Books and silence — libraries in a nutshell. (Sigh.)
In the 1991 film Regarding Henry, directed by Mike Nichols and written by J. J. Abrams (!), a library scene takes place almost exactly halfway through the movie.
But first, let’s set the context. Harrison Ford plays the title role, a hot-shot and ruthless New York lawyer who is out of sync with his 12-year-old daughter, Rachel, or his wife, Sarah (played by Annette Bening). One fateful night, Henry gets shot by a kid holding up a corner store, a shot that causes brain damage. When Henry wakes up, he has to figure out how to start all over again — including the basics of movement and speech — including getting to know his family again.
Here’s a trailer for the film:
The library scene — over 10 seconds of it! — makes the trailer, at 1:45 seconds into the clip above.
Rachel takes her father to the library, and she explains the basic rules of the library on the walk there.
Rachel: Some of them [books] you can borrow and take home, but some of them you have to read here.
Henry: And you can’t talk loud.
Books and silence — libraries in a nutshell. (Sigh.)
The camera then pans quickly through the library, following the polished floors and atmosphere so quiet you can hear every step of every shoe and squeak of every chair. Every table is occupied, showcasing a variety of people.
Henry’s daughter is working and studying, writing in a notebooks. A stack of National Geographic magazines are on the table in-between father and daughter. (It isn’t clear if the magazines are for Henry or for his daughter.) There is also a large photography book open in front of Henry.
Henry then starts throwing wads of paper from a box of call number slips, crumpling them up, and then flicking them at his daughter. (This is the part of the scene that makes the trailer.) The sly expressions on Harrison Ford’s face make this scene a(n initially) comic one.
His daughter is not so amused. She keeps saying, “Stop it!” and “Dad, I’m serious.“
Henry’s mocking response? “I know. VERY.“
But the third time he flicks a paper wad at her, Rachel cracks a smile. But then this short scene turns serious.
Rachel: Read your book.
Henry: I can’t.
Rachel: [Realization dawning on her face] I’m sorry.
Rachel’s mother no doubt hid a lot of the details about Henry’s recovery from her daughter, including details about how he had to painstakingly learn how to speak and walk again. It never occurred to Rachel — or the audience?! — until that moment in the library that her father no longer remembered how to read.
This realization then leads to Henry’s daughter teaching him how to read again. This is significant because he had always put pressure on his daughter to be smart and self-reliant and grown-up; this friction had caused emotional distance between them. Henry being able to admit weakness to his daughter helps them bond again.
It’s a poignant scene. And that this discovery — that Henry can’t remember how to read — is made IN A LIBRARY makes this scene even more poignant and memorable.
Although memorable, this scene lasts less than two minutes. No librarian is visibly present in the scene. Theoretically, one of the several people in the background could be a librarian, but there is nothing obvious — like, say a prop like a book cart — to make this connect visibly clear for the audience. And no librarian is needed in this scene; rather, the focus is on the relationship between father and daughter.
Therefore, Regarding Henry lands in the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries.
Library filming location:
The filming locations mentioned in its IMDb page are very general — it was filmed in New York City — but luckily, an internet search turned up the “On the Set of New York” site. This site’s page for Regarding Henry reveals that the library scene was filmed at the 5th avenue branch of the New York Public Library. This turns out to the iconic central, or main, branch of the library. Kudos to director Mike Nichols for finding a way to make the library space in this scene look more cozy and warm than the usual cinematic shots of the NYPL central branch.
Yes, this film was already on my Foreign Films reel librarians list. I have also written an analysis post on City of Angels, the (inferior) U.S. remake starring Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage. It would be interesting to do a post about Wings of Desire, and then perhaps a follow-up comparing the two films and their two reel libraries/librarians. Adding this to my ideas list…
And here it is, at least the first part of the idea to analyze Wings of Desire (1987), which is a truly haunting film.
Plot and atmosphere:
The original title of this primarily German-language film is Der Himmel über Berlin, which translates to “The Sky over Berlin.” I actually prefer that title, rather than the more generic-sounding Wings of Desire. We see humanity through the wanderings of angels throughout Berlin, including one particular angel, Damiel (played by Bruno Ganz), who begins to fall in love with a mortal woman. Peter Falk also stars in the film, playing a version of himself. I can’t say anymore about the plot, as I want to avoid any spoilers. This is a film to savor watching the first time, if you have not already seen it. (And let’s just say, it has almost nothing in common with its American remake, City of Angels, THANK GOODNESS, except for the barest of plot lines and the angels’ penchant for long coats. I analyzed the library scene in City of Angels in this post.)
