Greg Goodsell here. With the recent passing of author Ray Bradbury at the ripe old age of 91, it seemed very timely than ever to dig out FAHRENHEIT 451 from 1966! This one has significant historical importance as it was the first sci-fi film to be directed by an important international film director, Francois Truffaut, perhaps best known for his 1961 classic JULES AND JIM! You’re in for a treat aurally as the score is by the great Bernard Herrman, which, IMHO, is his best score ever! It’s akin to spooning ice cream directly into your ears!
Bradbury was proudest of FAHRENHEIT 451, declaring it his “only work of science-fiction” – all his other stories and books, he maintained were fantasy. He had a special tombstone made prior to his death, which simply read RAY BRADBURY – AUTHOR OF FAHRENHEIT 451.
The story is a simple one – in a nightmarish dystopian future world, all books are banned, and the “firemen” in this world START fires, specifically burning books! FAHRENHEIT 451 is the temperature to which paper burns. One fireman, Montag, is asked by a girl on his monorail commute, “Do you ever read the books you burn?” The question sets him off on a journey of self-discovery!
Here’s something you didn’t know: Ray Bradbury DETESTED the fact that documentary filmmaker Michael Moore appropriated the title of FAHRENHEIT 9/11. Bradbury was adamant that Moore’s anti-American creed was little more than Cold War paranoia turned inwards, and was forthright in denouncing Moore as an “asshole!”
One thing never adequately explained: Since this is a post-literate future, with even labels on boxes of cereal reduced to numbers, how does Montag suddenly start reading? Here, the Goon Squad is set to incinerate some moldy old paperbacks!
One sees hesitation in Montag's eyes as he scorches another personal library. "Who am I to deny someone their right to read what they wish?" This question is lost on some very important people still operating in the world today, alas.
After a hard day of work, Working Joe Montag takes the monorail home to the suburbs, and into the arms of his drug-addicted, TV watching fish wife!
Austrian Oskar Werner, ne Oskar Josef Schliessmayer was a hot-shot international star in the Fifties and Sixties. He plays the lead as Montag, the fireman with a hidden intellect. Oskar's last film was VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED in 1976, and he passed away far too young at the age of 61 in 1984.
The beautiful Julie Christie plays dual roles in this film, Clarisse, the book-loving underground intellectual (pixie cut) and Montag's wife, Linda (long hair)! Is this Truffaut's clever way of saying that the thoughtful, intelligent Clarisse and the selfish, pill-gobbling Linda are the two sides of the same coin? Or that all women are alike? Julie is still working today -- she had a plum role in the Johnny Depp vehicle FINDING NEVERLAND as recently as 2004!
Back at home to watch a little telly. The one thing filmmakers did get right about the future was those giant TV screens in the walls!
In his production diary, director Francois Truffaut said he was displeased with the art direction in the film, in particular the one in Montag's flat. He said he wanted a chilling contrast between the ultra-modern and the antique, and what he got was mostly Swedish Modern looking stuff with carefully applied kitsch here and there, like those retro-telephones on the wall!
Like most jobs, the firemen are great gossips moving up the corporate ladder. Some things never change, even in dystopian futures, do they? On the left is top fireman Cyril Cusack who plays The Captain.
The firemen make a "book sweep." With their fashion sense borrowed freely from Benito Mussolini, coupled their stern, Reichstag German accents, the firemen provide a visual and aural reminder that such things HAD happened on the European continent previously.
Raiding an old lady's flat, the Captain and Montag find an extensive library of books ripe for burning! It is here that the Captain makes some powerful arguments AGAINST literacy -- philosophy, after all posits that the author is right and everyone else is wrong! "Tom Sawyer" offended the blacks; Nietzsche’s philosophies offended the Jews, and let’s not forget a shocking little booklet called "Mein Kampf." READING IS BAD.
Tired of a husband who can read, Julie "shops" Montag to the book-burning authorities! Gotta love that Technicolor Red!
Montag gets sick and tired of the captain's shit and lets him have it! YEAH! We've all felt that way at some point in our lives.
The word gets out about the murderous fireman and the police take to the streets with loudspeaker-equipped cars. Little boxes made of ticky tacky, Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes all the same. There's a green one and a pink one. And a blue one and a yellow one, and they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.
Evading the clutches of his nefarious totalitarian state, Montag is killed by proxy on state TV for the benefit of the cowed populace!
Montag high-tails it to the outskirts of the city, where a whole hippie commune dedicates themselves to memorizing books in order to preserve the world's literary heritage!
Montag meets Clarisse once again, and finds a new purpose in life, in which he preserves -- rather than destroys, individual thought.
Ending on a note of fairy tale beauty, FAHRENHEIT 451 is a timeless story about intellectual freedom that needs to be rigorously protected -- regardless on which side of the political, religious or social side of the coin its adversaries spring from. One final factoid: while this is a film on very important subjects, Truffaut said he wanted to replicate the silly escapist fun of his childhood favorite DR. CYCLOPS (1940) with this title! In either case, this movie needs to be revisited.