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Fahrenheit 451

February 26, 2006 ・ Blog

I just saw François Truffaut’s 1966 film of Farenheit 451. It still feels very fresh, despite some faintly hammy performances (Julie Christie especially). I really liked the level of detail: the opening credits are spoken (since the written word is forbidden in this future distopia), and the production design is inspired.

This repressive world isn’t set in some 1984/Brazil densely-populated concrete-and-steel city. Its people live in modernist Span-style houses in tree-lined suburbs, tastefully furnished in mid-century modern chairs and ornaments. It even features a monorail. Truffaut’s characterisation of this world of ignorant comfort with utopian modernist design is perfect.

Design is often employed to make people thoughtless. To make lives easy and seamless. To smooth over cracks. Good design is about having a designer do all the thinking for you. Truffaut’s interpretation of Ray Bradbury’s book emphasises the role of literature in reminding us about difficult emotions like pain and anger, because they are what life is about. These emotions are the antithesis of the kind of good design marketed by Ikea or the Conran Shop.

It’s quite startling that Truffaut was thinking about this with such clarity in the 1960s. With mid-century modern being in such vogue at the moment, seeing it equated with tyranny in this film is deliciously unsettling.