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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Sound and the Fury (Blu-ray)
The Sound and the Fury (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // Unrated // September 11, 2012 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Screenarchives]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 11, 2012 | E-mail the Author
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Conventional wisdom insists that William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury is unfilmable, what with its chaotic timeline, numerous shifts in perspective, parade of unreliable narrators, and occasional disinterest in coherent dialogue. This 1959 adaptation skirts around all that by...well, discarding just about everything that Faulkner put on the page.

The Sound and the Fury revolves around the Compsons, a proud Southern family that once enjoyed great wealth and prestige. Those days are now a distant, faded memory. The Compson name has been tarnished by one scandal
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after another, the family is near-penniless, and their last remaining source of pride is the family plantation that long ago decayed into rot and ruin. The focal point of this adaptation is teenaged Quentin Compson (Joanne Woodward), who never knew her father and was abandoned a lifetime ago by her mother. Among those with whom Quentin shares the crumbling Compson estate are her three uncles: one simpleminded (Jack Warden), another a hopeless lush (John Beal), and the third -- Jason (Yul Brynner) -- an overbearing, hot-tempered patriarch who bears the Compson name but none of the family's blood.

There really isn't a traditional narrative arc so much as a parade of shame and misery: Quentin squabbles with a seemingly cruel "uncle" who steals from her, the bratty girl becomes smitten with a sleazy circus performer (Stuart Whitman), the family reels from the return of the shamed, exiled Caddy (Margaret Leighton), Ben is paraded around in public as a freak of nature, and Jason is sneered at by the man who now holds the reins on the family's former store. It's not without purpose, following Quentin as she casts teenaged naïveté and bitterness aside...as she comes to better respect both her family and her role in it...but it basically feels as if The Sound and the Fury is strip-mining every last cliché from the Southern Melodrama Playbook for a tedious, uninvolving, awkwardly crafted soap opera.

The Sound and the Fury never received any sort of proper home video release: not on DVD, not on Laserdisc, and, as far as I can tell, not even on VHS. At first glance, that seems impossible to believe, given its
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association with such a widely praised novel, a tremendously gifted cast, and a director with a slew of Palme d'Or, Academy Award, and Golden Lion nominations to his name. Shortly after I began slogging my way through this extraordinarily loose adaptation, I quickly understood why: it's awful.

As ardent an admirer of Yul Brynner's as I am, he's horrifically miscast as a Southern gentleman, with his harsh, not-even-vaguely-American accent about as convincing as that God-awful hairpiece. Joanne Woodward brings some much-welcomed fire to Quentin, although the native Georgian adopts an overly theatrical Southern lilt and doesn't look all that much like a teenager. Neither of the two leads are particularly sympathetic or likeable for much of the film, reduced to one-or-two-note cariactures. There's precious little depth or humanity to much of anyone else in front of the camera, for that matter. Heavily truncating the Faulkner novel robs The Sound and the Fury of most every trace of tragedy and humanity. Plot points generally feel as if the screenwriters were disinterestedly chugging their way through a laundry list of Southern tropes. The novel's intangible treatment of Caddy -- a character defined by each member of the family's very different perceptions of her -- makes way for more of a garden variety aging, repentant slut. It's borderline-criminal, although placing the phenomenal Margaret Leighton in the role eases the sting somewhat. Quentin's namesake is barely mentioned in passing, and Benji -- renamed Ben in the film -- is a minor supporting character at best, despite both being pivotal characters in Faulkner's work. In general, any element that carries any emotional weight or significance in the novel has been haphazardly tossed aside.

There really are aspects of The Sound and the Fury that I appreciate. For one, the photography and production design are occasionally striking. The score by the brilliant Alex North is easily the most remarkable element of the film. It's just that, love it or hate it, Faulkner's novel is a challenging, complex work. In trying to adapt the unadaptable, The Sound and the Fury becomes flat, lifeless, indescribably boring, and just...ordinary. The Sound and the Fury isn't just an excruciatingly awful adaptation of the Faulkner classic; it's a failure as a movie, period. Part of me is thrilled that a deeply polarizing, long-unseen film is out there to be discussed and re-evaluated, but from where I'm sitting, I can't muster even a little bit of enthusiasm for such a baffling misfire. Skip It.

The Sound and the Fury generally looks quite nice in 1080p. There's very little in the way of wear or damage. The subdued palette greatly complements the family's decaying glory, emphasizing browns, dull greens, and light blues. I don't have a point of comparison, but I'm still left feeling that the reproduction of these colors is largely accurate. It's not the crispest title in Twilight Time's catalogue, but sharpness and fine detail are more than respectable just the same. Even outside of opticals, a handful of sequences do have somewhat of a 'dupey' look to them, presumably culled from lower-quality elements than the rest of the film. I snapped a screenshot of one example below that's somewhat DVD-like in appearance, and the dinner quarrel that follows soon after is also on the rough side:

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The quality can vary quite a bit from scene to scene, and there are some definite eccentricities with these anamorphic lenses, but I'm overall happy with what Fox and Twilight Time have delivered here. The Sound and the Fury arrives on a single layer Blu-ray disc, and the 2.35:1 presentation has been encoded with AVC.

The Sound and the Fury boasts a reasonably strong stereo soundtrack, presented here in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio. Alex North's score is far and away its greatest strength, benefitting from startlingly clear instrumentation and a robust low-end. The film's dialogue struggles somewhat by comparison. More loudly shouted lines -- in no short supply here -- sound harsh and clipped. The recording isn't particularly adept, with the levels wavering considerably as actors move throughout the sets. A couple stretches are hollow and distant, as if I'm watching a smalltown stage play rather than a studio film. The stereo separation
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doesn't feel altogether comfortable at times, and the attempts at directionality can be jarring when line readings leap around the soundscape from cut to cut. I'll also admit to finding quite a bit of Yul Brynner's dialogue to be completely unintelligible early on, something I've never run into in his many other films I've watched on DVD and Blu-ray. I'm sure quite a bit of this dates back to the original production and is no fault of this Blu-ray disc. I guess the short answer is that The Sound and the Fury's score sounds wonderful while the reproduction of the film's dialogue is unavoidably hit or miss.

An isolated score aside, there are no other audio options: no alternate mixes, no dubs, and no subtitles.

  • Isolated Score: Featured here is a 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio isolated score.

The Sound and the Fury is accompanied by another in a long line of terrific essays by Julie Kirgo.

The Final Word
The Sound and the Fury more or less tosses the Faulkner novel aside in favor of a tedious, glacially paced, wildly miscast, Southern-fried soap opera. At no point does this adaptation -- if you want to call it that -- threaten to intrigue or engage. On some level, I appreciate the cinematography and production design, and there's something to be said for its message of female empowerment, but The Sound and the Fury is otherwise a complete misfire. Skip It.
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