mbranesf (mbranesf) wrote,
mbranesf
mbranesf

Dream Journal: The Serling/Faulkner TV show that should have been

Early this morning I had a dream that I discovered on Netlfix a 1950s-era TV series produced by Rod Serling and based on William Faulkner's work. This was so cool that I had to write it down, but instead of just recounting the dream, I decided to splice it into the work-in-progress (my still-ongoing NaNoWriMo project). A new excerpt from it:

...but after this release, A-R did not return to the book. Instead he turned on the TV, selected his Netflix queue. He’d become rather interested in an old TV series called Yoknapatawpha County. It was a creepy Southern Gothic soap opera of sorts, with a lot of horror elements. Rod Serling had produced it (same guy who also made The Twilight Zone) with teleplays penned mostly by William Faulkner, and it had run on TV in the late 1950s. It had been quite popular despite its opaque plotlines and densely written scripts and its often-macabre subject matter. But evidently it also had been heavily censored during its original run, many of its episodes bowdlerized in the cutting room or never aired at all in order to protect the sensitivities of 1950s TV viewers from moral offense. But the show’s current studio owner had recently undertaken to restore it to the TV show that Serling and Faulkner had intended it to be. Never-aired episodes were unearthed. Scenes were restored to other episodes. The whole thing was meticulously re-mastered, its black-and-white imagery newly crisp and mesmerizing on a hi-def screen, its shades of grey rendered into a glistening plasma of strangeness from another era, its soundtrack music once again like a transfixing Circe-call.

        The show was built around a series of story arcs centered upon the rivalry between two decayed families of the series’ eponymous fictional county, the Snopes and the Compsons, the former being relatively low-brow newcomers to the county and the latter being the remnants of an antebellum aristocracy. Interspersed among these ongoing storylines were many stand-alone episodes about various incidents of mystery, horror and evil chicanery. One of the “lost” episodes that had run afoul of 1950s censors focused on one of the Compson boys—a “mental defective” named Benjy—who tried to sexually assault a girl and was then castrated for it. The story was unspooled almost languidly by way of Faulkner’s ornate language, and filtered through camerawork that made the whole thing look like something seen through shifting black-and-white stained glass. But the result was a thing both stunningly frank and surprisingly graphic. A-R wondered if it would meet broadcast standards even now, and he was not at all surprised that it’d been suppressed back in 1959. Another episode uncovered a group of social outliers—some frightful white trash, relatives of the county’s Klan-involved sheriff—who were processing dead humans, some murdered and some grave-robbed, into smoked sausage and decorating their unspeakably filthy pine woods hovel with desiccated and tanned human remains. Some of the series’ horror even ventured fully into the supernatural, with acknowledgements of vampires, specters and voodoo zombies afoot in the county, these made even creepier by the way the characters never seemed to regard any of these goings-on as things outside their ordinary experience.

         A-R had thought about that a lot lately: weird goings-on that weren’t regarded as anything outside the humdrum of day-to-day life on Earth. He’d observed that the “heat bubble” phenomenon that had been blanketing Wisconsin—where Chris persisted in staying for far too long—was generally commented upon as being rather unexpected, but also that no one was particularly concerned with explaining it. Indeed, the only media attention he’d seen devoted to its basic weirdness was on a single broadcast of NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show when Rehm and a climate scientist discussed the topic, the scientist wearily dismissing the whole thing as just another symptom of the world winding down and suggesting that humanity ought to just lie back and accept its obvious impotence over the natural affairs of the universe.

         One multi-episode arc of Yoknapatawpha County’s second season featured in its background a steady rainstorm that had persisted for months without a break. The eeriness of the phenomenon laid not so much with the bare fact of it but rather the characters’ complete nonchalance about it. It was a detail that impinged only incidentally on the events of the main storyline. A truck tire might be mired in mud because of it, or a woman’s hair might be soaked when otherwise it might not have been. But that was all. This reminded A-R of Wisconsin, the heat bubble, and now the temporal disconnect between Wisconsin and the rest of the planet. No one seemed to care about it. It was in front of no one’s attention.

      A-R had had reached season three of the show. The sixth item on the episode guide caught his eye, an episode titled “The Cabinet of Cthulhu.” Its summary stated: “A visiting researcher (Robert Culp) befriends Benjy (Billy Gray) and presses Quentin (James Dean) for the secrets of an ancient seaman’s chest and a hidden cult.”

“WTF?” said A-R aloud, sitting upright, fully articulating it as double-you-tee-eff. Just as the blunt depictions of unvarnished racism, social decay, cannibalism and incest from other episodes seemed out of synch with the utopian cultural mindset of the era in which this show had been made, so, too, did a reference to the Cult Cthulhu, a thing you heard about and encountered routinely nowadays but which did not seem like a thing that could even have existed in the made-up halcyon myth age of 1950s America. Like Mormons, he thought. They were certainly around back then, but you didn’t see boys on bicycles wearing ties every single day like you do now. Nor boys with tentacle chains around their necks stocking weird-looking fruit in the grocery store.

    He clicked WATCH.

Tags: dream journal, lovecraft, nanowrimo, personal writing
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