Monday, April 29, 2013

FAHRENHEIT 451 1966

Looking over my sizable collection of DVDs...amongst the dramas, comedies, musicals, thrillers, adventures, horror films, and even documentaries; I note there to be a conspicuous paucity of four distinct genres of film: war movies, sports films, westerns, and science fiction. I’ve really not a single war film (Doctor Zhivago coming closest); only one western - the original True Grit, unless you count Doris Day’s Calamity Jane; and sports weigh in exclusively with Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. My sole concession to the field of science fiction is Fran├žois Truffaut’s flawed, but nonetheless splendid (only to me, I’m afraid) adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s, Fahrenheit 451. One of the very few science fiction films I really like, perhaps due to the fact that it was made by a man who had gone on record as not being particularly fond of science fiction films himself.
Julie Christie as Linda Montag
Oskar Werner as Guy Montag
Julie Christie as Clarisse McClellan
Cyril Cusack as The Captain
Anton Diffring as Fabian
Ray Bradbury’s ingenious and inspired novel about a future society where reading is forbidden, books are banned, and marauding herds of fascist “firemen” canvas the countryside in search of books to burn, is my absolute favorite sci-fi novel. There are just some ideas that are, to me, simply irresistible in their cleverness. Ira Levin achieved this twice: once with the idea of a thriving Satanic Coven in modern Manhattan overseen by a bunch of little old ladies and gentlemen (Rosemary’s Baby); a second time with a suburban community populated by ideal wives, all of whom in actuality, are robots (The Stepford Wives). The idea of firemen who are paid to go around starting fires is pure genius to me. It’s one of those sharp and concise ideas that you can lay out there, and before you know it, your imagination fairly soars with the all possibilities it presents.
The Fireman of Fahrenheit 451, on their way to a book burning
Fahrenheit 451 is a standout piece of literature, but as much as I love the book and as fond as I am of the film, I find I enjoy both most when I leave off on comparisons. It’s best not to look to Truffaut’s adaptation for faithfulness to the original text, nor is it worthwhile to ruminate on the possible improvements to Bradbury’s prose introduced by Truffaut’s deft mastery of cinema language. Both are enormously entertaining and thoughtful works capable of being enjoyed as free-standing, independent narratives with differing objectives. Bradbury’s book is a political allegory, more sociological in bent, commenting on the dangers of censorship, and threats to independent thought. Truffaut’s film is more personal in scope. A kind of literary branch to his 1973 valentine to the movies, Day for Night, and his 1980 paean to theater, The Last Metro, Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 speaks to the filmmaker’s love of books. It's not so much a sci-fi film as a Grimm fairy tale about a man who finds himself by getting lost in the written word.
By the light of his big screen TV, Montag reads his first book - Dickens' David Copperfield
An unexpected perk of seeing this film today is in noticing how many of Ray Bradbury's predictions for the future (Reality television, wall sized TVs, ear buds, anti-intellectualism, a disdain for literature) have come to pass.
I derive a great deal of pleasure from both artists' approach to the material, and find that looking to the many ways in which the film deviates from Bradbury’s themes or corrupt the author’s intentions is a perfect way to both court frustration and blind oneself to the unique pleasures of Truffaut’s film.
The Book Lady
Montag finds his beliefs shattered and the course of his life altered when he encounters an old woman  (Bee Duffell), a lifetime book hoarder, who would rather die than have to live without books.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Perhaps my favorite thing about Fahrenheit 451 is Truffaut’s dogged resistance to meeting and satisfying the genre expectations of sci-fi. In a 1970 interview with film critic Charles Thomas Samuels, Truffaut expressed his disinterest in science fiction and claimed to have felt no affinity for the novel’s political metaphor. Truffaut chose instead to construct an allegory about a closed-off, dissatisfied man who comes to fall in love with life, mankind, and himself, when he embarks on an epiphanic discovery of books and reading. For me, this is a a brilliant tact on Truffaut's part, one that may have disappointed many fans of the novel, but saves Fahrenheit 451 from being just anther sci-fi film. (Much in the same way that Roman Polanski's agnosticism helped bring a psychological emphasis to Rosemary Baby.) In the visual, hyper-literal language of film, I think it would have been unwise to emphasize those political elements of Fahrenheit 451 which are so obviously stated, underlined, and emphasized in the plot itself. Truffaut avoids overstatement and didacticism by wisely letting the film’s agenda on fascism, repression, and censorship play out in the background…reserving his foreground focus for the characters and the human drama.
Family
State
Self
PERFORMANCES:
Fahrenheit 451 marks my 6th post for a Julie Christie film, so by now, most visitors to this blog know the drill: a brief introduction to the character followed by a paragraph or two of gushing, fawning, thoroughly over-the-top (yet not-unwarranted) admiration for the iconic 60s actress. All unencumbered by neutral, objective appraisal. And as Christie essays a dual role in Fahrenheit 451 (Time Magazine- “…it strongly supports the widely held suspicion that [Julie Christie] cannot actually act. Though she plays two women of diametrically divergent dispositions, they seem in her portrayal to differ only in their hairdos.") it affords twice the opportunity for unbridled fandom.
I'll make it brief. Cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, working with Christie for the first time (they would collaborate several times more in the future) makes her look positively stunning no matter which character she plays. Lastly, she's a major asset to the film and its lifeblood despite never really getting as strong a grasp on the Clarisse role as that of Linda...a character who has more than a few things in common with Darling's Diana Scott. 
Cyril Cusack is charming, paternal, and ultimately terrifying as the doctrine-spouting Chief of  firemen.
Christie plays both Linda Montag, the superficial, self-absorbed wife of fireman Guy Montag, and Clarisse, the inquisitive, rebellious schoolteacher who inspires Guy to examine his life. Of course, I think Christie is fabulous in both roles chiefly because she doesn't engage in over-broad, showy acting devices delineating of the two characters - something audiences at the time faulted her for, but which seems to me to be an authentic realizing of Truffaut's overall concept. I saw Fahrenheit 451 many years before reading the book, and I must say that the impression I got from Julie Christie appearing in dual roles was one of Truffaut offering to audiences an external manifestation of Montag’s inner perspective.
Linda and her mirror double (Clarisse?) confront  Montag about reading books when it is forbidden. Tellingly, the challenging Linda remains physically estranged from her husband, while her double seems to stand in solidarity with Montag in his defense of thinking and feeling. The very things Clarisse believes in and fights for.
By this I mean that I've never taken it to be literal fact that two complete strangers in Montag's life are perfectly identical women. Rather, I've always held the belief that it is only Montag who sees them as identical. Montag responds to the similarities between Clarisse and Linda (“She’s rather like you, except her hair is long”) and sees them as twin halves of the same person. The intellectual and spiritual / the unimpassioned and superficial. This is not consistent with Bradbury’s vision-Clarisse was a teenager and different in every way from Linda-but it fits Truffaut's concept of Fahrenheit 451 being a  personal human drama. I like to think that the Clarisse and Montag we see at the end of the film are visions of what Linda and Guy were before they succumbed to the dulling of the senses required of living in a society of suppressed thought and repression.
Fueling my theory about the intentional ambiguity of the duality in Fahrenheit 451 is the brief scene where the spying schoolmistress is reveled to be / looks like Montag's nemesis, Fabian (Anton Diffring). Literal doppelganger, or cinematic conveyance of the notion that we project similarities onto the people in our lives?

