Watch Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mind-Bending Masterpiece Free Online

“I feel like every sin­gle frame of the film is burned into my reti­na,” said Oscar-win­ning actress Cate Blanchett about the movie Stalk­er (1979). “I had­n’t seen any­thing like it before and I haven’t real­ly seen any­thing like it since.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film in the USSR seems like an unlike­ly movie to have a devot­ed, almost cultish, fol­low­ing. It is a dense, mul­ti­va­lent, mad­den­ing­ly elu­sive work that has lit­tle of the nar­ra­tive pay-offs of a Hol­ly­wood movie. Yet the film is so slip­pery and so seem­ing­ly pli­able to an end­less num­ber of inter­pre­ta­tions that it requires mul­ti­ple view­ings. “I’ve seen Stalk­er more times than any film except The Great Escape,” wrote nov­el­ist and crit­ic Geoff Dyer,” and it’s nev­er quite as I remem­ber. Like the Zone, it’s always chang­ing.”

The movie’s sto­ry is sim­ple: a guide, called here a Stalk­er, takes a cel­e­brat­ed writer and a sci­en­tist from a rot­ting indus­tri­al cityscape into a ver­dant area called The Zone, the site of some unde­fined calami­ty which has been cor­doned off by rings of razor wire and armed guards. There, one sup­pos­ed­ly can have their deep­est, dark­est desires ful­filled. Yet even if you man­age to give the guards a slip, there are still count­less sub­tle traps laid by what­ev­er sen­tient intel­li­gence that con­trols the Zone. Ratio­nal­i­ty is of no help here. One can only progress along a mean­der­ing path that can only be fol­lowed by intu­ition.

The Stalk­er, with his shaved head and a per­pet­u­al­ly haunt­ed expres­sion on his face, is a sort of holy fool; a man who is both addict­ed to the strange ener­gy of the Zone and bound to help his fel­low man. His clients’ motives, how­ev­er, are far less altru­is­tic. Once deep in the room, the three engage in a series of philo­soph­i­cal argu­ments that quick­ly turns per­son­al.


The movie’s pow­er, how­ev­er, is not found in tra­di­tion­al dra­mat­ics. Instead it’s a cumu­la­tive effect of Tarkovsky’s hyp­not­ic pace, his philo­soph­i­cal com­men­tary and per­haps most of all his imagery. Shot with smudgy, almost com­plete­ly desat­u­rat­ed col­ors, the world out­side the Zone seems to be a grim, dis­mal place – as if Tarkovsky were try­ing to evoke the indus­tri­al hellscape of Eraser­head by way of Samuel Beck­ett. (Stalk­er was in fact shot in an indus­tri­al waste­land out­side of Tallinn, Esto­nia, down riv­er from a chem­i­cal plant. Expo­sure to that plant’s runoff might very well have caused the filmmaker’s death.) Inside the Zone, how­ev­er, the sur­round­ings are lush and col­or­ful, filled with glimpses of inex­plic­a­ble won­der and beau­ty.

Stalk­er screen­writer Arkady Stru­gatsky once said that the movie was not “a sci­ence fic­tion screen­play but a para­ble.” The ques­tion is, a para­ble of what? Reli­gious faith? Art? The cin­e­ma itself? Reams of paper have been devot­ed to this ques­tion and I’m not offer­ing any the­o­ries. Tarkovsky him­self, in his book Sculpt­ing Time, wrote “Peo­ple have often asked me what The Zone is, and what it symbolizes…The Zone does­n’t sym­bol­ize any­thing, any more than any­thing else does in my films: the zone is a zone, it’s life.”

Of course, that expla­na­tion does lit­tle to explain the film’s star­tling, utter­ly cryp­tic final min­utes.

Above, you can watch the film online, thanks to Mos­film. You can also find oth­er Tarkovsky films in the Relat­eds below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Andrei Tarkovsky’s Films Free Online: Stalk­er, The Mir­ror & Andrei Rublev

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Very First Films: Three Stu­dent Films, 1956–1960

Andrei Tarkovsky Answers the Essen­tial Ques­tions: What is Art & the Mean­ing of Life?

