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In a future where books have been outlawed, firemen are paid to burn books
instead of put fires out. However, one fireman realizes that what he is
doing is wrong and decides to go against the degenerate society he lives
I have read reviews of this movie calling it "boring" and "outdated," and frankly I am amazed by how ignorant some people can be. Calling "Fahrenheit 451" outdated simply because the set designs look old and because there are no flashy computer effects shows that you have completely missed the point. The people who made this were not trying to give you a spectacle, they were trying to give you a message - a message that is even more important today than it was when this movie came out.
"Fahrenheit 451" is a fine adaptation of Ray Bradbury's classic novel about censorship. The movie changes many of the book's events, but the spirit of the book is preserved. The cinematography is truly great and the score is quite powerful. The acting is also great. Oskar Werner is right on the money as Montag the fireman. Julie Christie is wonderful playing dual roles as yin and yang: Montag's zombie-like wife, Linda, and Montag's friend, the young and energetic Clarisse. Cyril Cusack is also memorable as the evil Fire Captain Beatty - he isn't a cartoon villain, but a very realistic and human character.
You may think that "Fahrenheit 451" delivers an irrelevant message. You may think that book burning is a thing of the past, a relic of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. Look around you - book burning happens every day! How do you feel about people trying to ban "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" because the word "nigger" is used in it? How about whole sections of "Doctor Dolittle" being rewritten so that they are politically correct? Did you know that school textbooks may not make any mention of Mount Rushmore because it is offensive to a certain Indian tribe? Meanwhile, we are watching our giant-screen TVs and listening to our Walkmans (two inventions that were predicted by Bradbury). We are constantly "plugged in" and never take any time to just sit and think. Look around you - Ray Bradbury's story is coming true. I advise you to watch this movie, and to read the book. (Read the book first. You will appreciate the film more.)
I hear that a remake is in the works. No doubt it will be filled with gaudy special effects and silly Hollywood cliches. I guess I should hold off judgment until I actually see it, but I doubt that it will contain any of the genius that can be found in this sadly underrated gem. It will be interesting to see what they do with the mechanical hound, though....
Go figure that I had the privilege of seeing "Fahrenheit 451," for
free, on a big screen a few years back (an independent Illinois art
house had gotten hold of what was allegedly one of the last surviving
prints), and at the time hadn't the foggiest concept of how PRIVILEGED
an event it was. Sitting in a theater crowded with college students on
a budget with nothing better to do, I watched this diverting little
retro item, appreciated its subtlety, nuance, bold visual style, and
'got' the message that if we're not careful, we'll be mindless drones
having our desires dictated by The Tube (in current times, that's
hardly a profound statement).
Francois Truffaut's adaptation of Ray Bradbury's novel is a bold visual feast that presents a time that might seem 'retrograde' in the eye of a modern pop-culture snob, but ultimately projects what a conceivable 'future' might look like (and not that CGI malarkey served up in "The Matrix"). Interiors of houses are awash in odd colors and give shelter to appliances that don't look dissimilar from our own; TV screens embedded in living-room walls play programs which vacuous housewives interact with sometimes. The film is so relentlessly confident in its appearance that it withstands the test of time.
Though if "Fahrenheit 451" only had its storybook style to rely on, it would fade and be filed away as a mere technical achievement. Truffaut, working from strong source material, concocts a riveting parable about ignorance and the things we, as humans, take for granted. The story follows Guy Montag, an Everyman who is employed as a fireman--a connotation which entails ransacking residences in search of books (reading and writing have been outlawed in this world) and burning them. He has a medicated-smile wife (Julie Christie), a quiet home life, and is in line for a promotion, until a neighbor (Christie again) inspires him to question his motives for working such a sordid job.
