Because I wrote my senior thesis and MA thesis on various Faulkner novels (and because I still love teaching pretty much anything by Faulkner when I get the chance), I’ve been curious for years to see the 1959 Martin Ritt adaptation of The Sound and the Fury. Now, thanks to the power of YouTube–the film isn’t currently available on DVD or VHS–and the similar curiosity of Michael Berube, I’ve managed to see it (or at least the first eight minutes). Like Michael, I’d heard it was a poor adaptation. I knew that Yul Brenner played Benjy and that the male Quentin Compson was rewritten as “Uncle Howard,” someone much older than Quentin, a southern gentleman addicted to his gin and tonics.
Until I read Michael’s post, I wasn’t prepared for the 1950s-style jazzy score or the transformation of the younger, female Quentin into the film’s heroine. Or her voice-over narration and bus rides back from Memphis. I’m not necessarily opposed to film adaptations of novels, even those that radically reinterpret the “original” text, but this is more than a bad reading of the novel; it’s something far more surreal. I’m tempted to go back and watch the whole thing later when I’m not pressed for time, just to marvel in the strangess of this attempt to convey something–the story? the spirit? a few characters?–from Faulkner’s novel.