William Faulkner’s The Reivers

The Reivers, which was published in 1962, the same year its author, William Faulkner, died is a coming-of-age story that takes place in northern Mississippi and southern Tennessee in 1905.  It concerns a stolen car, a horse race, and some very colorful rural people – both black and white.  The book won a Pulitzer Prize the following year.  This was Faulkner’s second Pulitzer Prize.

Despite the ease of reading and enjoyable story, and despite the fact that it won a Pulitzer, The Reivers is not nearly as well known as some of Faulkner’s other novels such as The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Light in August.  In fact, that’s a bit surprising because it contains three elements that people seem to enjoy in a novel: sex, drugs, and violence.  One thing that some might possibly see as a negative is the leisurely pace at which the story proceeds, but other people may say that Faulkner is simply taking time to develop his very entertaining and sometimes comical characters.

The movie adaptation of The Reivers was released in 1969.  It starred Steve McQueen as the wild and unpredictable Boon Hoganbeck and was narrated by Burgess Meredith, as Lucius, who is telling the story of what happened to him, Boon, and a wise black man named Ned McCaslin (Rupert Crosse) 60 years before.  The music was composed by the great John Williams before he became famous for the music scores of such movies as Jaws, the Star Wars series, the Indiana Jones series, and Schindler’s List.

When movies were first made there was a debate about whether or not music should be used in films.  But even during the age of silent movies, pianists were often hired by theater owners to play music during the showing of a film – though the music might have also been used to mask the sound of the noisy projectors which were routinely placed in the same rooms as the audiences.

Once most people in the movie business accepted the idea that music was an essential part of setting a mood, signaling impending danger, or raising the level of interest in an action scene such as a sword fight, the debate became about how noticeable the music should be.  Some argued that it should be perceived subliminally while others insisted that it should register almost as strongly as the dialogue.

Williams has weighed in on the side of those who think we should be conscious of the music by showing the opening scene of Jaws, where the young woman is swimming in the ocean, with and without the music he wrote for that scene.   Without the music the young woman might simply be enjoying a moonlight swim.  With the music added you know that something horrible is about to happen to her and you’re on the edge of your seat or hiding your eyes.  Once you’ve seen the movie that music will forever be imprinted on your brain.

Music for Stage and Screen

Williams’ CD, Music for Stage and Screen, contains a track that tells the most interesting part of the story from the movie adaptation of The Reivers.  Like the movie, this quick sequence of pivotal events is narrated by the very capable Burgess Meredith.  Remarkably, the 18+ minute track has relatively long segments that are only music.  Meredith could have filled in those segments with dialogue, but he didn’t need to.  Williams did a great job of moving the plot along without Meredith’s help.  You only hear music, but you’re never in doubt about what is taking place.  And in every case your mind is creating the scenes just as surely as if Meredith was describing them.

I found this track from Music for Stage and Screen on YouTube, and I encourage you to listen to it.  Then consider watching the entire movie.  Or better still, take time to read The Reivers.

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