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

Studio Ghibli Lets You Download Free Images from Hayao Miyazaki’s “Final” Film, The Boy and the Heron

Stu­dio Ghi­b­li fans are still pon­der­ing the mean­ing of Hayao Miyaza­k­i’s The Boy and the Heron, which came out last year. Though by some mea­sure the stu­dio’s most lav­ish fea­ture yet — not least by the mea­sure of it being the most expen­sive film yet pro­duced in Japan — it’s also the one least amenable to sim­ple inter­pre­ta­tion. Even more so than in his pre­vi­ous work, Miyaza­ki seems to have intend­ed to make a movie less to be explained than to be expe­ri­enced. Just as the tit­u­lar young pro­tag­o­nist descends into a bizarre but cap­ti­vat­ing under­world and returns, changed, to real­i­ty, so does the view­er.

If you’ve seen The Boy and the Heron, hear­ing its very title (which in Japan is 君たちはどう生きるか, or How Do You Live?) will bring back to mind a host of vivid images: the rov­ing back of bul­bous-fea­tured grannies obsessed with non-per­ish­able food­stuffs; the pos­tur­ing of the mid­dle-age Bird­man, stuffed into his avian flight suit; the pyrotech­nic feats of the young Lady Himi; and above all, per­haps, the float­ing cas­cades of Warawara, those adorably round spir­its who — in painstak­ing Ghi­b­li fash­ion — appear to have been ani­mat­ed indi­vid­u­al­ly, each with its own per­son­al­i­ty. Now, you can down­load stills from these and oth­er scenes at Stu­dio Ghi­b­li’s offi­cial web site.

These come as an expan­sion to Ghi­b­li’s exist­ing col­lec­tion, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, of free-to-down­load images from their library of titles. They’re offered, the site explains, “sole­ly for per­son­al use by indi­vid­ual fans to fur­ther enjoy Stu­dio Ghi­b­li films.” And indeed, they may have no effect stronger than mak­ing you want to watch The Boy and the Heron again, the more deeply to feel what Miyaza­ki intend­ed with his “final” pic­ture. Not that the lat­est of his retire­ments has stuck: last fall, Ghi­b­li pres­i­dent Toshio Suzu­ki report­ed that the octo­ge­nar­i­an Miyaza­ki was back in the office, plan­ning his next film. If he has more realms yet to explore, ani­ma­tion-lovers around the world will sure­ly fol­low him. Find the images from The Boy and the Heron here.

via My Mod­ern Met

Relat­ed con­tent:

Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Makes 1,178 Images Free to Down­load from My Neigh­bor Totoro, Spir­it­ed Away & Oth­er Beloved Ani­mat­ed Films

Hayao Miyazaki’s Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Releas­es Free Back­grounds for Vir­tu­al Meet­ings: Princess Mononoke, Spir­it­ed Away & More

Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Pro­duc­er Toshio Suzu­ki Teach­es You How to Draw Totoro in Two Min­utes

Soft­ware Used by Hayao Miyazaki’s Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio Becomes Open Source & Free to Down­load

Hayao Miyaza­ki, The Mind of a Mas­ter: A Thought­ful Video Essay Reveals the Dri­ving Forces Behind the Animator’s Incred­i­ble Body of Work

Stream Hun­dreds of Hours of Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Movie Music That Will Help You Study, Work, or Sim­ply Relax: My Neigh­bor Totoro, Spir­it­ed Away & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Fictional Brand Archives: Explore a Growing Collection of Iconic But Fake Brands Found in Movies & TV

Los Pol­los Her­manos, Madri­gal Elec­tro­mo­tive, Mesa Verde Bank and Trust, Davis & Main: Attor­neys at Law—all of these brands come from the Break­ing Bad/Bet­ter Call Saul uni­verse. They also appear in the Fic­tion­al Brands Archive, a web­site ded­i­cat­ed to “fic­tion­al brands found in films, series and video games.” Tak­ing the brands seri­ous­ly as brands, the site draws on research from a new book writ­ten by Loren­zo Berni­ni enti­tled Fic­tion­al Brand Design. And, with its many entries, the site pro­vides a “com­pre­hen­sive view of each fic­tion­al brand, fram­ing them in their own fic­tion­al con­text and doc­u­ment­ing their use and exe­cu­tion in source work.”