One character argues that books cause depression, making people confront unpleasant feelings. "Fahrenheit 451" sometimes runs the risk of lending truth to that statement--in some ways, it is a bleak commentary on civilization, but at the same time grounded in a benevolent humanity that offsets Orwell's brutal, pessimistic world of "1984" (though both texts and films share similar themes). This humanity is underlined in an upbeat, even comic ending (the details of which I won't divulge here).
"Fahrenheit 451" is a spellbinding work of art, in good company with other incendiary works ("A Clockwork Orange" and "Fight Club" come to mind) that have defied the constraints of time and age.
From Ray Bradbury's novel about totalitarian society that has banned books and printed words in order to eliminate independent thought; Oskar Werner plays professional book-burner who becomes enraptured with stories. Possibly a bit too thin at this length, but a fascinating peek at a cold future (which the times have just about caught up to). Didn't get a warm reception from critics in its day, yet the performances by Werner and Julie Christie (in a dual role as both Werner's wife and a rebel acquaintance) are top notch. I was never a fan of director François Truffaut's too-precious stories of childhood, but this film, curiously his only English-language picture, is extremely well-directed; the sequence with the woman and her books afire is one amazing set-piece, with tight editing, incredible and precise art direction, and the camera in all the right places. Truffaut lets you feel the agony of book paper curling up black in a mass of orange flames, and the proud defiance of the woman as she herself strikes the match. Unforgettable. *** from ****
Fahrenheit 451" is a strange film, hard to describe. No one could have
interpreted the classic Bradbury novel in the same bizarre, fascinating
manner as Francois Truffaut. It's a book, and a film, about freedom,
choices, individuality, and intellectual repression in a future where
books are forbidden; where Firemen are men who start fires...fires in
which they burn books.
It was also the first color film directed by Truffaut. Although he by all accounts was not happy about making a color film and found it a bit unsettling, color is used to great effect here; sparingly, except for the extreme shade of red that is seen throughout.
"Fahrenheit 451" is supposed to be the temperature at which book paper catches fire, as the protagonist Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) explains in a scene at the beginning. Guy is a Fireman who seems happy enough with his life until he is approached by a young woman named Clarisse (Julie Christie) on his way home from work one day. She starts up a conversation with him, and the two become friendly. She bewilders him but challenges him to think and feel....and read. And when he arrives home we see his wife (also played by Julie Christie, with long hair), sedated and watching the wallscreen (TV of sorts)...we see what his life is really like, although he had told Clarisse he was "happy"...he is not.
As his friendship with Clarisse grows, he starts to secretly take home, hoard, and read some of the books he finds in the course of his daily work, and as he reads, he becomes obsessed with the books. They become his mistress, and are what finally make him feel affection and warmth. And when he starts to feel and care, so do we.
The two single best scenes are a passionate one involving an old woman who refuses to leave her books, her "children" as she calls them; and the wonderful ending of the film. The countless, painful closeups of books as they are being burned are beautifully done, and difficult to watch.
Truffaut was a well-known disciple of Alfred Hitchcock's films, so when Hitchcock fired his long-time music collaborator Bernard Herrmann during the filming of "Torn Curtain", Truffaut was thrilled to acquire his talents for his own film. The score for "F451" is beautiful, and the film would not be nearly as effective without it.
Writer/producer/director Frank Darabont ("The Green Mile", "The Shawshank Redemption") is working on a new film of "Fahrenheit 451" this year. He says it won't be a remake of the original film.
My first viewing of "Fahrenheit 451" since its initial relase ca. 1966 was
last night, via DVD. I highly recommend this DVD version--it includes
excellent bonus material, including a moving account of composer Bernard
Herrman's role in making the film.
I rated the film a "9" despite not being a big Truffaut fan; there's something about the "feel" of his movies that makes me fidgety and leaves me dissatisfied. But that same feel seems just right in this atypical piece of his--he felt he had failed to make the movie right, and he had difficulties with it that are explained in the bonus material. I think what resulted was an unsuspected and unintended success, instead.
