Monday, November 14, 2016

Fahrenheit 451 marks its 50th year with little fanfare

By Erik Bean

Fahrenheit 451 Wanted Scene 1966
Original View, Copyright 1966 Pinewood Studios, Fahrenheit 451
Minstead Gardens in Alton Estates (See below for same area in 2016).
With little fanfare, and certainly barely nothing more than a blog or two like this one, the 50th anniversary of what many view as the most significant and seminal dystopian film of all time, has arrived. Ray Bradbury’s powerful 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451 was released on film via the extraordinary direction of Francois Truffaut, his only English speaking film on November 14, 1966.

What has been most striking after all these years are some of the truisms regarding society’s use of large screen televisions, let alone interactive ones, live broadcasts, and the availability and over consumption of drugs. But is that where the similarities to contemporary society stop? The premise is an ideology that like Orwell’s 1984 big brother (or in the case of 451, cousins) is/are watching everyone for it is incumbent upon all citizens to disavow reading books. “Books make people anti-social” says protagonist Guy Montag (Oskar Werner), a fireman whose job is to find and burn all books, yet was so consumed by this role, he ultimately succumbed to it.

A society that ultimately tries to control all forms of media, including what they watch on TV is not a free society. The recent U.S. election raises questions that have plagued society for decades, media bias and control by the powerful and elite, the haves and have nots. An entertaining film starring Julie Christie who plays two roles, Montag’s monorail friend and wannabee teacher Clarisse and conforming wife Linda who ultimately betrays him after he ultimately betrays her and his government by reading the books he was supposed to destroy.

Clarisse, a new teacher on probation is removed from her job after introducing books to her young students, but whose desire to be well read aligns with Montag. How they connect in the end is left for your pursuit. But you know they end up together in a section of town where the book people live. This is after all a love story. One at the very end offers no explanation as to why the two never kiss.

Even so we can be enamored in the amazing job Truffaut and his site selection team did. They were able to secure usage of a mysterious under-track 1958 SAFEGE monorail we’d all would have enjoyed a ride on. Today, it lies as a dilapidated and ransacked Paris suburban relic left rotting after allegedly only having been operational for one year several years prior to the film making. And yet other parts of the film owe what was a small but quite western London suburb a history worth noting. 

The first scene where the first books were thrown from what appears to be a contemporary yet unsettling municipal housing apartment project was shot at RoeHampton University, but it wasn’t a university until 1975. Some websites report that Dunbridge House was it. I recently had an opportunity to gratefully visit the area after presenting at the 2016 Customer Experience Summit.

Winchfield House, 10-20-16, a comfortable looking
suburban London housing project. Photo by Erik Bean.

According to locals, however, that first scene was shot at Winchfield House. Regardless, among one of the film’s most eerily famous scenes occurs after Montag murders his fire chief and the citizens call on all people to be aware he is on the loose. 

Here, at Minstead Gardens in Alton Estates lies a single set of one story contemporary attached condominium style apartments, the unique mise en scene (setting). 
Today? They still look as interesting as they did for their selection more than 50 years ago. It’s as if time stood still. And the kicker? No plaque, no notation, not even a small sign that 451 was ever there.

Fahrenheit 451 Wanted Scene 2016
Minstead Gardens, 10-20-16, RoeHampton, Photo by Erik Bean.
So why can we all still be so enamored with this story? This film?  After two and half generations? We can be enamored with Bradbury’s predictive mind that could place such current societal objects and obsessions as the central theme. Such objects that are still affecting society in ways we still don’t know or can’t predict, a window into the worst and best society can yield. With challenges faced in the U.S. and abroad, a dystopian future we hope never comes true. Indeed, Fahrenheit 451 marks its 50th year with little fanfare.