Oth­er notable brands include Acme (Looney Tunes), ATN News (Suc­ces­sion), Dun­der Mif­flin (The Office), Fed­er­al Motor Cor­po­ra­tion (Fight Club), both Grand Budapest Hotel and Mendl’s (Grand Budapest Hotel), and Nakato­mi Cor­po­ra­tion (Die Hard). Enter the Fic­tion­al Brands Archive here.

via Messy­Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent 

A Free Dig­i­tal Archive of Graph­ic Design: A Curat­ed Col­lec­tion of Design Trea­sures from the Inter­net Archive

The Let­ter­form Archive Launch­es a New Online Archive of Graph­ic Design, Fea­tur­ing 9,000 Hi-Fi Images

Down­load 2,000 Mag­nif­i­cent Turn-of-the-Cen­tu­ry Art Posters, Cour­tesy of the New York Pub­lic Library

40 Years of Saul Bass’ Ground­break­ing Title Sequences in One Com­pi­la­tion


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Download 9,200+ Free Films from the Prelinger Archives: Documentaries, Cartoons & More

Depend­ing on how you reck­on it, the “Amer­i­can cen­tu­ry” has already end­ed, is now draw­ing to its close, or has some life left in it yet. But what­ev­er its bound­aries, that ambigu­ous peri­od has been cul­tur­al­ly defined by one medi­um above all: film, or more broad­ly speak­ing, motion pic­tures. These very words might start a series of clips rolling in your mind, a high­light reel of indus­tri­al devel­op­ments, polit­i­cal speech­es, protest march­es, sports vic­to­ries, NASA mis­sions, and for­eign wars. But that rep­re­sents just a tiny frac­tion of Amer­i­ca on film, much more of which you can eas­i­ly dis­cov­er with a vis­it to the Prelinger Archives.

Rick Prelinger found­ed the Prelinger Archives in 1982 with the mis­sion of pre­serv­ing “ephemer­al films.” Accord­ing to the pro­gram of a 2002 series he intro­duced at the Berke­ley Art Muse­um and Pacif­ic Film Archive a cou­ple of decades lat­er, these are “typ­i­cal­ly edu­ca­tion­al, indus­tri­al, or ama­teur films,” often made to serve a “prag­mat­ic and nar­row pur­pose. It is only by chance that many of them sur­vive.”

These pieces of “throw­away media” — of which the Prelinger Archives now has some 30,000 — include news­reel-type doc­u­men­taries, works of polit­i­cal pro­pa­gan­da, instruc­tion­al pro­duc­tions for use in schools and work­places, and a great many home movies that offer can­did glimpses into every­day Amer­i­can lives.

As any enthu­si­ast of mid-twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can cul­ture would hope, the Prelinger Archives also has its odd­i­ties: take the 1923 Felix the Cat car­toon at the top of the post, over­dubbed with voic­es (and a ref­er­ence to “hip­pies”) in the nine­teen-six­ties. Their free online col­lec­tions at the Inter­net Archive (which con­tains 9,229 films as of this writ­ing) and Youtube, con­tain every­thing from a 1942 pro­file of the art scene in San Fran­cis­co (the Prelinger Archives’ cur­rent home); to “You and Your Fam­i­ly,” the kind of home-life primer that would be ridiculed half a cen­tu­ry lat­er on Mys­tery Sci­ence The­ater 3000; to “While Brave Men Die…,” sure­ly the only pro-Viet­nam War doc­u­men­tary to fea­ture Joan Baez.

If you real­ly want to see the Unit­ed States, as we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly said here on Open Cul­ture, you’ve got to dri­ve across the coun­try. What holds true in life also holds true in film, and the Prelinger Archives’ dig­i­ti­za­tion and upload­ing have made it pos­si­ble to expe­ri­ence the his­to­ry of the great Amer­i­can road trip through the eyes — or the eight-mil­lime­ter cam­eras — of trav­el­ers who took it in the for­ties, fifties, and six­ties, rolling through sites of inter­est from the Grand Canyon and Mount Rush­more to the Corn Palace. If a cul­ture is pre­served most clear­ly through its ephemera, then there’s a whole lot more Amer­i­ca await­ing us in the Prelinger Archives.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Cult of the Criterion Collection: The Company Dedicated to Gathering & Distributing the Greatest Films from Around the World

There was a time, not so very long ago, when many Amer­i­cans watch­ing movies at home nei­ther knew nor cared who direct­ed those movies. Nor did they feel par­tic­u­lar­ly com­fort­able with dia­logue that some­times came sub­ti­tled, or with the “black bars” that appeared below the frame. The con­sid­er­able evo­lu­tion of these audi­ences’ gen­er­al rela­tion­ship to film since then owes some­thing to the adop­tion of widescreen tele­vi­sions, but also to the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion: the home-video brand that has been tar­get­ing its pres­tige releas­es of acclaimed films square­ly at cinephiles — and even more so, at cinephiles with a col­lect­ing impulse — for four decades now.