Now more than ever in recent history, we face problems with individual liberties that are uncannily reflected in this film. Watch it as a cautionary tale, as a visually stunning experience, and as an example of some of the best film music ever composed: but watch it. I think you'll be glad you did.
Yes, the movie is slow. Yes, the sets and the costumes are very 60ish and
very dated. But it has something to say.
Its depiction of a narcissistic, alienated, superficial, mass media lobotomized culture might ring true for more than a few of us. The movie also shows the fireman's wife as being addicted to downers/uppers. All of the "normal" human relations that are shown in the movie appear to be detached and lacking emotion.
People are not to trouble themselves with unpleasant thoughts or feelings. Hence, the banning of books and literature. They bring up unpleasant, sad, and depressing subjects. They depict too much of life as it actually is. This is troubling to people. Consequently, the government pushes drugs, emotion-free and sanitized sex, and witless mass media. There is more than a little resemblance to our society of the year 2000 and heaven knows what the future will bring.
Oskar Werner is one my favorites, so I'm very prejudiced, but I think he does an excellent job. I think both Truffaut and Werner wanted the audience to see the fireman's partial dehumanization. He recovers much of that humanity as the film progresses. The supporting cast was good, especially the actor who played the fire chief. Julie Christie was good in the film, too, although her self-conscious woodenness or manner bothered me more than Werner's.
Perhaps something less than one of the great films. But it is a very thoughtful film with a lot to say to its audience--although some viewers choose to focus only on its rather dated veneer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film first appeared in theaters in 1966. The Vietnam War was just
getting under way. The Pentagon was beefing up its disinformation
campaign that was later documented in David Halberstam's book The Best
and the Brightest. The film is based on a novel by Ray Bradbury, first
published in 1953, when the hysterical Red Scares of McCarthyism were
near their peak.
Bradbury's writing was originally published in the second issue of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine. In an interview, Bradbury claims that Fahrenheit 451 was his only work of science fiction.
That the "New Wave" director, Francois Truffaut agreed to direct the film was unusual. Bradbury was already an established writer, who probably wanted some artistic control, but Truffaut was promoting the auteur theory of film in which the director has absolute artistic control.
The friction had a couple of effects on the film. Truffaut, eager to begin filming wrote the screenplay before fully mastering English. Even Truffaut was disappointed in the end with the stiff, flat dialog. For Truffaut, Fahrenheit 451 was his first, and last, English-language film. This may have contributed to the flatness of the characters.
Some reviewers made an asset out of the stiffness by saying that the characters, deprived of serious thinking, and of books, and addled by drugs, were themselves, in fact, flat, soulless creatures.
The central character, Guy Montag, (Oskar Werner) is a "fireman." In this disturbing vision of the future, firemen burn books. Books are all but banned by the government because they have "conflicting ideas" in them. Those ideas can make people unhappy. It is the government's job to keep people happy, with drugs, large-screen television, and other entertainment.
Let's keep it positive.
The novel played on the concerns of the time when it was written. Censorship and suppression of thought, mainly through intimidation, was being exercised in the United States. The intimidation was being done by radio and newspaper columnists, who supported Senator Joe McCarthy. The book burnings by Nazis, which started in Germany in 1933 and continued until the end of World War II, were still in living memory. And the world was still reeling from the horrible pictures of the explosions of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as implications of the mass production of nuclear weapons.
By the time the film appeared, America was more concerned with race riots. So, burning was a viscerally powerful theme. Lost on most viewers in 1966 was the detail that among the burned books was the film journal Cahiers du Cinema for which Truffaut wrote, and that on the magazine's cover was a picture from the film Breathless, written by Truffaut. Also among the burned books: The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, both written by Bradbury.
SPOILER ALERT Truffaut, however, contributed much to the uniqueness of the film as a work of art separate from the book. From the opening credits, which were spoken and not displayed on the screen, to the ending, in which the exiles who have devoted their lives to memorizing books recite their books while walking blissfully in the snow, Truffaut's genius is there.
