Thursday, June 7, 2012

FAHRENHEIT 451 (Francios Truffaut, 1966, USA)

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether
that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.
To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was
born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve
o'clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike,and I began to cry, simultaneously.”
 -David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Thus is born Guy Montague.

Bradbury is concerned with a world that allows itself to burn knowledge before reading, a prescient warning that society is becoming imbued with apathy and ignorance: it’s not the government censoring our minds…it is ourselves. This is François Truffaut’s only English speaking film and one that is better appreciated upon each viewing. He forgoes a literal adaptation Ray Bradbury’s novel but captures the humanistic ideal at the heart of the story: Truffaut smartly focuses his camera upon Guy Montague’s inner ordeal instead of flashy special effects. 

Nicolas Roeg’s cinematography burns up the screen with its hypnotic entropy; pages crackle and curl, their knowledge floating away into ashes, and the flames seem alive, their dance of death consuming paper, flesh, bone, and our future. The opening credits are spoken as Roeg zooms his focus upon the ubiquitous television antennas, the color scheme changing abruptly like watercolors splashed upon the sky. Oskar Werner’s performance is subtle yet very effective; he conveys a wavering apathy and honor but a young girl sees beneath this façade; she is able to see the true face beneath the fireproof mask. Werner is able to make us believe in Montague as he begins to see the world with new eyes…eyes that now peer upon Dostoyevsky and Goethe, and an imagination that falls into the printed page to experience the brave new world beyond. The choking fumes of kerosene and burning flesh no longer obscure his senses. The always beautiful and fantastic Julie Christie has duel roles: as Montague’s narcissistic wife Linda and the young daydreaming Clarisse, both women guide Montague towards fulfilling his ultimate desire. The Bernard Herrmann score perfectly fits the cadence of the narrative; it’s frantic strings race towards a fiery confrontation or the music softly embraces intimacy or exudes cold indifference. 

There are a few interesting details in the film: the newspapers contain no text and look like comic books, the wall mounted television looks rather like a modern plasma set, Linda plugs her ears with an “iPod”, and the people riding the train are so wrapped up in themselves they make no eye contact, their gestures are masturbatory and self-indulgent. When Linda betrays her husband, Montague incinerates the bed first before tuning the flamethrower upon his superior and fleeing into the cold dark night of the soul. He escapes and finds refuge with Clarisse who is a member of a commune that memorizes books…then must burn them. They become repositories for this precious prose, to be written down and shared once again someday; hopefully the madding crowd will one day put aside its ignoble strife and desire knowledge and find truth (and themselves) in these imaginary worlds. Montague becomes Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales Of Mystery. What book would you become? 

Final Grade: (B+)