Truly Bad Films

Friday, March 31, 2006

Movie Review

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Last night on TCM I watched Fran├žois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451. I'd never seen it before and it was really quite something. I laughed. I cried - not really. I hit my head on the futon frame.

First, the Good. Even though much of it's obviously dated, Truffaut managed to make a film that still has pull. It's a very quiet film, and you have to relax into a mental state that doesn't expect graphic scenes to appreciate it, but there is a lot here worth absorbing. It's funny in unexpected ways and it's also funny in unintentional ways - but maybe that last observation should fall under "the Bad." It obviously influenced Terry Gilliam in his making of Brazil. The two pleather-clad British medics who come to Montag's house to revive his over-dosed wife must be the antecedents for the two Cockney plumbers who come to Sam's apartment in Brazil. And when Montag's chief shows him a photo of the woman who escaped arrest, the photograph is a dead-ringer for Jill's fugitive-photo in Brazil.

I'd always envisioned the television walls described in the book as complete walls - floor to ceiling. But the television walls in this film are flat panel screens in attractive recessed alcoves. Pretty prescient, Franc!

And then, there's the Bad. The guy who played Montag, Oskar Werner, could barely speak English. When he got excited, I couldn't understand him at all. He read a section of a forbidden book to his wife's tea party and when he got done I said, "Again! This time in English." It's like he invented his own bridge language that connected German and English but had the clarity of neither. In other Bad news, the firemen's uniforms look like they put Nazi fashion in a blender with Star Fleet's couture. They even wear Star Fleetish-looking pins upon their breasts and do the first half of the sieg heil gesture to greet each other. The firetruck they rode in reminded me of the Keystone Kops. It was ludicrous. And then there was a "futuristic" handshake so stupid that I laughed until I hit my head.

The dialog is dull, dull, dull. But who needs exciting dialog when we have a full-screen view of Montag's finger moving from word to word on a printed page, with him reading each word aloud as if dictating a tombstone? Now that's cinematic drama. I thought I'd weep with relief when it was over! The foreplay scene was spirited, but came across as a middle school smooch session. And when we got a pan of books, tragically going up in flames, and among them we see . . . Spanish Crossword Puzzles?! I'm not kidding.

I was gratified to recognize Mark Lester, about eight years old, charging down the hall in short pants. What a cutie! I'll have to do a post on him later this weekend.

In some respect this film makes the cut for Truly Bad. It is cataclysmically bad in many ways. But then, beneath that, you can see that a lot of the bad was intentional. It certainly entertained me and I'm sure that when I see it listed on TCM, I'll watch it again.


At 11:15 PM, Blogger GG said...

middle school smooch session??? ;)
sounds like someone has been listening to the old radio "My Favorite Husband" with Lucille Ball and Richard Denny. He's always telling Liz to come over and give him a smooch or "I'll be on the deck smooching with some 40's movie star, etc." :)


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