Thursday, August 11, 2011
THE LONG HOT SUMMER: SOMETHING ABOUT THE LIGHT IN AUGUST
Last March, there was an NCIS episode on television entitled "One Last Score." William Faulkner's antique desk played a role in the story. Ziva takes a moment to say how much she loves Faulkner's novels. She says it was worth learning English just to read them. Tony, the movie buff, replies that he doesn't like the novels but cherishes the many movie scripts that Faulkner wrote himself or in collaboration with others.
Faulkner is supposed to have written the suggestive horseracing metaphor which Bogart and Bacall banter back and forth across the table in The Big Sleep. Among many other scripts, he wrote much of the film adaptation of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not. But I always think of him when I see The Long, Hot Summer, which was taken from several of his short stories.
The movie has Paul Newman and his wife-to-be, Joanne Woodward, a lovely Lee Remick, a charismatic Orson Welles, and Angela Lansbury, among other good actors. The pacing is slow and beautiful, like the Alex North soundtrack, until the tag-end end of the summer when things get rushed. Tensions reach their peak in the sweltering dog days when there is a barn burning and Newman's character faces a lynch mob. But then the ending is rushed and contrived, as loose ends are quickly knitted in time for a happy ending all the way around.
Yet there are enough beautiful, iconic scenes to make the movie worth watching again this month. The haunting soundtrack CD, by the way, also includes the theme song sung by Jimmie Rogers. An evocation of the impermanence of summer beauty, taken to a mythic metaphor: The long, hot summer/seems to know what a flirt you are/seems to know your caress/isn't mine to possess/How can someone possess a star?
This CD also includes Alex North's soundtrack for the adaptation of Faulkner's Sanctuary, the one that starred Lee Remick. I have the original, but I'm going to have to get a copy of that remake when I can find one.
Oprah meant well, but she should have had her book club discuss the movie, The Long, Hot Summer, rather than Faulkner's novel, Light In August, which was badly presented and greatly misunderstood in her venue.
Faulkner said of the title, "...in August in Mississippi there's a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there's a foretaste of fall, it's cool, there's a lambence, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have been fauna and satyrs and the gods and--from Greece..."
"It just lasts for a day or two, then it's gone. But every year in August that occurs in my country, and that's all the title meant...it reminded me of a luminosity older than our Christian civilization."
That title fits the work at hand better than the original title--The Dark House. The novel itself involves Faulkner's autobiographical details of his grief over the death of his child melded with the eternal mythic and aligned with the ideas in Henri Bergson's Pulitzer Prize winning works on the fluidity of Time. The pertinent Faulkner quote you often hear is that the past doesn't exist, that it's not even past.
The best critical work on this novel yet published is John P. Anderson's The Poltergeist in William Faulkner's Light In August. Anderson quotes Faulkner at length on Time, something that also explains the long, complex sentences that are his narrative trademark: "...a man, a character in a story, at any moment of action is not just himself as he is then, he is all that made him, and a long sentence is an attempt to get his past and possibly his future into the instant in which he does something."
"In a sense, the past is in the present, and the present is in the future, and in this way it is impossible to draw a clear distinction between them."
Anderson says, "In this novel, the part of time past, present and future as one continuum is played by Lena's fetus." Light In August is also a part of the country saying about the time of childbirth, "heavy in July, light in August."
"The main theme in Light In August is an elaboration of the theme pursued in Faulkner's earlier novel, The Sound And The Fury--the enemies of human individuality and realization. . .The novel's territory is the rift valley between free will and predetermined behavior. The adventure in the territory is the pursuit of individualism. The impersonal and inhuman forces in the territory are hostile to individual freedom."
These excerpts from Anderson's work hardly do him justice. You should read his entire brilliant study, which is almost line-by-line.