Starring Julie Christie and Oskar Werner
This 1966 feature brings together the talents of Francois Truffaut, Ray Bradbury, Julie Christie, Oskar Werner, Bernard Herrmann and Nicolas Roeg. And while the film isn’t without its charms, it’s ultimately something of a disappointment considering the talented individuals who were involved.
Fahrenheit 451 was Truffaut’s first English-language film and his first to be shot in colour. At the time, Truffaut was one of the most highly-respected directors in Europe thanks to The 400 Blows, Shoot The Piano Player and Jules And Jim. He should be given credit for stepping out of his comfort zone and working with Bradbury’s sci-fi classic and filming in English (a language he was on fluent in).
Unfortunately, the dialogue comes off as stilted and detached. Whether that was due to Truffaut’s inability to speak English or his troublesome German-speaking leading man, Oskar Werner, it’s hard to know.
Werner, who was coming off his biggest success with the 1965 film The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, showed up with an inflated ego and clashed with Truffaut throughout the shoot.
Christie too, was hot property, having just won the Oscar for her performance in Darling and having just shot Doctor Zhivago. While she was a pussycat to work with, the decision to have her play both of the leading female characters remains questionable.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Fahrenheit 451 takes place in a future where reading is prohibited as the government deems it “makes people unhappy”.
Werner plays Guy Montag, a fireman. In this world, firemen start fires, after searching out hidden books and burning them. Montag is a good company man who is looking at a promotion. But then he meets Clarisse (Christie) a neighbour who is a school teacher and something of a rebel. Eventually she gets Montag to rethink his attitude about books.
Meanwhile Montag’s wife, Linda (also Christie, but with longer hair), spends her days at home watching interactive TV on a big, flat-screen monitor (that sounds familiar).
The guts of the film is Montag’s struggle within himself, so although this is nominally a sci-fi, it’s definitely a Truffaut film.
Those looking for typical sci-fi special effects will probably be disappointed. Apart from a few scenes on a monorail, there is just on brief shot of police flying through the air on some kind of air-borne scooters.
Two of the film’s biggest draw cards are the way it looks and the way it sounds. Nicolas Roeg was the cinematographer and he gets elicits more emotion through the colours and camera movements he produces than some of the actors. Roeg went on to become an acclaimed director himself…check out 1973’s Don’t Look Now (also with Julie Christie) and 1976’s The Man Who Fell To Earth (with David Bowie).
Truffaut was also a huge Hitchcock fan and his influence can be felt in the film, particularly in the music which was scored by Bernard Herrmann (North By Northwest, Psycho, The Birds).
So, there’s a lot to admire in Fahrenheit 451 (the title refers to the temperature at which paper burns) even though the film as a whole doesn’t quite hit the mark.
DVD extras include an excellent “Making Of” doco and commentary by Julie Christie along with the film’s editor and producer.
Watch the trailer for Fahrenheit 451 here: