Conversations with Faulkner

Alcohol was his salve against a modern world he saw as a conspiracy of mediocrity on its ruling levels.  Life was most bearable, he repeated, at its simplest: fishing, hunting, talking biggity in a cane chair on a board sidewalk, or horse-trading, gossiping.

Bill spoke rarely about writing, but when he did he said he had no method, no formula.  He started with some local event, a well-known face, a sudden reaction to a joke or an incident.  “And just let the story carry itself.  I walk along behind and write down what happens.”

Origin story:

Q: Sir, I would like to know exactly what it was that inspired you to become a writer.

A: Well, I probably was born with the liking for inventing stories.  I took it up in 1920.  I lived in New Orleans, I was working for a bootlegger.  He had a launch that I would take down the Pontchartrain into the gulf to an island where the run, the green rum, would be brought up from Cuba and buried, and we would dig it up and bring it back to New Orleans, and he would make scotch or gin or whatever he wanted.  He had the bottles labeled and everything.  And I would get a hundred dollars a trip for that, and I didn’t need much money, so I would get along until I ran out of money again.  And I met Sherwood Anderson by chance, and we took to each other from the first.  I’d meet him in the afternoon, we would walk and he would talk and I would listen.  In the evening we would go somewhere to a speakeasy and rink, and he would talk and I would listen.  The next morning he would say, “Well I have to work in the morning,” so I wouldn’t see him until the next afternoon.  And I thought if that’s the sort of life writers lead, that’s the life for me.  So I wrote a book and, as soon as I started, I found out it was fun.  And I hand’t seen him and Mrs. Anderson for some time until I met her on the street, and she said, “Are you mad at us?” and I said, “No, ma’am, I’m writing a book,” and she said, “Good Lord!” I saw her again, still having fun writing the book, and she said, “Do you want Sherwood to see your book when you finish it?” and I said, “Well, I hadn’t thought about it.”  She said, “Well, he will make a trade with you; if he don’t have to read that book, he will tell his publisher to take it.”  I said, “Done!” So I finished the book and he told Liveright to take it and Liveright took it.  And that was how I became a writer – that was the mechanics of it.

Stephen Longstreet reports on Faulkner in Hollywood, specifically To Have and Have Not:

Several other writers contributed, but Bill turned out the most pages, even if they were not all used.  This made Bill a problem child.

The unofficial Writers’ Guild strawboss on the lot came to me.

“Faulkner is turning out too many pages.  He sits up all night sometimes writing and turns in fifty to sixty pages in the morning.  Try and speak to him.”

 


Showbiz

a non-industry friend asked me to summarize the current dispute between the WGA and the ATA.  I did my best:

Anyway.  We welcome comment!


Should we boycott The Beverly Hills Hotel?

George Clooney says yes.  The reason why is because this hotel, along with nine other fancy hotels, the Bel-Air here and some in London and France, are owned by the Sultan of Brunei.  Clooney:

At the head of it all is the Sultan of Brunei who is one of the richest men in the world. The Big Kahuna. He owns the Brunei Investment Agency and they in turn own some pretty spectacular hotels.

A couple of years ago two of those hotels in Los Angeles, The Bel-Air and The Beverly Hills Hotel were boycotted by many of us for Brunei’s treatment of the gay community. It was effective to a point. We cancelled a big fundraiser for the Motion Picture Retirement Home that we’d hosted at the Beverly Hills Hotel for years. Lots of individuals and companies did the same. But like all good intentions when the white heat of outrage moves on to the hundred other reasons to be outraged, the focus dies down and slowly these hotels get back to the business of business.

But now there’s a new law going into place in Brunei.  Says Clooney:

The date April 3rd has held a unique place in our history over the years. Theologians and astronomers will tell you that Christ was crucified on that date.

(what?)

On April 3rd Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan, arguably the greatest postwar intervention in the history of man. The first portable cellphone call was made on April 3rd. Marlon Brando was born on that day.