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Fahrenheit 451 is marvelously devoid of the usual futuristic hardware fetish I find so stultifying in most science fiction movies. The fact that the Internet – the most revolutionary invention for the gathering of sharing of information – is most popularly used as a tool for bickering and pornography, is proof enough that technology always surrenders to the truth that people obstinately remain just people in the face of the most incredible technological advances.
The Narcissists 
I don't recall if it was in the book, but Truffaut suggests sensual narcissism as a kind of side-effect of a technological society wherein people are discouraged from interacting and thinking. Throughout the film, people are glimpsed absent-mindedly stroking, kissing, or caressing themselves. Certainly the current mania for self-involved social media, explicit self-pics, and Internet over-sharing can be seen as the ultimate real-life actualization of Truffaut's hinted-at phenomenon of self-absorption.
This is Truffaut's first color film, and he makes great use of the gloomy countryside and contrasts it strikingly with eye-popping Kubrick-red interiors and crimson fire imagery. On a side note, what would this film be without the music of Bernard Herrmann? Beautiful, sweeping themes that remind me very much of Vertigo.

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
At the start of this essay I stated that I think Fahrenheit 451 is a splendid but flawed Truffaut effort. Its chief flaw, as I see it, being that a film about people benumbed and rendered passionless due to the oppressiveness of a totalitarian society risks being the very thing it’s dramatizing. Writing about the 1996 film, Fargo, a film critic (Pauline Kael?) made the very good point that even an excellent movie about moronic people is still ultimately a film about moronic people, and therefore one not esily endured, no matter its proficiency.
Francois Truffaut envisions a future in which hyper-technology lives quaintly aside the old-fashioned (antique telephones, oil lamps). Here, Montag is gifted with a straight razor by his wife - "It's the very latest thing!" - and encouraged to ditch his cordless electric.
Fran├žois Truffaut (who didn't speak English and whose first and only English language film this is) does a great job of finding photogenically bland, cold landscapes to play out his drama, and he takes some real chances in intentionally asking for stilted, sometimes robotic performances from his actors. While all of this is consistent with the theme of the story, it is deadly to entertainment. If Fahrenheit 451 suffers at all, it is from a lack of blood coursing through its veins. In focusing so effectively on the aspects of the plot demonstrating the spiritually deadening effects of an oppressive society, Truffaut fails to arrive at a satisfactory way of conveying what is stake and what is lost in these people that was so vital. There just seems to be something lacking in the depiction of the life-changing effect of books and the eye-opening joy of renewed passion and feeling.