Here is a trailer for the film, set only to music:
There are so many beautiful moments in this beautiful film, including every time a child looks up and smiles in recognition of an angel. I tear up just thinking about it. None of the adults notice the angels’ presence; only the children notice them and share knowing smiles.
I had passively resisted watching this film until now, in part because of the *awful* American version of it. I suppose I thought the film would be too “arty” and depressing (the bulk of it is in black and white), but that’s what I get for assuming! The film is ultimately uplifting, and the director, Wim Wenders, sustains an atmosphere of bittersweet wonder with the lightest touch… like that from angels’ wings? 😉
In short, this film is special. See it now — for the first or 100th time.
There are three short scenes set and filmed in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library), where angels often go to hang out with humans. Another reason to love the angels, who obviously have such good taste — and not just in overcoats!
There is no reel librarian character that I could see, so this film does end up in the Class V category of films with no identifiable librarians (although Class V films might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries). But that does not take away the significance of the library in this classic film, as I demonstrate in detail below.
Library scene #1:
Sixteen minutes into the film, Damiel and his friend, Cassiel (Otto Sander), visit the Staatsbibliothek. The scene lasts 7 minutes in total as the angels and the camera wind their way around the shelves and different levels of this eye-catching library.
“There are wonderful scenes on a plane or in the public library where the sound mixers scroll through the gathered people, moving from one inner monologue to another the way we flip through channels with our TV remote. In the library, there are almost as many angels as there are mortals, all looking for something interesting to commit to memory or maybe scribble down in one of their little notebooks.”
The sound throughout this scene is a hushed murmuring of voices/thoughts layered on top of choir-like singing. The effect is like that of visiting a church, and indeed, this library has soaring ceilings to match the soaring vocals. The director and the angels treat this space like a sacred space. In the book The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History, Laura Marcus argued that in Wings of the Desire, the angels’ affinity for libraries do indeed make the library a miraculous place.
This is very obviously a well-used library, filled with people — and angels! — in all corners. It also showcases that a library provides space and resources for many different kinds of needs and different kinds of users.
The scene comes to a close as Damiel takes notice of an old man slowly climbing the stairs, pausing every few steps to catch his breath and wipe his face. We see this man, the storyteller, throughout the rest of the film. His inner dialogue feels appropriate for such a setting:
“Tell me, muse, of the storyteller… Those who listened to me became my readers…”
Library scene #2:
This same older man is our link to the second library scene, when at 39 minutes into the film, we revisit the man sitting at a table in the library. This table is filled with a collection of globes of many sizes, and he is enthralled with a rotating solar system. The camera then cuts to the old man sitting at a different table in the library, this time thumbing slowly through a large book of photos. The angel Cassiel follows the old man through the library, just as the reader does.
This scene lasts only two minutes. But as Marcus points out in The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History, Wenders highlights the library as a tool of “memory and public space.” This is especially evident in this scene.
Library scene #3:
The final scene in the library lasts only a minute, but it is a memorable minute. Cassiel remains in the library, but this time, the tables and desks are empty.
The library is closed, the only mortals the cleaners, yet the angels still seek solace within the library walls.
Real-life library, trivia, and significance:
The movie was filmed on location at Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, Germany. This library is also featured in two other German-language films, Agnes and His Brothers (2004) and the TV movie Götterdämmerung – Morgen stirbt Berlin (1999).
The DVD features include an interactive map that also highlights the library, as you can see in the screenshot below.
The library clip on the interactive map lasts less than 30 seconds, but it reveals why the public library location was chosen for the film:
“The Staatsbibliothek was built between 1967 and 1978. It is one of the largest libraries in Europe, with a collection of over 8 million books and manuscripts. The quietness of the library, due to its acoustics, makes it an ideal place for the angels to tune into our thoughts.”
Here’s a look at that acoustic ceiling in the library:
Wings of Desire was both a critical and financial success, and as per its Wikipedia entry, “academics have interpreted it as a statement of the importance of cinema, libraries, the circus, or German unity, containing New Age, religious, secular or other themes.”
