White Dog (book)
Cover of first edition, French release
|Original title||Chien Blanc|
|Country||France, United States|
|Publisher||Éditions Gallimard (French)
New American Library (English)
White Dog, released in France as Chien Blanc, is a fictional autobiographical novel written by Romain Gary. Originally published as a short story in Life in 1970 (9 October), the full novel was published in 1970 in French in France by Éditions Gallimard. Gary's English version of the novel was published in North America in the same year by New American Library. The novel provides a fictionalized account of Gary and his wife's experiences in the 1960s with a stray Alabama police dog trained to attack black people on sight, and their attempts to have the dog reprogrammed.
Gary uses the novel as a vehicle to denounce both racism and the activists supporting African-American rights, including his own ex-wife and Marlon Brando. He also examines whether human responses to situations, including racism, are learned social behavior and whether they can be unlearned. In 1981, it was adapted into the controversial film of the same name, in which director Samuel Fuller made various changes to the novel's story to focus more on the dog and present a more pessimistic ending than the original novel. The film's American release after negative press from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) led to concerns of boycotts.
A fictionalized memoir set in both the United States and France during the 1960s American civil rights movement, White Dog focuses on the events that occur after Gary and his then-wife Jean Seberg, an actress and an activist, adopt a handsome and clearly well-trained German Shepherd dog who comes back to their home with one of their other dogs. At first, the dog, which they name Batka, is an ideal new member of the family: intelligent, devoted, and quickly befriending the couple's assortment of other animals. To their dismay, they discover that the dog, a former Alabama police dog, was trained to attack black people on sight. Although they are told the dog is too old to be retrained, they take him to a black dog trainer to try. Instead, the man trains the dog to attack white people, including Gary himself. Gary states that he changed the ending of the American version to be more optimistic.
White Dog was first released as an English short story that appeared in Life magazine in 1968. It was published as a full novel in 1970 in two languages and two countries. A French-language version was published in France under the title Chien Blanc by Éditions Gallimard (ISBN 207027022X) in April 1970. Gary, who is multi-lingual, also wrote an English version, which was published by New American Library in 1970 under its Signet label.
- 1970, France, Éditions Gallimard (ISBN 207027022X), 256 pages, paperback
- 1972, France, Éditions Gallimard (ISBN 2070360504), 220 pages, paperback
- 1970, United States, New American Library, 279 pages, paperback
- 2004, United States, University Of Chicago Press (ISBN 0226284301), 290 pages, paperback
With the use of a "flippant tone and [an] uncomfortable use of sarcasm," White Dog is Gary's dissection of the paranoia generated by both racism and classism as he juxtaposes McCarthyism-American, in which there is an "obsessive sniffing out of 'subversives' and violent race riots," against the barricades and race riots of France in 1968. The violence depicted also provides a discourse on revolutionary social change, as it also leads to "a new order, a new reality." Gary "excoriates American racism, black activism, and movie-colony liberalism" and reflects on American race relations as a whole. He also documents his own "intolerance of intolerance that is the curse of tolerance". Through the dog, Gary examines whether a learned response can be unlearned. He also poses the question of how much freedom and uniqueness a person can claim if humans responses are indeed learned by "social indoctrination."
Within the novel, Gary makes "scathing attacks on self-aggrandising Jewish pro-black sentiment and self-serving celebrity campaigners", while making explicit attacks against Marlon Brando and Seberg for their involvement in civil rights movements and the latter's involvement with the Black Panthers organization. In an interview about the novel, Gary states that as a "typical American idealist" she was an easy mark for people seeking money for causes, and he depicts this in the novel by having her frequently appearing in activist events writing checks. After her death, he called the novel the "story of her crusade".
White Dog quickly became a bestseller in the United States after its English release. Phoebe Adams of The Atlantic felt the story was ironic, and noted that it was "presumably" true. She felt the depiction of Marlon Brando was "tartly funny" and that story as a whole served "as an excuse for Mr. Gary's comments on racial affairs in this country, a matter on which is somewhat less pessimistic than the natives and a good deal more sensible." The Globe and Mail's H. J. Kirchhoff considered it a "riveting, thoughtful work" that serves as a metaphor for American racism. Julien Roumette felt Romain's depiction of the racial tensions in America at the time was "meticulously reconstituted, with a realistic, even documentary, rather exceptional dimension." Julia Weldon of Harper's Magazine remarked with amusement that the events of the novel were ones that "only a Frenchman" could have found himself in. She felt the novel was a "decathlon event" in which Gary turned a "household crisis into a full-scale allegory." Overall, she praised the book as a "memorable portrait of guilt and largess in black and white", noting she felt Gary had lived to "witness his own maturity" though she also wondered if he stretched the truth to "make himself a legend in his own time."