But I’m a sucker for movies about emotional and spiritual transformations (virtually ANY version A Christmas Carol can easily reduce me to tears by the end), so I find myself moved— perhaps unaccountably so, given the film’s cool presentation— by the awakening of Guy Montag to the miracle of books. Oskar Werner's scenes of discovering the written word, or of his trying to make sense of a woman who'd rather die than be separated from her books, are sensitively rendered and surprisingly touching. 
Montag finds his bliss
As a teen I retreated into books as a means of coping with my crippling shyness. Today, that onetime escapist immersion into the written word has blossomed into an appreciation of the way books can actually expand one’s world. I love libraries, old bookstores, and the heft, weight, and texture of books. So much so,in fact, that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able surrender to the practicality of E-books and electronic readers. While on that topic: there is something very Ray Bradbury-ish in naming an electronic device (one poised to replace books and paper-printed literature), a Kindle and Kindle Fire. I understand the name is intentional, but, boy! Talk about Bradbury’s book-burning future coming to pass!

 Copyright © Ken Anderson

28 comments:

  1. My Julie Christie senses brought me here. They're a bit like spidey senses...and I know you have 'em too! Haha

    Seriously though, add me to the list of people who find this absolutely superb. It tears me up how undervalued this movie is. The design, the direction, the performances, the whole thought behind it all; perfection.

    Another film with a majority reaction that makes me wonder what is wrong with people *sighs*

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    1. Ha! And what reliable Julie Christie senses you have! Truly, I know whereof you speak for I can often ferret out a new Internet post on Ms. Christie within a few days.
      Glad to hear you are among those who like the film.
      It certainly presented Truffaut with some challenges, some of which he wasn't quite able to overcome. But it is a marvelously thoughtful film of provocative ideas, deceptively subtle performances, and a great deal more going on than its surface simplicity suggests.

      I've always understood the criticisms leveled at "Fahrenheit 451", but for me, its virtues are so heavily stacked in its favor.
      Perhaps, as with Hitchcock's "Vertigo", a film ill-favored for decades that now tops the Great Films polls; "Fahrenheit 451" will be rediscovered by a populace raised on ipads and Kindles and who no longer remember what a book is. Like the vinyl lp shops that young people go to today and feel so trendy, perhaps libraries and bookstores will be where the hipsters of 2097 go to feel rebellious.
      Thanks Mark! Good to hear from you again!

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  2. Thank you for your excellent review of this film. It was intersting to read since you've also read and enjoyed the book. I've been fascinated by this film and I've seen it many times. Mostly because I wonder, with all the elements of the story, the sci-fi setting, the director, the stars and the time it was made in, why isn't it better or considered a classic? I want to like it more but it is, ad you say, flawed. It never grips me (all though I like it more with every viewing). I think it is the calm pace of it that doesn't excite and the stilted performances.

    I can't stand Oscar Werner and he has often ruined the film for me. Julie Christie is the reason why I watch it again. I too am a fan of hers and she is lovely in it but she plays the characters with too much hesitation. As you say, it's all a little bloodless. I wish she could have brought a little more life and craziness to the roles but maybe the focus was on the male lead role and actor and her characters were to be more in the background. I find that she doesn't play the Clarisse character impulsive and wild enough. Instead she makes her quite staid.(The shorthaired wig she wears does her no favors either.) No, she's much better as Linda and now I know why! She is, as you say, much more like Diana from "Darling"!

    Without Christie this film would have harder to watch since it is a bit slow and without much suspense. Truffaut was trying a little too hard to add Hitchcock touches. But the last time I saw it I loved the beautiful last scenes in the forest with the snow and the opening shots of the antennas which looks like pictures of modern art. I also loved what you wrote about technology not changing human nature!
    - Wille

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    1. Those are some great points you make, Wille, the majority of which echo what most people I believe feel about the film. I think when a film really makes you feel something for a character, almost all is forgiven. And if indeed Truffaut had found some way to dramatically convey what is lost to humanity when people stop reading, I think the film, even as it is, would be more widely regarded as a classic.
      By way of example; in the 70s version of "The Stepford Wives" I think the director did a brilliant thing in casting a likeably quirky, idiosyncratic actress like Paula Prentiss as one of the wives. She is so vibrantly unique that one senses instantly what is tragically lost by turning women into robots.
      Oskar Werner is a tad too Germanic and cold; Christie, while a perfect Linda, could have used more of what you said...an impulsive, wild side to her character (like in Petulia); and Truffaut's treatment is really spot-on in so many ways, but as I've read that he had no rapport with his English speaking crew, loathed Werner, and describes the making of the film as his most unhappy film experience EVER...well, i can't help but feel that a happier man, working in a language he understood, might have addressed these little flaws.