I will end with this thought, that Kvennard is certainly not alone is being haunted by the library imagery in the film. Indeed, the German news publication Der Tagesspiegelrecently highlighted the film’s memorable imagery, in particular the library scenes:
“A film lives on such images that get stuck in the memory of the audience.”
Have you, too, seen the film and been haunted by its imagery? Have you seen the American remake? Please leave a comment and share!
However, there are some interesting library-related bits of trivia still to explore in this remake. Buckle up!
Opening scene in a library:
The opening scene in the remake begins at a mansion, the “Aldridge Mansion Museum.” (Definitely not as memorable as the original film’s opening scene in the New York Public Library, which I analyzed in-depth in this post.) A tour guide is leading a group of people through the first level of the mansion, which he describes as “the only 19th century home in New York City preserved both inside and out.”
He leads the group into a center atrium, surrounded on all sides by bookcases and iron railings on the second level. He then relates the story of the resident ghost, Gertrude Aldridge, who allegedly stabbed all the house’s servants one night. (Her character was based on the real-life Lizzie Borden.)
It is an impressive private library, although the word “library” is not mentioned at all during the tour. However, there is an “Announcements” sign by the guest book that includes “library hours,” as well as a large sign beside the velvet ropes in the atrium, which reads, “Aldridge Family Library, circa 1830.”
The “Aldridge Mansion” filming location looks to be the Ames Mansion at Borderland State Park, especially when you compare the photo above to this interior photo of the Ames Mansion library. The idea of the “Aldridge Mansion” being the “only 19th century home in New York City preserved both inside and out” is loosely based on the Merchant’s House Museum in Manhattan, which is open to the public. The IMDB.com Trivia page for this film also suggests that “Aldridge Mansion” may be named for the original film’s costume designer, Theoni V. Aldredge.
The Aldridge Mansion’s historian, Ed Mulgrave (played by Ed Begley Jr.) seeks out help from Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig), because of a book she wrote years ago, Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal.
However, Erin is not pleased to see him and is astounded that he has a copy of her book. (She thought she burned “both copies” years ago!) She is trying to earn tenure as a physics professor at a serious academic institution and does not want to be discredited by her background in the paranormal. In an effort to get her book off of Amazon, she visits her former friend and book’s co-author, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who agrees to take the book down in exchange for an introduction to Mulgrave. This brings us back to the Aldridge Mansion… and back to the library ghost!
As Erin, Abby, and Abby’s fellow scientist, Jillian Holtzmann (played with kooky relish by Kate McKinnon), walk into the center atrium and library, we get to see more of the space, which is filled with mannequins dressed in old costumes, antique furniture, red velvet ropes, old lamps, and more.
The three scientists realize they are about to witness a real-life apparition, er, ghost. And out of the basement floats a spooky figure, dressed in a striped Victorian dress. She looks just like the portrait hanging on the second-floor railing of the library, so this ghost is very clearly the spirit of the daughter Gertrude. She’s definitely NOT a librarian — although based on her hairstyle and clothing, she does look like a younger version of the librarian ghost from the original, doesn’t she? Gertrude the Ghost does make a return in the final battle showdown, and she is also featured in the credits.
As Erin tries to communicate with her, the ghost projects green goo all over Erin. The ghost then flies out of the house, with the three scientists rushing out to try and track her movements. Abby has been filming this entire scene, and the video clip of Erin screaming, “We saw a ghost!” makes it to YouTube and Reddit… ending with Erin getting fired from her teaching position.
That, of course, leads to the formation of the Ghostbusters, with Erin, Abby, and Jillian joining forces with public transportation worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones)!
Additional library sightings:
More “library” sightings in the film include:
One early call leads them to a hotel and rock concert. When they arrive, a man is being led out on a stretcher and mumbling in Spanish. Erin attempts to translate what the man is saying and ends up (mis)translating, “There’s a chicken frying itself in the library.” Patty has no problem correcting her, “That is NOT what he said.”
When the Ghostbusters are driving to the rock concert, they pass by the New York Public Library, where the original film opens.
During the title sequence, there is a brief ghost of Columbia University Library. A few scenes of the original Ghostbusters (1984) were filmed at Columbia University — although Columbia made a deal back then to keep their name out of the film!
Additional book-related trivia:
There are also a couple more interesting trivia bits concerning books and research tied to the film:
A little over an hour into the film, Jillian brings out a research atlas with a map of ley lines in New York City. This is relevant to the film’s plot and the Ghostbusters trying to figure out where all the paranormal activity is originating from.