Also a stroke of genius was the casting of Julie Christie as Monag's drug-addled wife, and as the more compassionate and interested Clarisse, who seduces him into reading and thinking.
Like Brave New World, a book by Aldous Huxley, Fahrenheit 451 describes a hedonist world, where the people need not think.
If you like Fahrenheit 451, you might also like the 1956 animated film version of George Orwell's Animal Farm, now available on DVD.
Montag, with the help of the beautiful neighbor, had just started reading
novels and the poll at the fire department he worked for refused to take him
up. Because the poll accepts only those who obey with the law: Burn any book
you find. Books are enemies, books are bad, books may cause suffering,
distraction, chaos, disorder, rebel...Books make people anti-social. They'd
better watch TV (numbing and dumbing interactive shows mostly). So, some
time in the future, the government bans any kind of reading, and firemen are
from that moment in charge of putting fire on the books, not putting fire
So what are the consequences? People lose identity: they are similar to each other with nothing to distinguish oneself from the other, they live in their unreal and artificially happy(!) little worlds, alienated and detached from one another, they lack love and passion, they lack emotion...they rub their cheeks against the fur of their coats continuously, feeding their need for love probably...they have very short memories, they take sedatives daily to keep their emotions under control... This is the reason for all this. They think humanly emotions are the main sources for humanly suffering and unhappiness. So, to avoid this, they ban books which have proved to wake emotions, to convey the most intriguing, challenging feelings to people. TV is harmless, of course without much complexities. After all, TV can change people, too, so they keep it simple, allowing for people to become as robotic and as cold and as dumb as possible. So that their memory together with their intelligence (especially emotional intelligence) is disabled. Memories make people unhappy, too. The wife does not even remember when she first met Montag...
And on the other hand, there are the ''book-people''. Each is a book him/herself, having memorized his/her whole book verse by verse, trying to survive illegally in the woods. They are so few, and so sad...
Truffaut's cinematography is immensely good. Especially in the first half of the movie there are great shots. Reverse movements, cleverly used close-ups, jumps, great editing...The decoration is kept as simple and cold as possible, with straight lines dominating, pale colors and all are well in line with the theme. And of course the credits with words and no writing -that was perfect! Also, as the credits were being told, the focuses on the TV antennas on the roofs of the houses were very cleverly done.
A 10/10 for me. I watched each moment of the film, amazed.
After reading several whinny comments about how the movie is so
different from the book I just had to add my two cents. Hello people!
These are two different mediums here, like comparing Katherine Hepburn
to Audrey Hepburn. They are two different entities which stand alone on
their own merits.
I read the book years and years ago, and frankly, I don't remember much about it. I'd seen the movie in years past, and it never knocked my socks off. But upon viewing it last night, I have to say I found myself thoroughly engrossed in it. The scene in the monorail where all the passengers are trying to stimulate themselves through their sense of touch is quite moving. As is the neighbor who declares, "They aren't like us, are they?"
It's never going to be a movie in which you want to see over and over again (like the fluffy Wizard of Oz, again a book that is totally different from the movie, where are the complaining people now?) but it's a movie that should be seen. I also wonder how many people will complain when the new version comes out? I can hear them now, "The first movie was so much better!"
What an amazing film. I've heard of it for a long time, but only just had the opportunity to see it. The story is based on Ray Bradbury's novel of the same name and has been cleverly adapted to film. There are a lot of clever visual clues in this film, and it stands a couple of watches - just to make sure that you pick them all up! Apparently it is Truffaut's first venture into colour film, and this yields quite interesting results, at times quite colourful. If you are expecting a Sci-Fi film - set in a space-like future, with astounding special effects - you will be disappointed, it's not that sort of film. This is a film where a possible set of scenarios - and 'what-ifs' are put forward, and explored by the filmmaker. It is believable and at times makes you think, 'What if this were true?', I fully recommend this film, a great watch.
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