      I too, watch the film mainly because of Christie, and Oskar Werner was an odd 60s leading man to me. But like you, I find myself growing fonder of the film with each viewing, and the flaws don't weigh heavily on it being a quite enjoyable and at times very beautiful film.
      Appreciate how you were able to isolate all the you liked and all that you found lacking in the film. A marvelous job you did thee. It's always a bit of a paradox to really love a flawed film, but "Fahrenheit 451" is that for me. Thanks, Wille!

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  3. Hi, Ken. I hope I wasn't too harsh on Julie C. (she really is one of my favourite actresses). It's true what you write about "Fahrenheit 451" and you made a good point about Paula Prentiss' character in "Stepford Wives"! You'd make a good screen writer. You seem to know what some films are missing to make the audience feel more for the characters.

    I appreciate the beauty of "Fahrenheit" more with each viewing. Flawed films are sometimes more interesting to watch. It's fun to dissect them to figure out why certain decisions were made. Making a film involves so many people. It's hard for the director to be true to his vision when there is so much compromising involved, like Truffauat filming in english!
    -Wille

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    1. No, i found your comments to be very astute, and I even laughed to myself when I read what you said about Christie's short wig. By now I hope you know I don't hold with the "sacred cows" mentality so popular on the internet when it comes to talking about favorite films or actors. Everybody is up for grabs and my taste is exclusively my own, and I don't take offense to someone being honest with me about theirs (although I suppose using the word "cow" in reference to Julie Christie wasn't the best choice of words).

      In fact, a friend recently mentioned Christie's performance in "Billy Liar" and it struck me that her character in that film is EXACTLY how she should have played Clarisse. She was such a life force in "Billy Liar" she fairly leapt from the screen. That level of energy and joie de vivre applied to her character in "Fahrenheit 451" would have gone a long way toward creating an emotional bond with the audience, and she would have been a perfect, conspicuous contrast to the others. She is wonderful, but she IS very subdued as Clarisse.

      I definitely have my favorites, Wille, but I do like to hear what others think, even if it's an opinion opposite of mine. It gives me a chance to know THEM and their movie tastes, which is always interesting. Thanks, Wille!

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  4. Oh my God... I just loved this post. It's weird that you and I hit it off the way we have with our movie sites because my DVD collection is actually riddled with tons of sci-fi, westerns and war films!! I love '60s and '70s (and some '80s) sci-fi because often the costumes are clingy/revealing, enjoy westerns because I have a thing for the scenery, the pioneers/settlers and also for forts under attack (I never said I wasn't insane...) and war films frequently have plenty of handsome soldiers. Sports films are growing on me slowly...

    But anyway.... What appeals to me the most about F451 is that sleek, clean, look to the film. I love a lot of 1960s movies so much for their crisp, often stark, pallet and soothing overall look. This one delivers on that score. It's not afraid to be slow, thoughtful, quiet at times. Bernard Herrmann, 'nuff said! If this were remade today... Good lord, can you imagine the frenetic editing, loud music and pyrotechnics?!

    I just love listening to Julie Christie speak with her softly raspy voice and watching her blue eyes. (God, I sound like a mentally challenged or damaged person in this comment today!) As you can guess, I too hate the short wig immensely, but I get by.

    Werner must have really been something because Stanley Kramer hated him, too, during "Ship of Fools," though I think he's wonderful in that!

    But my FAVORITE observation of yours (in a truly insightful post!) was:
    "The fact that the Internet – the most revolutionary invention for the gathering of sharing of information – is most popularly used as a tool for bickering and pornography, is proof enough that technology always surrenders to the truth that people obstinately remain just people in the face of the most incredible technological advances." along with the accompanying screen caps and caption of the people adoring themselves. Bravo to you for picking up on this and explaining it so effectively! Albert Einstein was another one who foresaw technology creating distance between us and our world instead of bringing us closer together at it seems to do on the surface...

    Thank you so much for a great write-up/feature on this lesser-seen movie!

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    1. Hi Poseidon
      Yeah, I was actually surprised to discover that although I've seen many films in those genres, I've evidently never liked them enough to purchase them! And as you say, our tastes are so similar in so many ways. Maybe that's why I like your blog so much, you enlighten me about many films that have slipped under my radar. Although I do seem to recall as a kid, falling in love with Stephen Boyd in "Fantastic Voyage" because of his rubbery jumpsuit and tufts of chest hair peeking out from the zippered neck. The camera kept zooming in on Raquel Welch and her hair-helmet, but I kept looking for glimpses of Boyd.