The book that Abby and Erin co-wrote, Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal, was published for real as a movie tie-in book!
What are your thoughts?
Have you seen the Ghostbusters original and remake? Were you also disappointed that there was no additional librarian ghost in the remake? Please leave a comment and share.
Ghostbusters. Dir. Paul Feig. Perf. Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones. Columbia Pictures, 2016.
The article’s author, Patrick Sauer, aptly sums up how beloved this book remains:
“If visions of Claudia and Jamie bathing—and collecting lunch money—in the Met’s Fountain of Muses bring up fond childhood memories of your own, you’re among the legions of readers who grew up loving E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The classic children’s book turns 50 in 2017, and the tale of the Kincaid siblings spending their days wandering about the paintings, sculptures and antiquities, and their nights sleeping in antique beds handcrafted for royalty, is as popular as ever. The 1968 Newbery Medal winner has never been out of print.”
The article then goes into the many inspirations behind the book and Konigsburg’s writing, including this sweet memory shared by her son Paul:
“When we were in grade school, Mom would write in the morning. When the three of us kids would come home for lunch, she would read what she wrote,” says Paul Konigsburg, 62. “If we laughed she kept it in. If not, she rewrote it.”
The article also mentions the 1973 film version of the book, also released under the title The Hideaways, which I wrote a post about almost two years ago on this blog. The film doesn’t feature a librarian, but it DOES shine a spotlight on the vital role of research, as well as libraries, both public and private.
The scene in the film is different from the book, but it’s still fun to see a visual representation of all those “mixed-up files.” Although, of course, they’re not mixed-up at all. They files are quite logically organized, at least according to the logic of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
And finally, next week on July 13 and 15, in honor of the book’s 50th anniversary — and of course, the Met’s starring role in the book! — the Met will host special Art Trek family tours featuring several exhibits mentioned in the book that are still in the museum, including the mummy and the bronze cat in the Egyptian wing.
Have you ever been to the Met? Are you a fan of the book? Please leave a comment and share!
“Is there not freedom in the very choice of which book you want to be?”
I recently rewatched the 1966 film version of Fahrenheit 451, directed by French New Wave director Francois Truffaut and starring Julie Christie in a dual role and Oscar Werner as Montag, the fireman who falls in love with books, the very thing he’s charged with burning.
*MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT*
Here is one of the original trailers for the film:
The origins of Fahrenheit 451:
One of the major themes of the book, and resulting film, is about authoritarian censorship, the kind that led to book-burning in World War II. The finished novel of Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1953, so this was still fresh in people’s minds.
The origins of the book, however, actually go back to 1947-1948, right after the war ended, when Bradbury wrote a short story, “Bright Phoenix.” This story featured a librarian who confronted a book-burning “Chief Censor.” Bradbury turned that story, plus another story in 1951 called “The Pedestrian” set in a totalitarian future, into the novella called “The Fireman,” which was published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Bradbury relished retelling the story about how he wrote “The Fireman” (which essentially serves as the first draft of Fahrenheit 451) in 9 days on a typewriter he rented in the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library for ten cents per half hour. He then expanded that story into the novel we know today.
In a dystopian future — one again, like in The Handmaid’s Tale, is too eerily familiar to modern times — books are forbidden and burned when discovered. In this future, firemen are trained to burn books, rather than prevent fires. Neighbors are encouraged to spy on one another and report those they suspect have books. Information (or rather, propaganda) is spread through television, called “wall screens,” as well as through comics-like publications, as seen in the screenshot below.
The hidden library scene:
A turning point in the film comes almost exactly halfway through the film, when Montag is called to the house where he knows Clarisse lives. Clarisse is described as Montag’s “rebellious, book-collecting mistress” on the back of the DVD case, but her role in the film is much tamer than that description suggests. His supervisor, Captain Beatty (played by Cyril Cusack), discovers a “hidden library” in the attic and cannot hold back his glee at the prospect of burning all those books:
I knew it. Of course, all this — the existence of a secret library was known in high places, but there was no way of getting at it. Only once before have I seen so many books in one place. I was just an ordinary fireman at the time.
It’s all ours, Montag.
Once to each fireman, at least once in his career, he just itches to know what those books are all about. He just aches to know. Isn’t that so? Take my word for it, Montag, there’s nothing there. The books have nothing to say!
