Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Fahrenheit 451 50th Anniversary Screening

Last night was the special 50th Anniversary Screening of Fahrenheit 451 at Wolverhampton's Light House Cinema, and it was a well attended event.

I introduced the film, attempting to place it in a proper historical context. After the screening, I was joined by my colleague, film lecturer Eleanor Andrews, to discuss what we had seen, and to take comments and questions from the audience.

Some interesting observations emerged, both familiar and new. Eleanor was struck by the overall aesthetic of the film, which she compared to 1960s TV classics such as The Avengers and The Prisoner. Various people were taken by the boldness of the film's elimination of text (except for what we see in the prohibited books). And a number of people commented on the drug-taking, zombie-like characters who are shown to be the norm in Fahrenheit.

As so often when I screen this film, I was somewhat taken aback by viewers' willingness to overlook or forgive some of the technical weaknesses of the film, largely because of the strong ideas which the film manages (or struggles) to convey.We spent much of the time discussing the quality of the acting, the apparent consequences in the film of the loss of literacy (characters struggle to remember things, struggle to communicate, and struggle to manage their emotions), differences between book and film, and how the film relates to other works by Truffaut.

The last time I watched the film all the way through was with an audience at the Ray Bradbury on Screen event in Indiana, which I co-curated last year. Both audiences seem to have appreciated the film's ideas, but both audiences seem to have found the character relationships confusing or disturbing. One of the big debates is whether this is what the film is really about, or whether this is some reflection on its troubled production history. I have written before that the alienating effect is to a large extent deliberate, as is evidenced by Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard's screenplay - but that the actual performances add a layer of complication that is probably not fully intended. By this I'm referring to Oskar Werner's heavily-accented delivery, and Julie Christie's struggle to maintain any nuance of difference between the two characters she plays.

Going into this event, I had no idea what audience we might find. I half-expected to be talking to a mere handful of viewers, but the small venue was actually quite full. I'm told that the audience was much bigger than most of the introduced film screenings offered in last year's Artsfest.

After fifty years, Truffaut's film still holds up, particularly when considered as a reflection of the era in which it was made. But there are so many elements of Bradbury's novel that the 1966 film left to one side. Fingers crossed that the forthcoming HBO adaptation will give us a new screen version that is as challenging, and as relevant to present times.

Later this year, I have another Fahrenheit 451 project going public: the special issue of The New Ray Bradbury Review which I have been editing. This contains a number of articles considering the representation of books and texts in the film, some that consider the reception of the film by contemporary and modern audiences, and my own article on Ray Bradbury's responses to Truffaut's film. The issue is due out in October, but is available for pre-order now.

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