      You bring up many points about "Fahrenheit 451" that explain its appeal (the sleek look, Julie Christie's voice- which you describe perfectly -the quiet pacing). And indeed, one shudders at the thought of the Michael Bay bombast that would accompany a remake today (God, can you imagine Mark Wahlberg as Montag?)

      I laughed when you brought up Julie Christie's short hair. I was recently watching a slew of Matt Helm films (???) and marveled at the extremes of hair fashion in the 60s. Literal mountains of curls on one side, and then that severe, but appealing Twiggy/Farrow look on the other).
      I'm very glad you liked this post and thank you for sharing your thoughts on the film. You always have something new and interesting to add. Oh, and I like Oskar Werner very much in "Ship of Fools," too.

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  5. Many exquisite observations about this film, providing plenty of mental pabulum, but I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the cleverest touch of all in Francois Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451":



    The opening credits are SPOKEN rather than printed on the screen!



    And of course, Montag discovers books, and so at the end of the film, we too are invited to read, as the traditional PRINTED credits appear on the screen to end the film.


    The word "genius" is applied way to liberally nowadays, but if you want real genius, just think about how "Fahrenheit 451" opens with spoken credits.

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    1. I too love that rather brilliant touch, and thanks for mentioning it. It show's a filmmaker fully relating to (and understanding) the theme of the book he is adapting. To do something so subtle but so perfectly appropriate and on-point is indeed an indication of Truffaut's genius with film. A very Hitchcockian notion.

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  6. Great post Ken - there can never be enough Julie Christie worship on the Internet!
    You're right that in any technical way Christie doesn't qualify as a great actress, but what star quality!
    Today she would be blasted by the Daniel Day Lewis/Meryl Streep crowd as always being "the same" but I never tire of watching her. Like Garbo and Audrey Hepburn, she didn't need to transform into a "character" to be terrific.
    I fear that because most movies are watched on TV nowadays, the magical stardom of Julie & Audrey & Greta - so thrilling to contemplate on a giant screen - has disappeared because today's movies reduce actresses to life size.
    Meryl Streep is a terrific performer, of course, but she would not be capable of projecting the charisma and unforced sexuality of Ms. Christie in her prime (Can you imagine Streep as Petulia or Diana?)

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    1. Thanks, Joe
      You bring up a very good point that is often forgotten (frequently by me) when discussions about film veer into the field of accessing a particular star's acting ability. As long as there have been movies there has been this undefinable, intangible thing called "star quality" that seems to operate within an orbit of its own. The application of certain standards of emotive realism to to personalities we love specifically because they are larger-than-life should be done cautiously.
      The Garbos and Hepburns do seem to captivate in spite of a "sameness" in their roles. Frequently etching a deeper impression into our psyches than some of the more versatile screen talents.
      I can't think of anyone today who does this. As you say, the small screen doesn't help. What stardust can survive the endless replays of DVDs and miniscule screening devices we now have?

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  7. Oh, how could I forget? For those of you who enjoy the film "Fahrenheit 451", you really do need to check out the episode of "The Twilight Zone" entitled "The Obsolete Man".

    The final episode of season two, "The Obsolete Man" stars Burgess Meredith and Fritz Weaver in a story about a dystopian future, where a librarian named Romney Wordsworth (Meredith) is placed on trial by the totalitarian State, for the crime of being "obsolete".

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYGi2GfwRlo

    The episode was written by Rod Serling, himself a fan of Ray Bradbury (Serling even name-checked Bradbury in the episode "Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?"). I really love the photography in "The Obsolete Man", namely the scenes at the show trial: too good for the small screen, I reckon!

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  8. Hi Ken,

    Liked your insights into this film, which I've always found intriguing. I know for some its considered a sci-fi film, not my favorite genre even though there are some I love: the first two Alien films, Sean Connery's Outland and a few others, but I think of it more as a futuristic drama.

    I was fortunate enough to see this for the first time in a theatre back in the 80's. I think the reissue was because the film had been restored which at the time was a relatively new process kicked off by the remastering of the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born. Whatever the reason it was an ideal way to view the film. My initial reaction was to be dazzled by the imagery of the picture and to be blown away by Julie Christie's star quality which as you had mention jumped right off the screen. But on further viewings I have been impressed by the rest of the movie.

    I love the chilliness of the film, it fits the story perfectly. I assumed that was Truffaut’s intention since the people and world being depicted are detached from their feelings it seemed natural for the film to hold the audience at arm's length.

    Looking through the comments I see that some aren't fans of Oskar Werner's performance but I think he is the right actor for the part and admire his work. His frosty distance at the beginning and his halting glacial way of speaking make sense for a man who is at first removed and then reconnecting with his inner life. I've read that he was a difficult, crabby and rather cruel man off screen and often hell to work with but he could be an excellent actor, I agree about Ship of Fools he's great there as well as in this.

