Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fahrenheit 451 and the Modesty of Vintage Nightmares

I'm gonna get a bit mod here and talk about the 1966 film adaptation of Fahrenhait 451.  We caught the tail end of it on one of those classic film channels that doesn't play too many commercials and then afterwords talks about the movie for a few minutes.  TCM, I think.  Despite enjoying the book, I’d never caught the film before.

There's something lovely, stylish, and sleek about this vision of the future.  Women in the 1960s were still exploring ways to be lovely, it seems, and the architecture, however misguided, held a sense of ambition and optimism. 

But the cracks start to show through as well: the sterility of modern style, the tendency of sleek lines and concrete block construction to alternate between fascism and shabbiness. 

Of course Truffaut was have been highlighting this angle, as he wanted to capture the bleakness of a future without books.  Still, it's amazing how much his purposely dismal representation of dystopia mirrors the architectural mood around our local Community College (built in 1970). 

It’s been a couple of decades since I read the book, but I recall the viewing room where Montag’s wife gave herself over to the idle consumption of television as being entirely walled in with television screens.  The characters in the dramas that were broadcast became her family, and would share events with her in ways she could no longer interact with her flesh and blood friends and relations. 

It sounded more like virtual reality than television.  I’ve often wondered how Ray Bradbury felt about recent entertainments such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, since the world he depicted in Fahrenheit 451 seemed so prescient when one considers these new technologies.  Back in the city we had a projector hooked to our computer that would display the contents of imaginary worlds across sixty square feet.  (We had high ceilings.)

This is why I was shocked - shocked - the first time I actually saw a television depicted in the film.  It’s tiny!

Look at that thing!  It’s as if Truffaut, imagining this terrifying future in which people had given themselves over to shallow, mindless entertainments, couldn’t imagine a television grander than a modest flat-panel display available at Best Buy. 

This was the spookiest part of the film for me: the realization that our brave new world contains technologies and temptations that make the grandest nightmares of 44 years ago look quaint.

On the upside, though, we’re still allowed to read anything we want.  As long as our attention spans

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