Tuesday, August 05, 2014
Fahrenheit 451 (1966 film)
Based on the novel by Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 is the story of a fireman who becomes a fugitive over reading literature in a dystopian future where his job is to burn books and all forms of literature. Directed by Francois Truffaut and screenplay by Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, the film is Truffaut’s only English-language film as he would take on the world of dystopia. Starring Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, and Cyril Cusack. Fahrenheit 451 is a compelling yet very flawed film from Francois Truffaut.
Set in a world where books are banned and to be burned in fear of subversive activities and anti-social ideas, the film is an exploration into a fireman whose job is to burn these books where he suddenly reads one as he questions everything that he’s doing and the world around him. The concept itself is very unique where the fireman known as Montag (Oskar Werner) would eventually become a fugitive for his actions yet he realizes that the things that he’s oppressing are real feelings and the ideas that make people be alive instead of conforming to what society wants.
The premise itself is definitely intriguing yet it’s told in a style where Francois Truffaut definitely wants to be a bit of Alfred Hitchcock and infuse his own style. Yet, some of the film’s dialogue sounds very unrealistic as it really hurts the story as well as affect some of the performances. Another problem with the script involves Montag’s superior (Cyril Cusack) who is never really defined while Montag’s wife Linda (Julie Christie) is quite one-dimensional as her only motivation is conformity.
Truffaut’s direction does have some very entrancing moments in the way he presents a futuristic world where even though it’s quite colorful. It’s still an oppressive one where it is a world where there are rules and everyone has to act a certain way and watch the same TV show where they can feel like they’re part of something. Truffaut does create some unique compositions as well as some very striking scenes where books are being burned but there are aspects of the film where the suspense doesn’t work. Even in some scenes where it involves special effects as it looked very clumsy as it doesn’t play to Truffaut’s sensibilities as a director. Even in his approach to satire and the little humor that it has doesn’t work along with some dream sequences as it seems that Truffaut is trying to do something but it never really says anything for the story. Despite some of its flaws, the film is still a fascinating film on censorship in a dystopian world.
Cinematographer Nicholas Roeg does excellent work with the film‘s vibrant colors for the look of the town that the characters live in as well as some of the interior lighting schemes that help sets a mood for the film. Editor Thom Noble does fantastic work with the stylized editing with some usage of dissolves and jump-cuts though much of it is straightforward. Production designer Syd Cain, with additional work from costume designer Tony Walton, does brilliant work with the design of the houses and the fire truck where it plays to this offbeat idea of a futuristic dystopia while the costumes are presented in a simplistic manner. The sound work of Robert T. MacPhee and Norman Wanstall is terrific for some of the sound effects that is created as well as the way the sirens sound to play into that sense of terror. The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is brilliant as it helps play into the film‘s suspense with its orchestral flourishes that also include some unique instrumentals from marimbas, xylophones, and other things to play into the film‘s offbeat sensibility.
The casting by Miriam Brickman is wonderful as it would feature some notable small roles from Alex Scott as a man Montag would meet late in the film, Jeremy Spenser as a man with an apple, Bee Duffell as a woman whom the firemen would confront for having a large amount of books, and Anton Diffring in a dual role as a school headmistress and as the Captain’s associate Fabian. Cyril Cusack is good as the Captain who leads the firemen in burning the books where there’s a lot of charm in his performance but it’s also underwritten where he doesn’t seem to say much about the past which could’ve helped into what Montag wanted to do.
Oskar Werner has his moments as the film’s protagonist Montag but is never really engaging at times as the dialogue he recites is quite stilted since he is German and speaks English quite awkwardly. Finally, there’s Julie Christine in an amazing performance in a dual role as Montag’s wife Linda who is eager to conform and in the role of a schoolteacher named Clarisse who would give Montag some ideas as well as show him a world that it is outside of society.
Fahrenheit 451 is a stellar film from Francois Truffaut. Though it is definitely his weakest picture as it doesn’t really play to many of the ideas that Truffaut would explore with many of his films. It is still an intriguing one for the way he would interpret Ray Bradbury’s famed novel. In the end, Fahrenheit 451 is a pretty good film from Francois Truffaut.
Francois Truffaut Films: The 400 Blows - Shoot the Piano Player - Jules & Jim - Antoine & Colette - The Soft Skin - The Bride Wore Black - Stolen Kisses - Mississippi Mermaid - The Wild Child - Bed and Board - Two English Girls - Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me - Day for Night - The Story of Adele H. - Small Change - The Man Who Loved Women - The Green Room - Love on the Run - The Last Metro - The Woman Next Door - Confidentially Yours
The Auteur #40: Francois Truffaut (Pt. 1) - (Pt. 2)
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