    Of course I love Julie in both roles. I find her Linda fascinating and sad. So disconnected and fearful. I think it shows how small her life has become when she becomes all aflutter that Cousin Midge (the whole cousin thing is deeply creepy) will be asking her a question then she is paralyzed when called on. I share your perspective on her performance of the dual characters. I think Montag would be drawn to Clarisse's physical similarity to his wife at first since at the time of their initial meeting he's still more or less sealed off from internal feelings so he would react to the exterior instinctively. She is however much more alive as Clarisse sprightly and warm. Her wig doesn't bother me, it helps highlight her angularity, although her appearance as Linda, be it a fall or her own hair is much more flattering....

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  9. I also love Cyril Cusack's complex work as The Captain, at times he seems paternal towards Montag but it's a front, underneath he would think absolutely nothing of killing him if necessary. That he doesn't seem a total demon is entirely due to Cusack's playing of the part. Although her part is small I adore Bee Duffell as the Book Lady. I find her profoundly moving, I'm sure it's a mixture of her performance and Truffaut’s direction but her big scene is my second favorite scene in the film.

    As I said before the art direction is what I initially was drawn to and whoever was responsible certainly had a gift for eye catching design, those fire trucks are some of the coolest things ever! Which leads me to my favorite scene, the final shot when the refugees have all become their favorite books as they cross cut through the snow. On the DVD commentary Julie Christie said that the scene was not scheduled to be shot that way. She said it was the last scene filmed, on April 14th which happened to be her birthday which was why she had such a clear memory of it. Snow had not been forecast for that day but as they were setting up it started to fall and inspired Truffaut reframed the shot. I think it adds immeasurably to the impact both of the scene and to the overall film speaking to the durability of knowledge against whatever elements might present themselves against it.

    On a side note, knowing of your great admiration of Miss Christie Ken I was wondering if you've ever seen one of her other collaborations with Alan Bates, The Return of the Soldier? It's not everyone's cup of tea, I've had mixed reactions from the people I've watched it with from total dislike to appreciation though none have loved it as much as I do. I think it contains some of the best work any of the cast including Glenda Jackson, Ian Holm and Ann-Magret have ever done and Julie in her atypical role is terrific. Would love to hear your take on it if you've seen it.

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  10. Hi Joel
    So great to have seen this for the first time on the big screen! it must have been impressive. Your comments on the film are very interesting too, those pertaining to Oskar Werner's performance and your take on Christie in her dual roles, especially.
    Though not favored by sci-fi aficionados, i too like the stark look of the film and its art direction. I think it makes the film age very well. I saw the DVD version with the Christie commentary (I wish she would do more!) and loved that anecdote about the last scene, too.
    I haven't seen "The Return of the Soldier" in several years (it's on my Netflix list) but I saw it a couple of times at the theater when it came out and really loved it. i really should write about it soon. I especially loved the cast...so many of my favorites in the same film (especially Glenda Jackson, Julie Christie, and the jaw-dropper of Ann-Margret, acquitting herself quite nicely!).
    I would like to hear your take on the film as well. I rarely run into anyone who has eve heard of it, much less seen it.
    Thanks again, Joel!

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  11. I'm glad to find someone else who loved Return of the Soldier! Hope you do write it up soon to see what your favorite parts are. I was likewise impressed by Ann-Margret and how well she fit with the rest of the cast. Julie was my favorite, she has one moment which I thought was one of the greatest pieces of acting I ever saw, but I loved them all.

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  12. Your insights are great: I discover things about movies I've seen countless times. Your followers are great, too..! I second most of the comments above. Allow me to offer a few other thoughts.

    I love Fahrenheit 451 since the first time I saw it, undoubtedly on NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies in the 60's, perhaps as you did! I'm one of the few that think it's perfect as is.

    I love that Truffaut helped redeem Herrmann after the Hitchcock Torn Curtain debacle. I'd say Truffaut saved his life. The soundtrack is incredible. I've come to think that it's Herrmann's best. A few years ago, Tribute Film Classics issued the entire soundtrack on cd performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, still available occasionally through Intrada.com, a great site. (I was lucky enough to attend a few years ago one of the now common live soundtrack performances accompanying a showing of the movie, for Psycho with a performance by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. I keep checking bernardherrmann.org for any upcoming live performance somewhere of 451.) I love Bradbury's comments about Herrmann's soundtrack, especially the finale, on The Music of Fahrenheit 451 special feature on Universal's dvd.

    Speaking of, I still find hard to believe Editor Thom Noble's bit of a blowhard claim that he came up with the gauntlets on/gauntlets off sequence in the first book burning, when it certainly appears to me to be an homage to Cocteau of a similar scene from Orpheus.

