The lapse of luxury

"It is bitter to have loved and lost than never to laugh it off," Bamuall Subtler

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

fool's circle

book burning tower

I first watched Fahrenheit 451 (Francois Truffaut) on TV in my teens; I was dumbfounded by such a boring scifi movie without cool special effects. But the premise was great: what if we lived in a society that banned and shunned writing and literacy?

I rewatched the movie on dvd yesterday, after 20-odd years, and finally got it. Although the cover blurb had to point out to me that Julie Christie played the roles of the heroine & anti-heroine (methadon-ette?); just as I had to be told that one woman was played by 2 actors in The Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Bunuel).

Reader's Digested Version:

Setting: An edition of our own society where all books are banned.
Story: A fireman, who burns books and arrests readers, is enticed into literature by non-com educator. The fireman becomes estranged from his numb, conformist wife who is repelled by his book-loving ways. She reports him to the authorities. He escapes to live with the book people, who memorize books, "become books", to evade Big Brother.

Luscious to watch - smooth, elegant Hitchcockian cinematography by Nicholas Roeg - long seductive sequences of books burning - cool colours interrupted by the lipstick red firetrucks - the whole thing lusciously un-sexy. And Bernard Herrmann's music has the same dusky, romantic, semi-sweet quality I loved so much in Psycho. Angelo Badalamenti, David Lynch's fave scorer, owes Herrmann a drink (hopefully Heaven is not a nation of teatotallers).

Many people find the ending hopeful 'cause the book people preserve literature by memorizing it. But it's tragic; the authorities succeeded in annihilating the written word. This society has come full circle, and listen to stories as we once did, rather than read them.

TV is the medium for keeping everyone docile. Not much has changed since the '60s. Fahrenheit 451's society is paranoid; they believe that people who think differently will make everyone unhappy. In our society, people who have different beliefs are potential terrorists. All books are obscene in Fahrenheit 451's society; in our society people don't understand that any book and no book is pornography.

Now for my anti-climax:
Any real society, utopia or distopia begs the same question: At which point are we in the cycle of propaganda to reality back to propaganda? We can't tell and we're fools.

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Anonymous Paul said...

speaking of Nicholas Roeg...watched the Criterion Collection edition of The Man Who Fell To Earth a while ago. Your comment re: cinematography reminded me why, among other reasons (ie: interesting subject matter/treatment), Roeg's films are so interesting to watch/re-visit. TMWFTE fortunately does not appear dated and is in fact as relevant, if not more so, viewed with a contemporary gaze. About to watched another beloved Roeg classic, Walkabout, also c/o Criterion. Both the above-mentioned titles are “the director’s cut” and thus feature extra and/or extended scenes not found in the original releases plus the director’s commentaries. Roeg’s comments are well worth listening to, as are David Bowie’s in TMWFTE. Many of the Criterion Collection titles are available at

9:54 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

vpl now has the Criterion Collection 5 dvd box set of Fanny & Alexander. theatrical release with commentary, Swedish TV extended version, making of doc, etc.

10:02 a.m.  
Blogger Reid said...

The Man Who Fell to Earth is one of my favourite movies. Roeg's wonderful use of editing, cinematography, colour, and quickcut flashbacks all help to put us in the same world as that very disoriented traveller. Walkabout is a far more moving and disturbing picture, but I don't find it quite as original as Man Who Fell. Criterion does a nice job. Check out Roeg's obscurer movies: Gold, Track 29, Bad Timing. Then there's Don't Look Back, which does feel dated. I haven't yet seen Performance.

1:46 p.m.  
Blogger Reid said...

Speaking of Roeg again... The Man Who Fell to Earth had a shimmering soundtrack complied by Papa John Phillips. Most effective for me was the use of a distorted "Blueberry Hill" in a pawnshop, and a haunting/touching used of Holst's "Planets." These odd and poetic choices usually work better than a specially composed score because they counterpoint, in a musical sense, what's happening visually. Most soundtracks try to intensify emotions through aural hyperbole... but directors like Roeg, Lynch, and Pasolini have a better idea. If the audience is going to hear the music anyway make it worth listening to.

10:23 p.m.  

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