Paramount Pictures purchased the film rights for White Dog in 1975, though the film itself was not produced until 1981, after Gary's suicide. Various changes were made from the original novel's story, including the removal of Gary himself and a tighter focus on the dog. Gary's wife was replaced in the script with a young, unmarried actress as Paramount wanted the film to show a strong contrast between the loving relationship between the protagonist and the dog's random attacks. The novel's hate-filled Muslim black trainer was converted into the character named Keys, who genuinely wished to cure the animal. The novel's original ending was also changed to make it more pessimistic. Directed by Samuel Fuller and starring Paul Winfield and Kristy McNichol, the film's theatrical release was suppressed in the United States out of concern of negative press after rumors began circulating from the NAACP that the film was racist. It was released internationally in France and the United Kingdom in 1982, and broadcast on various American cable television channels. Its first official American release came in December 2008 when The Criterion Collection released the original uncut film to DVD.
In reflecting on the film, Fuller notes that he had known Gary before being offered the chance to direct the White Dog adaptation, and greatly admired both Gary and the novel. He wanted to have the film dedicated to Gary, who had committed suicide before the film was completed, but the studio declined. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he stated "I know [Gary would] have liked it. And he'd have been pleased because his other books (The Roots of Heaven, etc) had not done well as films."
- Hess, John (27 April 1970). "Romain Gary, Who Says He Wants Peace and Quiet, Stirs Storm With Hollywood Memoir". New York Times. p. 9.
- Whedon, Julia (1971). "Books in Brief". Harper's Magazine: 96. ISSN 0017-789X.
- Dombrowski, Lisa (Nov/Dec2008). "Every Dog Has Its Day: The Muzzling of Samuel Fuller's White Dog". Film Comment 44 (6): 46–49.
- Hoberman, J (28 November 2008). "White Dog: Sam Fuller Unmuzzled". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 26 January 2009.
- Hoberman, J. (2003). "Pulp Fictions". The Magic Hour: Film at Fin de Siècle. Temple University Press. p. 12. ISBN 1-56639-995-5.
- Maslin, Janet (12 July 1991). "White Dog (1982) Review/Film; A White Dog as a Metaphor for Racism". New York Times. Retrieved 30 January 2009.
- Kehr, Dave (29 November 1991). "Fuller's fable `White Dog' has its day at last". Chicago Tribune: C. ISSN 1085-6706.
- Schoolcraft, Ralph W. (2002). Romain Gary: The Man Who Sold his Shadow. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 190. ISBN 0-8122-3646-7.
- "Romain Gary Chien Blanc" (in French). Éditions Gallimard. Retrieved 15 March 2009.
- "White Dog". Library of Congress. Retrieved 16 March 2009.
- "White Dog". University Of Chicago Press. Retrieved 16 March 2009.
- Atack, Margaret (1999). "Order and disorder: scenes of violence". May 1968 in French Fiction and Film: Rethinking Society, Rethinking Representation. Oxford University Press. pp. 48–49. ISBN 0-19-871515-3.
- Lim, Dennis (30 November 2008). "A Second Look: Fuller's 'White Dog'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 March 2009.
- Seymenliyska, Elena (1 January 2004). "Saturday Review: Paperbacks: Fiction". The Guardian (UK).
- Smith, J.Y. (3 December 1980). "Novelist Romain Gary Dies of Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound". The Washington Post. p. C5. ISSN 0190-8286.
- Schoolcraft, Ralph W. (2002). Romain Gary: The Man Who Sold his Shadow. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 90. ISBN 0-8122-3646-7.
- Adams, Phoebe (June 1970). "White Dog". The Atlantic Monthly 226 (6): 126. ISSN 0160-6506.
- Kirchhoff, H. J. (13 November 2004). "Paperbacks". Globe and Mail (Canada). p. D21. ISSN 0319-0714.
- Roumette, Julien (2007). "Le cauchemar de l'histoire : Chien blanc à la lumière de La danse de Gengis Cohn". Littératures (in French): 37–60. ISSN 0563-9751.
- Moran, Kim (12 December 2008). "Movies on DVD: White Dog". Entertainment Weekly (1025): 56. ISSN 1049-0434.
- Pearl, Cyril (10 November 2008). "Tipsheet Reviews: White Dog". Video Business 28 (45): 11.
- "White Dog (1982)". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 12 January 2009.
- Mann, Roderick (26 June 1981). "Sam Fuller Films Gary's 'White Dog'". Los Angeles Times. pp. G1, G4.