Fahrenheit 451 (François Truffaut / United Kingdom, 1966):

"Every book burned enlightens the world," says Emerson. François Truffaut in London’s Pinewood Studios, uneasy with the language but with Nicolas Roeg’s camera and Bernard Herrmann’s violins on his side. As in Godard (Alphaville) and Losey (The Damned), the Future is Now: Ray Bradbury’s visionary regime is recognizably a mid-Sixties English tangle of antennas and wall screens, with both kook and conformist played by Julie Christie. Society has become somnolent and onanistic, pacified by pills and TV programs ("brothers" and "sisters" are too intimate terms for the zombies, the state addresses them as "cousins"). The word has been banned, books are forbidden and tracked down; firemen once extinguished pyres, now they’re the crypto-Nazis providing them. Oskar Werner is one of the elite troopers, numbly torching literary classics until one night he sneaks David Copperfield home and goes through it arduously, word by word, as if deciphering hieroglyphs. The rebelliousness of reading boils down to the rediscovery of emotion, a bit of Dickens is enough to reduce one of the automatons to distraught tears: "I can’t bear to know those feelings. I’d forgotten all about those things." Truffaut faces Bradbury’s abstractions head on, not as science-fiction but as humanistic fairy-tale -- even Cyril Cusack’s Captain, whose loathing of books reaches a pinnacle in the secret library, is given a tender close-up a second before he’s struck by his pupil’s flamethrower. Hitchcock is the main tributary (Vertigo’s reverie, Marnie’s crimson fades, The Birds’ schoolyard recitations); the Book Lady’s (Bee Duffell) demise is shot like a remembrance of Dreyer’s Day of Wrath, there’s something of Resnais’ Tout la Mémoire du Monde (with its tower of tomes topped by a comic-book) to Truffaut’s democratic glimpses of the bonfire of books (Moby Dick, Chaplin’s autobiography, Cahiers du Cinéma, crossword puzzles, The Thief’s Journal and Mad Magazine all get close-ups). The rebels are diligent memorizers hiding in the woods, keeping Brontë, Carroll, Beckett, Sartre and Austen alive by carrying their works inside them; the protagonist picks up Poe and braces himself for "the next age of darkness." Weekend takes it from there. With Anton Diffring, Jeremy Spenser, and Mark Lester.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home