But this April 3rd will hold its own place in history. On this particular April 3rd the nation of Brunei will begin stoning and whipping to death any of its citizens that are proved to be gay. Let that sink in. In the onslaught of news where we see the world backsliding into authoritarianism this stands alone.

Here’s the thing though.  The last execution of any kind in Brunei was in 1957.

It’s not like they’re stoning people all the time.  The 1957 execution actually happened while Brunei was a UK protectorate.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, four years ago:

In 2014, a 24-year-old Saudi Arabian man was sentenced to three years detention and 450 lashes after a Medina court found him guilty of “promoting the vice and practice of homosexuality”, after he was caught using Twitter to arrange dates with other men.[18]

A year ago, in Hollywood:

On Wednesday night, M.B.S. was welcomed to a Hollywood dinner hosted by producer Brian Grazer and his wife Veronica, alongside William Morris Endeavor boss Ari Emanuel, who is finalizing a deal with M.B.S. for a $400 million stake in Emanuel’s talent agency. The guest list was saturated with executives, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Disney’s Bob Iger, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel, as well as tech entrepreneur Kobe Bryant, whom the prince reportedly made a special request to meet. Having traded his traditional ceremonial garb for a suit, M.B.S. kibitzed with former Trump aide Dina Powell and Vice co-founder Shane Smith; discussed the exploding use of Snapchat in Saudi Arabia; and asked Kobe how he got his Oscar. Topics that were deemed off-limits included the 32-year-old’s bombing campaign in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians; his abduction of Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, in November; and the decidedly un-Hollywood-like repression of independent media and journalists, one of whom was recently imprisoned for five years for “insulting” the royal court.

And guess what?  The Four Seasons

is 45% owned by the Kingdom Holding Company of Saudi Arabia!

For whatever reason, Brunei likes to fantasize, pretend, and profess to having Sharia law. Hollywood likes to judge them for that, while obviously not being serious about caring about human rights in countries where it’s more important to do business and whose hotels it would be more inconvenient to boycott.

One of the easiest things in the world is to point out hypocrisy.  I think George Clooney is cool.  But why are we always picking on poor Brunei?  Because it’s easy?

What we’re pretending to be mad about, what we’re pretending to do about it, what Brunei is pretending their punishments are: it’s all make-believe.

I will boycott the Beverly Hills Hotel I guess.  But I’ll be sad about it because I think it’s a beautiful, cool landmark.  I especially like the Fountain Coffee Room.

I predict in a few years we will once again forget about our mission to improve things in Brunei.


Sun Tzu and Ovitz

From a list of cool things in Michael Ovitz memoir:

10. Sun Tzu Move II: “I’d wash my hands 30 times a day and insist that my assistants not touch my food.”

11. As a result, he never got sick, except when he took vacations.

12. Sun Tzu Move III: “When the leading figures in television entered our lobby, we kept them waiting long enough to be spotted by anyone who happened to be in the building.”

by Richard Rushfield in his newsletter The Ankler ($45 a year to subscribe, recommended if you are interested in Hollywood).

Rushfeld points out, how many agents even have a favorite philosopher?

I got down this Penguin edition.  Impressed with this John Minford translation:

How do we even translate whatever character represents “dispositions”?

Whom did Ovitz consider “the enemy”? WMA?  When Sun Tzu used the word enemy, what other meanings could that word have had, in English, I wonder?

Dr. Melfi tells Tony Soprano if he wants to become a better gang leader, he should read Sun Tzu.  How much would it help him?

Meanwhile:


Hollywood: A Very Short Introduction

The sequence beginning around 3:30 is captivating.

