Purple Television

[April 4 2020] : film

Purple Paradiso: “Fahrenheit 451” by François Truffaut, 1966, Your Movie Of The Day Curated By Savannah Nolan and Olivier Zahm. Read Savannah’s review now.

Purple Paradiso: “Fahrenheit 451” by François Truffaut, 1966, Your Movie Of The Day Curated By Savannah Nolan and Olivier Zahm. Read Savannah’s review now.

Fahrenheit 451 is a sociopolitical satire directed by the French Nouvelle Vague François Truffaut in 1965. Truffaut reportedly found science fiction films uninteresting. Because of this, a friend told him the story of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 iconic novel Fahrenheit 451.  Immediately afterward, Truffaut wanted to make a film from the novel and spent years raising funds to shoot the project.

Truffaut was deep into his Hitchcockian mania when he directed the film. He was in the middle of the interviews that would eventually make up his essential book Hitchcock.  Besides the very deliberate Bernard Herrmann score (who also composed many of Hitchcock’s most famous movies including Psycho, Vertigo, Marnie, The Birds, ETC ) – the film features many Hitchcockian color schemes, rhythms and building of suspense. The film takes place in a controlled society in an oppressive future.  It was the first and only English-language film for Truffaut. It was also his first film shot in 35mm technicolor. Truffaut didn’t actually know English at the time of shooting which posed multiple challenges for the director.

Set in a future dystopia of an unspecified date, Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) is a Fireman on the verge of promotion, whose job is to incinerate books, which are an outlawed medium of mass communication. However, an encounter with a suspended teacher, Clarisse (Julie Christie), inspires him to break the law by reading, which in turn enlightens him to an emotionally healthier way of life. Eventually his wife, Linda (also played by Julie Christie), becomes irritated by his disenchantment with the status quo of life and informs the authorities. Montag then murders his superior and flees beyond the city to join the Book People, a network of small communities that have dedicated their lives to memorizing literature in order to preserve them for future generations.

Truffaut brings more cinematic brilliance to his minute-long title sequence than many filmmakers are able to deploy in an entire film.  Sensitive to using color for the first time – he makes a wildly brilliant entrance into the world of color by using vibrant splashes of pastels that flash across the screen. One of the more frequent themes of the film is the control over communication which motivates Truffaut’s iconic credits sequence: reading is banned in the world of Fahrenheit 451, so the titles are spoken, not printed (Until ‘The End’ at the conclusion, as an homage to fiction books). We listen to the credits the way characters in the film receive the programs they watch on TV, and we see a series of photos like the picture-comics they look at instead of reading newspapers. The Hitchcockian intro is reminiscent of Chris Marker’s La Jeteè.

It may also be likened to Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn Diptych” (1962), an emotionless presentation of many color and black and white variations of a Marilyn Monroe photograph. The original image of this manufactured star was made for mass reproduction. When printed pages do finally fill the screen with legible type, they fade before our eyes, as fire turns the white paper black, and we race against the flames and compulsively read the words.  This aesthetic feature sets the stage for Truffaut’s commentary on the superficial nature of society. As pop art grew in popularity, it detracted attention from the masterpieces of the ages which reflect the unique vision and inspiration of each classic art master. It is, therefore, fitting for Truffaut to allude to pop art as he presents the rise of television pulling people away from classic books containing the philosophies, aspirations and innermost thoughts of history’s greatest minds. He correlates pop art and television as threats to individualism, freedom of thought and creativity.

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