Monday, June 27, 2016
50 YEARS OF "FAHRENHEIT"
Starring Oskar Werner,
Directed by Francois Truffaut
Written by Francois Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard
Based on the novel by Ray Bradbury
Runtime 112 minutes
Francois Truffaut’s dystopian masterpiece eerily resonates today. Based on the 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 is Truffaut’s only English-language film and his first one in color.
In the controlled society of a nightmarish future, the job of the firemen is to burn books. Oskar Werner plays Guy Montag, a fireman who meets a teacher named Clarisse. In a dual role, Julie Christie plays the rebellious Clarisse, and also Montag’s pill-popping wife Linda, who spends most of her time watching a giant TV. As his friendship with Clarisse develops, so too does his interest in reading the books that he burns.
For those who haven’t heard of director Francois Truffaut, he was an integral part of the New Wave of French filmmakers. He seems to be an important influence on Steven Spielberg. Spielberg cast him in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and alludes to Fahrenheit 451 with his film Minority Report.
One of the best aspects of the movie is the music. This is true of any film scored by Bernard Herrmann, and particularly so here. Also, the sheer look of the film recommends. It’s interesting that the drab oppression of state-control is contrasted with lots of lawns, trees, and parks. But in those parks, the firemen in their black uniforms wander around snooping through people’s belongings.
In 1966, when the film was released, audiences would recognize the click of the blonde, blue-eyed firemen’s boots sounding like the jackboots of Nazi stormtroopers. A scene where the firemen chase down a guy in the street and forcibly cut his hair would also strike a fascist chord. It gave the film an edge to show how bad things could be in a future where books are banned.
“Is it true,” Clarisse asks Montag, “that a long time ago firemen used to put out fires instead of burn books?”
“Put fires out? Who told you that?”
When he is caught reading, Montag becomes a fugitive. The participant in the authoritarian state who then must elude capture by the same forces he used to serve sounds a little like the story of Moses and a lot like Philip K. Dick’s 1956 short story “The Minority Report.” In the Spielberg film based on the story, the pre-crime unit in jetpacks chasing Tom Cruise directly refers to the firemen in jetpacks chasing Montag.
As Montag, Oskar Werner is the perfect choice. His gloomy, Peter Lorre-ish features reflect the deadening influences of the state, and equally well his determination to read and keep reading once he gets a taste. Julie Christie’s so good in both of her roles, a simple difference in hair-length is the only thing needed to separate Clarisse and Linda visually. It’s almost hard to believe the same person plays both characters.
State-run, reality TV-type programming drawing in viewers through a false sense of participation, perpetually pushing pills on the public, and presenting falsified news as fact in order to maintain control undoubtedly has lost much of its cinematic impact today.
For those who haven’t read the best book about censorship, Fahrenheit 451—that’s the temperature at which book paper ignites—may seem irrelevant. After all, we have e-books now. However, it’s worth noting that if one takes a blow torch to a Kindle, it will in fact become disabled. Trust me.
Cinematic genius still applicable.
Stewart Kirby writes for