Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fahrenheit 451- a hot movie

Fahrenheit 451 was a movie released in 1966.

From Wikipedia: The novel (on which the movie is based)presents a future American society in which the masses are hedonistic and critical thought through reading is outlawed. The central character, Guy Montag, is employed as a "fireman" (which, in this future, means "bookburner"). The number "451" refers to the temperature at which book paper combusts. The "firemen" burn them "for the good of humanity".

The movie starred Julie Christie and Oskar Werner.  Christie plays Montag’s wife, Linda.  She is a selfish woman who is into appearances and totally mesmerized by television.  Christie also plays another character Clarisse, who is the opposite of Linda.  Through the movie, Montag finds himself drawn to Clarisse as a person, but also for her love of books, which are of course outlawed in this American-based future.   The movie was mostly filmed in a studio, but had some interesting outdoor scenes, especially those that used the experimental monorail constructed near Orleans, France.  There are also scenes of 1960’s English apartment and housing developments that presaged Brutalism.  All of these buildings emphasize repetitive architecture that is likely a statement by Truffaut of the dehumanization of society.
Christie is a magnificent actress, save for her acting in “Doctor Zhivago.”  Here she portrays the airheaded zombielike wife in a way that would make Stepford wives proud.  Yet, she portrays Clarisse as an intriguingly bright woman who is charming, intelligent and graceful.  Werner portrays Montag as constricted, depressed person who finds his marriage and his job unfulfilling.  Werner was an Austrian actor who did not have many movies to his credit when he died in 198.  His death  was  related to alcoholism.  Apparently he and Truffaut did not get along during the making of this movie, which may have accounted for his intensely controlled performance. 

The ending of the movie shows how books are protected for future generations and it contains scenes from the beautiful English countryside. The photography was by Nicolas Roeg, who went on to fame with “The Man who Fell to Earth”, another movie about a sad future where corporations run and ruin people’s lives. 
It is interesting to look at movies about the future from times past.  Truffaut accurately predicted flat screen TVs and helicopter-based law enforcement, yet the telephones looked antiquated even by 1960s- standards.  One can argue whether we have reached the point of de-individualization predicted in the movie.  But for me, the attack on knowledge, as represented in the movie by the books, is certainly a part of our culture today.  Our fears of experts, of statistics, of evolution, and of science in general are all part of this war.  

I have been a fan of monorails for some time.  They seem to be a wonderful response to public transportation needs but have failed to attract much attention.  They can be built with mostly off-site construction; they can wend their way around buildings, and can have a minimal impact on regular traffic flow.  Instead, we have a tremendous rush by public officials to build at-grade light rail system that interfere with other traffic and which are very expensive to build.  The monorail in “Fahrenheit 451” was a demonstration track that has unfortunately been dismantled.   By the way, in the early 1960’s, a German manufacturer, Alweg, offered a free monorail system to the city of Los Angeles, which was turned down in favor of buses.  Subsequently a subway system has been built in LA that seems to go where no one wants to go, and which does not cover as much area as the free monorail would have.  Go figure! 

I like “Fahrenheit 451” and believe that the time is ripe for a remake.  Maybe it is too hot to handle today (pardon the pun) but done by the right director, it could tell a larger audience much about ourselves and the culture we have created. 

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