis. After “dismal” reviews of his second book, Faulkner the Younger fortified his creative impulse by resolving to “creat[e] a cosmos of his own,” viewing this lapse in public favor as “an opportunity to be an empire-builder on paper, like the Old Colonel,” the narration notes. Like the God of the Old Testament, the author is the sole originator of that which is born/created; there is no union of the male and female here. What results yields directed from the substance and energy of the male progenitor. Moreover, the film takes pains to establish that Faulkner viewed himself as not only God-like in his powers as an author, but as super-God-like, beyond God, if you will: “I can create much more interesting people [on paper] than God did,” he is quoted as saying in the film. God can create; the author can improve on God by populating his fictional realm entirely with people who hold our interest.
If God and The Old Colonel loom over this film project, daughters hover at its edges.