During this scene and monologue — only the captain is talking, Montag only reacts — Captain Beatty expounds on different types of books and genres, dismissing each in turn. At the end, he finally reveals the reasons behind this society’s book-burning:
We’ve all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal. So, we must burn the books, Montag. All the books.
This scene reminded me of the forbidden magazines scene in The Handmaid’s Taleand the reasons the Commander gave for their totalitarian regime. The reasons in The Handmaid’s Tale were different, that they needed to “cleanse” all the dirt and filth and sex from the world. The reasons expressed in Fahrenheit 451 come off as a search for a mythical, Utopian, and elusive “pursuit of happiness.” A generic happiness, but happiness nonetheless.
The captain’s assertion that “the books have nothing to say” is directly contradicted in the next scene, in which the older woman refuses to leave her books.
Fabian, another fireman, rushes in to say that the woman won’t leave. “She won’t leave her books, she says.”
Woman: I want to die as I’ve lived.
Captain Beatty: Oh, you must have read that in there. I’m not going to ask you again. Are you going?
Woman: These books were alive. They spoke to me.
And so the older woman lights the match herself, to die as she lived, with her beloved books.
Truffaut also lingers several minutes over the burning of the books, with several close-ups.
In the final act of the film, Montag and his firemen troop are called to his own house. He is forced to burn his own hidden collection of books.
He is chastised and criticized by his captain:
What did Montag hope to get out of all this? Happiness? What a poor idiot you must have been.
His captain tries to grab the last book from Montag’s hand — we find out later this is a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, Tales of Mystery and Imagination — but Montag finally breaks, blasting Captain Beatty with the fire hose instead.
Now compare this photo, of his captain lying facedown in the pile of books, ablaze, with the previous screenshot of the older woman, standing upright, proud and defiant. Both are martyrs of their own kind, but the woman chose to go up in flames.
The book people:
Montag goes on the run then, hunted by the state, but he manages to escape to a hidden Utopia, deep in the forest, where others have escaped and banded together. These people are known as the “Book People,” as they have memorized a single work of literature and recite their tales for anyone who wishes to hear. The “book people” scenes were also filmed last.
Here’s how the leader of the camp describes how they came together, the 50 or so at their station. But he mentions there are more of the books:
In abandoned railway yards, wandering the roads. Tramps outwardly, but, inwardly, libraries.
It wasn’t planned. It just so happened that a man here and a man there loved some book. And rather than lose it, he learned it. And we came together. We’re a minority of undesirables crying out in the wilderness. But it won’t always be so. One day we shall be called on, one by one, to recite what we’ve learned. And then books will be printed again. And when the next age of darkness comes, those who come after us will do again as we have done.
And the book people also burn books themselves! But like the older woman in the house, they choose to do so, for their own specific reasons.
Yes, we burn the books. But we keep them up here [pointing to the brain] where nobody can find them.
The book people have literally “become” their chosen book and even introduce themselves as such:
“Are you interested in Plato’s Republic?”
“Well, I am Plato’s Republic. I’ll recite myself for you whenever you like.”
“I am The Prince by Machiavelli. As you see, you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
“That man over there hasn’t much longer to live.”
“He’s The Weir or Germiston by Robert Louis Stevenson. The boy is his nephew. He’s now reciting himself, so the boy can become the book.”
The film clip below is a combination of the final two scenes from the film.
In a special “making of” featurette in the DVD’s special features, film historian and professor Annette Ensdorf gave her own interpretation of the film’s final scenes among the “book people,” stating that the people reciting their books at the end are just as self-absorbed as the narcissists we saw at the beginning of the film. Ensdorf sums up the finale and the “book people” as:
…instruments of the text — not really existing as a completely integrated social community but rather as individual icons.
But there’s the feeling of a certain muted triumph, namely that the book people will maintain a portion of civilization, that someday these books will still be alive, even if they are recounted rather than as written text.
Classification and connections:
Although the people literally become books in the end and could therefore be argued to be the only thing left resembling a librarian in a futuristic sense, I have to categorize this film in the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries. There are definitely library and censorship themes in the film, but no actual, identifiable librarians.
This contrasts with the “Books” in another sci-fi classic, Soylent Green. In Soylent Green, “Books” are former librarians and professors who become personal researchers in a dystopian future, a world in which books have ceased to be written and published. Books become rare commodities, precious treasures to be hoarded — but not due to fear of burning. Rather, books — and the people who take care of them, who then are referred to as “Books” themselves — are almost revered, and they have a unique power of their own.