What’s going on here?  We are right to be confused:

So I’m told in this one:

Some of the Oxford Very Short Introduction books aren’t that helpful.  Some are great.  I got a lot out of this one.  I didn’t know this story about Lucille Ball, for instance:


Nice Try Hall Of Fame

when Harvey Weinstein’s then-lawyer Lisa Bloom said he’s “an old dinosaur learning new ways”


nightmare


Great book, great name

 

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Somehow came across the name Hortense Powerdermaker and I knew I had to have her book. img_9109-1

Some good observations:

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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang:

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How about this?:

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Me, I’m trying to be like Mr. Well Adjusted:

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Ridiculous

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Amazing letter from The Academy.  Imagine sending out an email in which you described your own organization’s action of slightly adjusting membership rules as “courageous.”


Writers in Hollywood

Pizzlolatto

I spent the ensuing weeks across a table from Nic, hashing out plotlines. It gave me a chance to study him at close quarters. No one was more vehement about character and motivation than Nic. Now and then, he’d do the voices or act out a scene, turning his wrist to demonstrate the pop-pop of gunplay. He was 37 but somehow ageless. He could’ve stepped out of a novel by Steinbeck. The writer as crusader, chronicler of love and depravity. His shirt was rumpled, his hair mussed, his manner that of a man who’d just hiked along the railroad tracks or rolled out from under a box. He is fine-featured, with fierce eyes a little too small for his face. It gives him the aura of a bear or some other species of dangerous animal. When I was a boy and dreamed of literature, this is how I imagined a writer—a kind of outlaw, always ready to fight or go on a spree. After a few drinks, you realize the night will culminate with pledges of undying friendship or the two of you on the floor, trying to gouge each other’s eyes out.

I love True Detective and I loved, loved reading this profile of Nic Pizzolatto in Vanity Fair (from which I steal the above photo, credited to Art Streiber).

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I did have a quibble, though.

Here’s what profile writer Rich Cohen says about F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood:

Early in the history of film, when the big-time writers of the day, Fitzgerald most famously, were offered a role in the movies, they decided to write for the cash, forswearing deeper participation in a medium they considered second-rate. Perhaps as a result of this decision, the author came to be the forgotten figure in Hollywood, well paid but disregarded. According to the old joke, “the actress was so stupid she slept with the writer.”

Later:

Credit and power are shared. But by tossing out that first season and beginning again, Nic has a chance to finally undo the early error of Fitzgerald and the rest. If he fails and the show tanks, he’ll be just another writer with one great big freakish hit. But if he succeeds, he will have generated a model in which the stars and the stories come and go but the writer remains as guru and king.

Not sure this is totally accurate.  I’ve read a decent amount about F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood.  The more you read, the more it seems like Fitzgerald really loved Hollywood, and tried really hard to be good at writing movies, and was distressed by his failures.  Fitzgerald loved movies:

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When Fitzgerald worked on movies, it seems like he worked hard, was hurt when he was (frequently) fired, which sent him into tailspins that made things worse.  But he was trying:

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Those are from the great Marc Norman’s book, highly recommended:

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Or how about this?:

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That’s from this great one, by Scott Donaldson:

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Now, that’s not to say that Fitzgerald always did everything perfectly:

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(from this one, very entertaining read:

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).

On the other hand, William Faulkner did well in Hollywood.  He’s credited on at least two movies — The Big Sleep and To Have And Have Not, that you’d have to put in the all-time good list.  If he’d never written a single book, you could look at those credits and call Faulkner a pretty successful screenwriter.

What did Faulkner do differently than Fitzgerald?  Possibly, his secret was caring less:

IMG_8502 More, from Norman:
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Murky, to be sure.

But you might say: the big difference in the Hollywood careers of Fitzgerald and Faulkner is that Faulkner teamed with a great director, Howard Hawks, who liked him and liked working with him.

That’s what Pizzolatto did too.  He teamed up with Cary Fukunaga. Cary Fukunaga directed all eight episodes of season one of True Detective (and a bunch of other things worth seeing).

Fukunaga’s not mentioned once in that Vanity Fair article.  That’s crazy.

Anyway. I’m excited for season two, it sounds super interesting.