    Admittedly, I'm a recent follower, but, I was a little surprised that you didn't mention the subtle homoerotic undertones in the movie, ie, the students that have to be separated. Thoughts..?

    One final note on Julie Christie: Perhaps you're aware of amateur photographer Gary Lee Boas' photobook Starstruck. Among his great snapshots, he writes about a few special memories and relationships that he's developed over the years. One of those is with Julie. Boas recounts one of the times that he telephoned her and Warren Beatty answered the phone. Boas heard Beatty say to Julie,, with just a touch of exasperation, 'It's your friend, Gary.' I love that story..!

    Thanks for all YOU do..!
    Jeff


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    1. hello jeff
      And thank you very much for your kind and enthusiastic response to the film and this post. It sounds as if you share my enjoyment of rewatching favorite films. Something the uninitiated often mistake for repeating an experience, but it sounds as if you understand how certain well-made films yield more information with each revisit, making them new and fresh experiences. Your comments on this film how a true passion and interest in movies (and thanks for mentioning how intelligent the and knowledgeable so many of the people who have visited this site are. Your comments join that roster).

      The score for "451" IS wonderful, and your appreciation of it makes me want to watch the film again. And yes, this would be an amazing film to see with a live orchestra.

      I had to laugh at your mentioning of the editor taking credit for the reversed footage on the book burning scene. I am unfamiliar with the scene from Orpheus, but I'm inclined to think you are perhaps correct.

      As per the scene separating the students, I recall it and will have to look at it again through a homoerotic prism (is there such a thing), but I am aware that since I've always taken the society depicted in "451" to be so self-centered sexually, I took the scene to be one of the danger of shared contact; two people together are in danger of actually coming up with ideas. but I love that you have provided me with something to look at through your perspective next time I see the film

      Lastly, I really love that Julie Christie anecdote! Unfamiliar with the photographer, but love that he and Julie struck of a friendship of sorts. Thanks very much for stopping by the blog, for you generous compliments, and very intelligent contribution to the comments section. Hope to hear from you again!

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    2. Hey, Ken.. ! Thanks for the very sweet reply. You are my favorite film blogger..! And just part of that reason is that we share so many favorite films!

      Oh…you must put Cocteau's Orpheus on your watch list…! It's great. I honestly had not much interest in it until a friend implored me to view it a few years ago. Of Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy, I love Orpheus, tho all three hold such rich cinematic history. (Truffaut gave Cocteau his prize money, from Cannes for 400 Blows, so he could finish the third film. And the backstory of Orpheus is so incredible in that it stars Cocteau's past and present lovers at the time of filming.)

      I see what you mean about the society depicted in 451. Perhaps I'm just reading into the scene (but that's great cinema, no…?!?) Tho, thinking more about it, I recall that there's even a bit of homoeroticism in (SPOILER ALERT) The Captain's reaction to Montag's murdering him. He doesn't look fearful but so betrayed and murmurs Montag's name as one would a lover. Again..my take on it..! (I haven't watched 451 again since I posted last week, but, these thoughts are coming to me as I type! I know the movie that well.)

      Oh…..put Starstruck on your book watch list..! It's great. A loving tribute to fandom in a bygone era (lol…the late 60's into the 70's.)

      Thanks again, Ken..!
      Jeff

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    3. I see they have the complete Cocteau film on YouTube, sans subtitles, so perhaps this is my chance to practice my French comprehension (recently trying to learn it...the old dog/new tricks saying comes to mind). It certainly looks beautiful.
      And i like very much that you see things in the film that resonate with you, personally. As you allude to, that is the wonderful, active element of well-made films; they invite us to interpret an artist's vision through our own. When elements in movies are open to personal interpretation, I always see that as an opportunity to learn something about the viewer, not so much as a call to define what the filmmaker intended.

      The things you took note of show me that the film engaged and involved you. When I see the film again, I can perhaps look at those scenes from your eyes and it will add another layer to the many ways those scenes can be read.
      It's a gift to be able to to have a single film that can be read so differently by different viewers. That is, as you said...a hallmark of great cinema!

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    4. Wow, Ken. You make me feel so special..! Thanks for another great reply…! Enjoy Orpheus, and 451 the next time you see it..!
      Jeff

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    5. The cold approach and slightly robotized characters are in line with Bradbury's Fahrenheit universe. A magnificent story, of course. But the movie Fahrenheit's handicap is that it's futuristic look was a prognose heavily based on 1960s pop art and mod fashion.
      It's inavoidable. The cars and highly advanced computer centers in Minority Report still look very good (I saw it this year for the first time), but give it another decade and a half, and the hi-tech styling will draw smirks from movie watchers. Stanley Kubrick tried to avoid the danger of outdating, but the carefully held neutral suits and ties and hair cuts for 2001 ASO look old fashioned now (they did so already in 1968, if you ask me...) By 1990, when no one played music tapes anymore, Alex's sound equipment in Clockwork Orange definitely had a 1970's look, and so did the hairstyles and interiors.
      For some reason we are not able, we even seem to refuse to see films like Fahrenheit in the light of the era in which it was made. But for me, the Modesty Blaise a-GoGo look in Fahrenheit 451, isn't even the worst of them.

