Famed television writer and former Yale English instructor David Milch announced this week that he's agreed produce some of William Faulkner's works for HBO. There's no word yet on what he'll do, but he's clearly got a lot to work with — nineteen novels, a hundred plus short stories, and some screenplays.
Though Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County and Milch's historical town of Deadwood share similar synergistic post-bellum…oh, wait, sorry, this isn't a shitty grad school essay…
We're pretty sure that Faulkner never used the word “cocksucker” in print but, if he did, we're sure he'd have used it with the same lyrical eloquence as some of Milch's characters. And while detective Andy Sipowicz, played by Dennis Franz in Milch's NYPD Blue, didn't have quite the same nuanced obstinacy as any of the members of Faulkner's Snopes family…we're pretty sure that they're all cut from the same drunk, racist cloth. Either way, we can think of no one better than Milch to handle the southern gothic sensibilities of Mr. Faulkner and all of his writing that brainier folks call “unfilmable.”
To boot, a Faulknerian revival at HBO could mean some awesome things for some talented actors, perhaps from the casts of Treme and Wire…or dare we say a mini Deadwood reunion? Clearly, this is a marriage made in lit-nerd Valhalla.
So yeah, here goes.
6. Michael Shannon in Sound and the Fury
This is the one everyone knows, so why not? It's got all of those classic Faulknerianisms that more than grad students and AP English kids can identify. Michael Shannon is pretty much obligated to play Benjy Compson as an adult. Shannon has done disturbed before in Revolutionary Road, so he'll have no trouble whatsoever playing Faulkner's quintessential idiot manchild — y'know, the one who could literally smell pregnancy? If Shannon's too preoccupied with his other HBO obligations…there's always John C. Reilly.
5. Timothy Olyphant in Absalom, Absalom
Sometimes a difficult read, but a killer story and even better dialogue. Thomas Sutpen (the classic, yet complicated, aristocratic would-be Dixie dynasty-builder) has Timothy Olyphant written all over him…or is it the other way around. C'mon, look at that perfect period facial hair.
4. Shia LeBeouf in Sartoris / Flags in the Dust
The Lost Generation is still hip, right? Well, why not do a proper send-up of Faulkner's first foray into southern aristocrats in their post WW I deep decline. Shia LeBeouf, you're up. Bayard Sartoris is yours for the taking — young-looking, edgy, reckless, foolhardy. A trip into the darkest recesses of the Southern soul might ashen those baby blues and make up for all that transformin' robot gallivanting you've been doing so much of lately. On top of that, Ian McShane has the grit, gristle, and indifferent obstinacy to play his old man. Shit, McShane could probably play every Faulkner character in his age range.
3. Tilda Swinton in As I Lay Dying
Sure, Faulkner has quite a few dudes that brood. But what about the ladies? Particularly the ones that are literally laying there…dying? Spoiler Alert: Addie Bundren, the matriarch of the crazy family depicted via 59 chapters, each told from the perspective of one of 15 characters, doesn't make it past the first chapter…but she's gotta be there the whole time…rotting and getting her face accidentally drilled and whatnot. We think that someone sallow-cheeked and gothic has to hold this'un together…Tilda Swinton, let's do this.
2. Jeffrey Wright in A Light In August
This is one that has some of the edgiest stories and characters. The most memorable of which, Joe Christmas, once called “the loneliest character in American Literature” (we assume it's because he's eventually eunuched), kind of has to hold this one together. Who has the stones (or the lack thereof) to be that brooding, mixed-race, pseudo-Christ-figure? Very easily Jeffrey Wright. Done and done.
1. David Strathairn in That Letter that Faulkner Sent to His Old Flame Who Requested a Blurb
Mr. Milch, we realize that you're probably not doing anything bio-pic-y, but man, have you read this thing? Even at the apex of his curmudgeony alcoholism, Faulkner totally kills it. We're not sure what kind of narrative you could pull out of this…but we've got your title right here: “Rich Close Patch of Delta” (Ol' Bill's not talking about the Mississippi Delta, by the way — he's talking about the nether regions of his lover's…well, you get it.) David Strathairn absolutely must play Mr. Faulkner.