FAHRENHEIT 451 (director/writer: Francois Truffaut; screenwriter: Jean-Louis Richard/based on the novel by Ray Bradbury; cinematographer: Nicolas Roeg; editor: Thom Noble; music: Bernard Herrmann; cast: Oskar Werner (Montag), Julie Christie (Linda/Clarisse), Cyril Cusack (Captain), Anton Diffring (Fabian), Bee Duffell (Book Woman), Jeremy Spenser (Man with the Apple), Alex Scott (“The Life of Henry Brulard”), Michael Balfour (Machiavelli’s “Prince”); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lewis M. Allen; Universal; 1966-UK)
“This is the kind of film that should encourage the perceptive viewer to rush out to the library to read someone like Herman Melville before it’s too late.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (451 degrees is the temperature at which books burn) is a better film than it has been perceived by most critics and the public, and even the director himself. Though clearly not as good as the book. It takes on more significance as a fable about a futuristic society much like our own comfortable technological unthinking one, but with fascist book banning tendencies and limits on free expression more than as a work of pure sci-fi– which might be the reason it has been so misunderstood. It has been adapted from a 1953 Ray Bradbury story, and is one of Truffaut’s most personal but least successful films. This was the French filmmaker’s first film in English and first in color, stunningly photographed by Nicolas Roeg. It was made in London’s Pinewood Studios. It should be noted that Truffaut was displeased with the film and with the Hollywood styled filming process, as he had a power struggle with star Oskar Werner about how to portray his role and because of his limited English never felt comfortable during the shoot. Werner saw his role as an heroic figure, while Truffaut opted for an anti-hero portrayal.
Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) is an obedient special fireman of the near futuristic society, wearing a patch with the icon of a coiled fire-breathing dragon and the number “451,” and willing to carry out his orders to burn books, which is the only duty required since all homes are fireproof. He’s married to a vacuous television addict and drug prescription user named Linda (Julie Christie), who approves of a non-thinking society and her husband’s mission. Things change when Guy meets on the monorail a school teacher who resembles his wife only in looks, the pro-literature underground revolutionary Clarisse (Christie, in a double role), who shames him into breaking the law and reading the books he’s burning. Taking note on how the books curl up when they burn, leads him to become more curious about the books. David Copperfield is the first one grabbed up from the ashes and read, and he soon becomes obsessed with saving all the lost treasures from destruction. He’s betrayed by his informer wife and lured by Clarisse, whom he has fallen in love with, to a primitive tribe of a forest-dwelling community where all of the residents have chosen to commit a classic literary work to memory, so that it can be transmitted to future generations. The rebels have the glassy-eyed idyllic look of the self-righteous as they are so sure of their cause, that they are content to live in exile even if reality has them in a snowy uninhabitable forest by a shimmering icy lake that resembles hell–which gives that scene such a haunting look. Whatever you may think of the film, the filmmaker’s love of books is shown and he intelligently captures Bradbury’s visions about the importance of maintaining individuality and his fears of a censored and mindless society. This is the kind of film that should encourage the perceptive viewer to rush out to the library to read someone like Herman Melville before it’s too late.
REVIEWED ON 1/6/2004 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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