      An interesting exception is Orwell's dystopia with a repressed society as in Fahrenheit. But his characters are anything but robotized humans. That's why 1984 (with John Hurt) is visually and psychologically a far better movie than Fahrenheit. The odd thing is that despite all the dark brown bakelite props and men with 1950s shorn backsides 1984 retains a timelessness, and I'm sure it will stay that way for many more decades. It was a right decision of the producers to hang on to the year the book was published: 1948. This is not really the future we see, it's more of an alternate timeline, a parallel universe.

      Talking about A Space Odyssey; my personal view of a futuristic spage age is that all astronauts, time gate operator men and cloning specialists will wear shorts, T-shirts with cut-off sleeves and flipflops. Not very realistic perhaps, but so sexy...
      I even anticipate a clothing-optional trend. Imagine anti-gravity cab drivers wearing nothing but a hologrammed sock. The makers of Blade Runner and The 5th Element missed a chance!

      But what's with wigs in films? Why is Christie's short one looking so awful?
      It was wigs that ruined MIa Farrow's performance in both Secret Ceremony and The Great Gatsby. Not only that- there are James Bond movies where I missed all the action because I kept staring at Sean Connery's toupee!

      Julie Christie's acting abilities in question? She was already a full blown actress in Billy Liar. Anyone who is of opinion that in Don't look Now she was just decoration should be spanked. But I don't think she's particularly brilliant in Fahrenheit, she's just there and - true to the director's commands - holding emotions back. The whole movie lacks emotion. It fits the story, and it also drains it.

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    6. Hi again Willem
      I like your vision of future space age wear! I was always amused by the high-fashion forward look of the futuristic fashion designers of the 60s (like Rabanne, Gurnreich, etc.) because with their fanciful form-fitting, and peek-a-boo clothes, they never envisioned a future of so many obese Americans.
      Great points about how film envisions the future, the John Hurt "1984" reference being particularly good, I think. Hollywood has a way of envisioning both the past and future in ways that do more to situate them specifically within the era in which they were made than contemporary narratives.
      and the question of wigs...I wish someone would write an article on why fake hair is often so problematic in films. For years I guess I've been staring at Lee Grant in a wig, but it never distracted me, so why is it in some films the wig seems to be trying to upstage the performer?
      You're such an engaged film-watcher that even when we disagree, I always enjoy reading your thoughts and opinions on films. As I've stated before, a pleasurable by-product of this blog has been getting to know what so many people have to say about the films they enjoy. Thanks Willem!

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    7. Lee Grant wigged? Was she bald? No, I never noticed. But I never guessed it about Jane Fonda either. I think that the Klute coup was her own hair, though, I remember how I loved it (still do). Usually actresses get rid of an on-set hairstyle once the movie's finished, and she had it for quite an extensive period.

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    8. I guess I'll have to read lee grant's bio to find out the truth, but years ago a makeup person informed me that Lee's more or less trademark hairdo in films was a wig, but honestly, i can't tell. Fonda's famous shag was definitely her own, as was her marcel-waved short haircut in "They Shoot Horses"...but was "Barbarella" all falls and hairpieces? Her hair is enormous in that.
      I think those short ones are always problematic. The one Julie Christie wears in this, Zoe Saldana's in that Rosemary's Baby remake, Julia Roberts' Tinkerbell shag in "Hook"....it goes on.

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    10. Hi Gregory
      I love all the things that you've extracted from this film! It's a big favorite of mine and I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on its content and prescience.

      Always underappreciated, I think it is an amazing film, and, like Kubrick's "The Shining" manages to be letter-true to the meaning of a book by not slavishly adhering to the specifics.

      I hadn't known about the Seberg casting possibility. She would have been great, I think.

      My favorite comment of yours (because I so wholeheartedly agree) is that so much of science fiction is adolescent in its viewpoint. That's why I've never been a big fan of action moves, I too can find all the drama and action i need in basic human interaction. that's why I've always adored such brutal films like "Virginia Woolf", "Closer" and "Scenes from a Marriege" (And yes, the 5 hour version is the only one).
      What's weird is that I saw "Children of Men" and I don't remember a single thing about it.
      To this day I am in awe of that somewhat passive phenomenon of taking in a book, movie, or piece of music, and never knowing until time passes, if it has left its mark on you.
      Some movies from my childhood play in my memory with crystal clarity (like this one), movies I've seen a month ago i can't extract a thing from.
      Thanks for yet another thoughtful revery about a favored film. your appreciation for movies is so palpable!

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