Archive for August 11th, 2016

fah 9

By Dean Treadway

NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, and of notable irony, I have yet to read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Even though I own a first edition of it (and many other sci-fi/horror books), I mostly read non-fiction, preferring to get my fiction from movies.

It’s been at least a decade since I last viewed Francois Truffaut’s first English-language film (it’s also his first shot in color, a feature decided on by the producers and one that continually disturbed Truffaut, who preferred black-and-white; he needn’t have worried). I can still recall, at 13, first seeing Fahrenheit 451 at the Silver Screen Theater in Atlanta on a drizzly Sunday afternoon. It’s a perfect movie for a rainy day–quiet and grim, with jolting pops of primary color against the grays in nearly every shot (though the dour Oskar Werner, as its lead, seems to drain the color from many frames). The first half-hour is almost without dialogue; most of the spoken words up to that point come from the striking credits sequence, one of the best ever filmed, with neon-colored zoom-ins to rooftop TV antennas playing as an announcer reads the credits (I remember loving this as a kid—a movie about a world without reading, with credits that didn’t require reading! Brilliant!). Shattering the silence is Bernard Herrmann’s needling, string-heavy score, heavily laden with xylophones and glockenspiels. It was the book’s author, Ray Bradbury, who suggested Truffaut pursue Herrmann as composer since, as he noted, Truffaut had of course been a famously published Hitchcock acolyte. The suggestion was exemplary, much better than some hokey electronic score, however one is surprised to learn that Truffaut hadn’t come to this conclusion himself.

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A few times over the past decades, I remember telling a few film lovers how much I admired Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451, only to have the opposition defame my assessment. I was always confused by this, because my first viewing of the film was so memorable, probably due to the fact I’d seen very little Truffaut up to that point, and the New Wave signatures—the pump-ins, the occasional slow-motion, the graphically stunning irises—shook my world. But, seeing it now, I think I understand where they were coming from. Fahrenheit 451, in my advanced age, strikes me as an overly-simplified telling of this tale, first written in 1953 as a reaction against McCarthy-era devaluing of intellectual ideals. As presented in the film, the story is one of personal awakening by its main character, Montag. In this strange vision of a future that is decidedly non-futuristic (I guess the film’s clearly low-budget got in the way of depicting an outlook more technologically far along than this, though I kind of like the mixture of the old and new worlds), Werner plays a fireman—that is, a man that starts fires rather than extinguishes them (“We burn books to ashes, and then we burn the ashes”)—who becomes increasingly dissatisfied with his home and work life. Each day, he is sent out on book-burning missions that have begun to eat into his soul, with his commander (a jangly Cyril Cusack, in a role originally intended for Lawrence Olivier) and chief rival Fabian (haughty Anton Diffring) continually looking over his shoulder as if they know something is up with him. He returns home to Linda, his beautiful but vapid wife (Julie Christie) who can only tear herself away from her flat-screen TV (a bit of prognostication the film gets right) long enough to down sedatives from her blue bottle (amphetamines are in the red one). (more…)

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