I’m a huge William Faulkner fan. His novel The Sound and the Fury had a huge impact on my reading habits when I entered high school. The shifts in form and style resonated with me even if it took a few readings to put the whole thing together.
Faulkner was one of the key American authors working during the Modernism/Interwar Avant Garde period. He was part of the explosion of radical experimentation in art between World War I and World War II.
It couldn’t have been a surprise when Woody Allen included a William Faulkner shout out in his time traveling fairy tale of obsessive nostalgia Midnight in Paris. The film was stuffed with quick scenes featuring artists, musicians, and writers of the period. Can you really focus that much on Papa Hemingway and not throw out a little love to Faulkner?
However, William Faulkner’s estate is not happy with his inclusion in the film. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Sony (the distributors of Midnight in Paris) are being sued by Faulkner’s estate for copyright infringement and damages.
Woody Allen included a close approximation–attributed to Faulkner–of a famous quotation from Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun. As Faulkner wrote it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” As Allen rewrote it, “The past is not dead! Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party.”
I think this is a frivolous lawsuit inspired by greed. If Woody Allen didn’t attribute the quotation in the film, Faulkner’s people wouldn’t have known it was included. Why? It is so radically changed in form and context that it ceases to be a direct quotation.
Let’s say that it is close enough to be a violation of the copyright. The inclusion in Midnight in Paris puts it in the gray area of criticism. Woody Allen critiques the lives, works, and philosophies of the artists living in 1920s Paris throughout the film. The criticism is included in a commercial film, but it’s still criticism. That’s what makes the copyright infringement claim a gray one.
The Faulkner Estate claims that this use will confuse the public about their involvement in the film. They believe that Sony/Woody Allen not clearing the quotation with them means that they are trying to profit off of Faulkner’s name. I would buy the argument if this wasn’t literally a throwaway gag in the middle of a huge (probably drug-fueled) rant. I didn’t even catch the Faulkner reference the first time I watched the film.
Here are the facts of the case. Requiem for a Nun is not in the public domain. Woody Allen paraphrased two sentences in a commercial film obsessed with critical analysis of the people, culture, and work of Modernism. The Faulkner Estate wants money for an unlicensed use.
This case is going to come down to fair use. How much can be used/paraphrased before an infringement occurs? Does the blink and you’ll miss it context change the potential damage? And what of the non-stop literary criticism included in the film to define the cultural parameters of the story? My gut instinct tells me this case will never see trial. I have a feeling everyone involved knows deep down that it’s a ridiculous claim.
What do you think? Share your thoughts below.