In Soylent Green, the “Books” guard the past, but there is little hope for the future.
In Fahrenheit 451, however, the “Book People” guard, or consume, the past because they are the only hope for the future.
Books in Fahrenheit 451:
Here’s a list I compiled of all the books mentioned in the final scenes, in the order they are mentioned. The leader mentions there are around 50 or so around their camp, but says there are many others out there. A southern camp is also mentioned in the last scene.
These are some of the books we know that will live on:
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Corsair by Byron
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Jewish Question
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Prince by Machiavelli
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, volumes one and two
Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe
The Memoirs of Saint Simon
The Weir of Germiston by Robert Louis Stevenson
Book-burning in Fahrenheit 451:
On the “making of” feature on the DVD, producer Lewis M. Allen shared this tidbit about censorship he experienced during the making of the film:
An interesting thing about censorship is that when we were doing the book burning scene, the studio… wanted to eliminate all books that were by living authors that were not in public domain, and the fact that they may be sued or whatever. And we just ignored that. We said, the hell with it, because I think everybody, anyone who was around who had a book being burned in there would be very much flattered by it. … So we ignored that and went right ahead.
Allen also shared an amusing anecdote about how they compiled and played with all those books for the book-burning scenes:
To me, the most interesting part of the film… was the burning of the books, which went went on and on. And we had those books in our offices, we had hundreds of books, from the beginning of the film. And he would play with them. We’d go round and pick ones out, play with them, and toss them, and put piles and so on. Every day this was done, as a kind of ritual, which was fun to do, ‘cause we’d come up with strange books.
The screenplay was originally written in French, as it was director François Truffaut’s vision, so there were several puns that got lost when translated into English.
One of the best puns focused on “homme livre” versus “homme libre.”
The original script had a moment between Clarisse and Montag, in which Clarisse explains about the “homme livre,” which translates to “book man.” But in French, “homme livre” sounds very close to “homme libre,” which translates to “free man.”
As producer Lewis M. Allen shared on the “making of” DVD feature:
That was a nice pun, about the book people and the free people, livre and libre, which could not be translated.
Definitely an attempt to preserve the nature of the original pun in French, but it’s a pale ghost of the original.
Homage to the written word
The ultimate message of Truffaut’s film version of Fahrenheit 451 gets discussed by several people in the DVD features.
From film historian and critic Annette Ensdorf:
What you’re going to get is Truffaut’s really passionate homage to literature, to the written word, to the notion of a text as a living, breathing entity and process that can still affect us.
Ensdorf’s thoughts on the ultimate significance of the book people’s actions:
You learn it [the book] by heart, through the process of love. […] Is there not freedom in the very choice of which book you want to be?
From producer Lewis M. Allen, who praised Truffaut playing down several of the more overt sci-fi elements in the book, like the “mechanical hound,” because:
It would be very distracting, in fact, from the simple story of the books, which was really what he was interested in most of all.
From Steven C. smith, biographer of composer Bernard Hermann, who composed the music for the film and who was personal friends with the book’s author Ray Bradbury:
The act of reading becomes… the most romantic thing in Fahrenheit 451.
And in the music feature on the DVD, Ray Bradbury summed up the themes of the film’s musical score and its connection with the story itself:
What we have is a romance with books.
Final words from the author himself:
The DVD that I checked out of this film also included in its special features an interview with Ray Bradbury, who talked about how he first wrote the book in a library basement and how the title came about.
On reflection in 2002 special feature on the DVD by Universal Studios, Bradbury remarked:
I am a library person. I never made it through college you see. I’m self-educated in the library so anything that touches the library touches me.
You can also read a bit more background info and personal quotes from the author in my obituary post for Ray Bradbury, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 91. He was a lifelong and vocal supporter of libraries, and as he stated in 2009:
Libraries raised me.
Here’s to the “book people” around the world who stand up to censorship and advocate for reading, books, libraries, and librarians. ♥
Have you read the book and seen the film version of Fahrenheit 451? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below.
Fahrenheit 451. Dir. François Truffaut. Perf. Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack. Universal Pictures, 1966.
The Handmaid’s Tale. Dir. Volker Schlindorff. Perf. Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth McGovern. Cinecom, 1990.