Saturday, September 6, 2014

Franco does Faulkner ... again!

You be the judge from this short clip of The Sound and the Fury, but for me it doesn't look very promising. as Caddy (I presume) seems to be channeling Lauren Bacall, long before there were even talkies.  The story was initially set in 1910 (as told by Quentin).  Not that novels such as this one can't be re-imagined, but they usually don't turn out very well, like Baz Luhrmann's lurid interpretation of The Great Gatsby.

This isn't the first time James Franco has tackled Faulkner.  Last year he gave us As I Lay Dying, another story that doesn't lend itself to an easy screen adaptation.  It was a game effort and I guess this gave Franco the confidence to go after Faulkner's signature novel.

Martin Ritt had been the only one previously to take a shot at The Sound of the Fury, filming it in 1959, with Yul Brynner and Margaret Leighton as Jason and Caddy, with the interesting choice of Joanne Woodward as Quentin.  It was a star-studded cast that also included Ethel Waters as Dilsey, along with a jarring jazz score by Alex North.

Franco surprisingly casts himself as Benjy, leading one to assume that he will give the woe begotten brother a larger role in the movie.  The opening part of the novel is told through Benjy's eyes, set in 1928, which for first-time readers of Faulkner can be quite a challenge.  In Ritt's version, Quentin is the narrator, taking the second part, set in 1910, as the jumping off point for his story.  For me, it was Jason's perspective in the third part of the novel (forward again to 1928) that brought the story together, as I had struggled mightily with the first two parts to make any sense out of what was going on in this narrative.

So why Franco's interest in Faulkner?  He grew up in the Silicon Valley.  His mother is Jewish and his father of Portuguese and Swedish decent, according to IMDb.  What's his connection with the South?  In an interview with Michael Bibler of Salon, Franco said he felt he "really was in conversation with Faulkner, even though he wasn't alive, he was alive in his work," when he first read As I Lay Dying in high school.  Of course you could say this of any good author, although most directors would be wary of taking on such an ambitious task where others had failed before.

I can't think of one Faulkner novel that has been successfully brought to the screen, largely because his novels were meant to be read, not seen.  Pylon was probably the best screen effort.  Faulkner was in Hollywood by this point and writing screenplays, which is what this novel set in the early days of aviation feels like.  Even still, it was 22 years later that Douglas Sirk adapted the novel to the screen in The Tarnished Angels with Rock Hudson, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone.

The Sound and the Fury will be interesting to see nonetheless, although I think Seth Rogen would have been the more likely choice as Benjy.

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