By Peter Hummers on January 21, 2021
There are examples of prescient movies about the future which Nostradamus might envy. Some, like Fahrenheit 451, are set in a future in which troubling notions about human behavior take purchase, such as routine censorship of public life and thought. Others, like The Anderson Tapes, take place in the present, but explore emerging trends such as mass societal surveillance.
“Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and starts to burn.” Ray Bradbury’s 1953 book, written partly in response to Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt for Communists under America’s beds, rightly worried about public censorship of thought and expression. Today the perceived threat is coming from [private companies], but the chill is still there.
French film director François Truffaut’s 1966 adaptation received mostly critical reviews, but has grown in stature to where it currently holds an 81% positive rating on [Rotten Tomatoes]. Apparently the subject matter beggared serious belief in 1965 (an attitude shared by the film’s [trailer]), and so contemporary critics may have considered it merely a fantasy film. We know better now, or we should.
Fahrenheit 451 begins à la mode as the credits are read by a voiceover; no words appear on the screen. The colorful art direction reminds one of [The Prisoner], not the dreary dystopian view of later Hollywood futurist films.
We see firemen on a call to a private residence—which is not on fire. When their search turns up a copy of Don Quixote (regarded by some as the first novel), we see their purpose. They are there to collect any books they find and burn them. (One stash of books is found inside a fake television.)
“In the future, a totalitarian government employs a force known as Firemen to seek out and destroy all literature. They have the power to search anyone, anywhere, at any time, and burn any books they find. One of the firemen, Guy Montag (Oskar Werner, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold), meets one of his neighbours, Clarisse (Julie Christie, Dr. Zhivago), a young schoolteacher who may be fired due to her unorthodox views. The two have a discussion about his job, where she asks whether he ever reads the books he burns. Curious, he begins to hide books in his house and read them, starting with Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. This leads to conflict with his wife, Linda (also Christie), who is more concerned with being popular enough to be a member of ‘The Family,’ an interactive television program that refers to its viewers as ‘cousins’” (Wikipedia). Fahrenheit 451 is a bit of a sermon, but entertaining and insightful enough to pay attention to.
For its swinging ’60’s art direction, Fahrenheit 451 is pretty dour. Not so 1971’s The Anderson Tapes, directed by Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico) from Lawrence Sanders’ Edgar Award-winning 1970 novel, which captures a gritty, no-nonsense 1970’s New York City already on the rebound from the previous decade. The mood is darkly comic and ironic; the movie begins in a prison where Duke Anderson (Sean Connery) and other prisoners are enduring a counseling session before Duke is to be freed after 10 years. On the way out, he meets up with two other inmates due for release, “Pop” Meyerhoff (Stan Gottlieb), who’s been inside since 1931, and is not thrilled to be out, and “the Kid” (Christopher Walken, in his big-screen feature debut). They part ways and Duke visits a bank to open an account.
We follow Duke from the bank to his girlfriend’s apartment through various point-of-view shots; in the alley next to the apartment he realizes that now cameras are everywhere. There’s one in the elevator to her very upscale flat (paid for by a sugar daddy—who has private detectives listening to her through a bug in her phone jack). After some quality time with his girlfriend (Dyan Cannon), his thoughts turn to his one true love, and he decides to rob her apartment building. Looking for backing from mobster Pat Angelo (Alan King), Duke is caught on tape by the Treasury Department, surveilling Angelo. On the cold end of the mic, an informant is saying “They call him Duke Anderson; he’s a Limey. He was just tellin’ these guys…” before being cut off by an agent: “We don’t care about him!”
Duke’s subsequent heist, which includes Pop, the Kid, and other old associates, and faces myriad challenges, is meticulously planned and executed—and recorded and documented by a dozen agencies who are tracking everyone, but who aren’t speaking to one another, and not interested in Duke. Will he slip through the net?
Next time, Nothing like a puppet to give you the willies.
(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)