Literature and IT Review

Peter O’Toole as John in “The Banshee,” an episode of Ray Bradbury’s Theatre

My tentatively titled dissertation “The Star Director: How John Huston’s Image is Complicated in Fiction” will examine fictional representations of Irish-American film director John Huston. I will use the theoretical framework of star theory to investigate how Huston’s image was constructed through his art, publicity, and personal life. I will then show how the fictional representations complicate Huston’s construction of masculinity, including his “Irish” manhood. Central to my work is the fact that the authors of these texts were screenwriters, and thus had the opportunity to see the man, his star image, and the space in-between where he was constructed.

The primary texts that I will be analyzing are the novel White Hunter, Black Heart by Peter Viertel (Doubleday & Company, 1953); its film adaptation by Clint Eastwood (Warner Brothers, 1990); the novel The Deer Park by Norman Mailer (G.P Putnam Son’s, 1955); the film The Way We Were written by Arthur Laurents (Columbia Pictures, 1973); the novel Green Shadows, White Whale by Ray Bradbury (Harper Collins, 1992); an episode of Ray Bradbury’s Theater titled “The Banshee” (HBO, 1996); and the play Finishing the Picture by Arthur Miller (Methuen Drama, 2009). I am aware that seven texts is a lot for a project of this scope, but I will at least include all of them in my introduction to emphasize the sheer number of Huston’s fictional representations.

Richard Dyer’s seminal book Stars (British Film Institute, 1979) compiles all previous scholarship on stardom and applies the theories to a number of actors. Stars will not only help me understand different interpretations of the framework, but will point me to new critics. In particular, I will use Dyer’s idea of stars as performers. I am also interested in Christine Gledhill’s analysis of stars as deviants from her book Stardom: Industry of Desire (Psychology Press, 1991) because of Huston’s bad boy persona. My application of star theory deviates from its normal use because I am analyzing a director.

Directors are more commonly associated with auteur theory, which was coined in Francois Truffaut’s essay “Une certaine tendance du cinéma français” (Cahiers du Cinema, 1954). Although I do not want to overly engage with auteur theory, I will reference this essay to argue that the star director could not exist without the emergence of auteurism. Andrew Sarris’ “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962” (Film Culture, 1962) and Peter Wollen’s “The Auteur Theory” (Indiana UP, 1972) elaborate on the framework. As such, I will consult them when describing the relationship between Huston’s star image and his films.

There is a lack of scholarship on Huston as a fictional character, except for the essay “The Way We Were and White Hunter, Black Heart: Huston in Fiction and Real Life” by Patrick McGillian (Macfarland & Company, 2010), and therefore it is a crucial text. In the essay, McGillian analyzes the films to show the disparity between Huston as a man and as a director. I want to expand upon his argument by linking to the other primary texts, discussing the importance of the author as screenwriter, and using star theory.

McGillian’s essay is included in the book John Huston: Essays on a Restless Director (Macfarland & Company, 2010), which was edited by Tony Tracy and Roddy Flynn. Tracy and Flynn are Irish academics and thus the anthology is an essential tool in helping me situate Huston within an Irish academic context. For example, Flynn and Dion O’Connell’s essay “John Huston and the Irish Film Industry” argues that Huston’s involvement in the industry was self-serving. This essay will ground my assertion that the writers present fictional Huston as a man who is performing his Irishness.

While I do not want to dwell on salacious details of Huston’s life, I need to carefully include biographical information and publicity, as this is how Huston’s star image was constructed. I will use Hustons: The Life and Times of a Hollywood Dynasty by Lawrence Grobel (Skyhorse, 2014), which is one of the most thorough biographies on Huston available. I will consult John Huston: Interviews by Emmet Long (UP of Mississippi, 2001) and Huston’s memoir An Open Book (Knopf, 1980) to find evidence of how he mediated his image. The former is particularly interesting because it shows his interactions with the press. The chapter “An Open Book (1980):“Sufficiently Absurd”’ in Leslie Brill’s book John Huston’s Filmmaking (Cambridge UP, 1997) examines drafts of the memoir to show how conscientiously Huston crafted the book.

I have accessed resources that will provide me with biographical and critical analyses of Huston’s life in Ireland. The Boole Library’s subscription to Proquest’s database of Irish newspaper archives has supplied me with a wealth of articles on Huston in Ireland. Brian Reddin’s Irish-language documentary John Huston: An t Éireannach (TG4, 1996) details his Irish life and includes interviews with family, journalists, collaborators, as well as rare footage. Additionally, the chapter “Sultante of St. Clerans, 1950-1960” in Jeffery Meyers’ book John Huston: Courage and Heart (Crown Archetype, 2011) contextualizes Huston’s Irish persona.

In terms of the construction of masculinity, Gaylyn Studlar and David Desser’s book Reflections in the Male Eye: John Huston and the American Experience will be a core text (Smithsonian Books, 1993). The anthology contains feminist and gender studies essays on the male body, representations of masculinity, and Huston’s view of American manhood. Another important book will be Acting Male: Masculinities in the Films of James Stewart, Jack Nicholson, and Clint Eastwood (Rutgers UP, 1994), which analyzes how Eastwood used the Huston character to explore the intricacies of his own macho image. I will use these texts to define Huston’s construct of masculinity and will then show how the primary texts challenge that construct.

Even though there is not much scholarship on the primary texts in terms of the Huston character, I have found a few reviews and critical essays such as “Green Shadows, White Whale (1992)” in Ray Bradbury: A Critical Companion by Robin Anne Reid (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000) and “Norman Mailer: ‘Deer Park’ Letters” (New York Review of Books, 2009), which will provide contextual analysis. However, the dearth of critical material on the primary texts is worth noting.

I can access most of the sources in the Boole Library or online. However, I intend to sign up for the inter-library loan system because the National University of Ireland, Galway has a larger collection of books on Huston since their film school is named after him. I plan on using the online software Todoist, which allows me to set tasks and track my productivity as I write. Finally, I have been using Zotero to compile my references.

Works Cited

McGahee, Geno. “The Ray Bradbury Theater: The Banshee (1986).” Scared Stiff Reviews, 13 June 2015, http://www.scaredstiffreviews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/banshee_6.jpg

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