“The company’s first release was a LaserDisc edi­tion of Cit­i­zen Kane that includ­ed sup­ple­men­tary mate­ri­als like a video essay and exten­sive lin­er notes on the prove­nance of the neg­a­tive from which the restora­tion was made,” writes the New York Times’ Mag­a­zine’s Joshua Hunt in a recent piece on how Cri­te­ri­on became a (or per­haps the) cin­e­mat­ic tastemak­er.

“Next came King Kong, which fea­tured the first ever audio-com­men­tary track, inspired, as an after­thought, by the sto­ries that the film schol­ar Ronald Haver told while super­vis­ing the tedious process of trans­fer­ring the film from cel­lu­loid.”

With the com­ing of the more suc­cess­ful DVD for­mat in the late nine­teen-nineties, such audio-com­men­tary tracks became a sta­ple fea­ture of video releas­es, Cri­te­ri­on or oth­er­wise. They were a god­send to the cinephiles of my gen­er­a­tion com­ing of age in that era, a kind of infor­mal but inten­sive film school taught by not just expert schol­ars but, often, the auteurs them­selves. “Some of the ear­li­est were record­ed by Mar­tin Scors­ese for the Taxi Dri­ver and Rag­ing Bull LaserDiscs, which helped cement his influ­ence on an entire gen­er­a­tion of young direc­tors” — includ­ing a cer­tain Wes Ander­son, who would go on to record com­men­tary tracks for the Cri­te­ri­on releas­es of his own pic­tures.

At this point, Cri­te­ri­on has “become the arbiter of what makes a great movie, more so than any Hol­ly­wood stu­dio or awards cer­e­mo­ny.” It’s also amassed an unusu­al­ly ded­i­cat­ed cus­tomer base, as explained in the Roy­al Ocean Film Soci­ety video “The Cult of the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion.” “We’re at a point in film cul­ture where brands are increas­ing­ly more pop­u­lar than prod­ucts,” says host Andrew Sal­adi­no, a self-con­fessed Cri­te­ri­on devo­tee. “More and more, it seems as though the films and the peo­ple who made them are sec­ondary to the name and logo of the com­pa­ny behind them,” a phe­nom­e­non that Cri­te­ri­on — itself a kind of media uni­verse — some­how both par­tic­i­pates in and ris­es above.

“While stu­dios and stream­ing ser­vices chase audi­ences by pro­duc­ing end­less sequels and spin­offs,” writes Hunt, “Cri­te­ri­on has built a brand that audi­ences trust to lead them.” I can tes­ti­fy to its hav­ing led me to the work of auteurs from Chris Mark­er to Jacques Tati, Aki­ra Kuro­sawa to Yasu­jiro Ozu, Robert Alt­man to Nico­las Roeg. Today, bud­ding cin­e­ma enthu­si­asts can even ben­e­fit from the advice of famous direc­tors and actors for nav­i­gat­ing its now‑1,650-title-strong cat­a­log through its “Cri­te­ri­on clos­et” video series. Recent­ly, that clos­et has host­ed the likes of Paul Gia­mat­ti, Willem Dafoe, and Wim Wen­ders, who pulls off the shelf a copy of his own Until the End of the World — which Cri­te­ri­on released, of course, in its near­ly five-hour-long direc­tor’s cut. “I always think this is maybe the best thing I’ve done in my life,” he says, “but then again, who am I to judge?”

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Art of Restor­ing Clas­sic Films: Cri­te­ri­on Shows You How It Refreshed Two Hitch­cock Movies

Mar­tin Scors­ese Names His Top 10 Films in the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion

Steve Buscemi’s Top 10 Film Picks (from The Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion)

Slavoj Žižek Names His Favorite Films from The Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion

120 Artists Pick Their Top 10 Films in the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion

A Cel­e­bra­tion of Retro Media: Vinyl, Cas­settes, VHS, and Polaroid Too

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Around The World in 1896: See Colorized & Upscaled Footage of Egypt, Venice, Istanbul, New York City, London & More

The YouTube chan­nel Lost in Time has tak­en footage from the leg­endary Lumière broth­ers, orig­i­nal­ly shot in 1896, then upscaled and col­orized it, giv­ing us a chance to see a dis­tant world through a mod­ern lens. Near­ing the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, the film pio­neers (and their employ­ees) vis­it­ed dif­fer­ent parts of the world and cap­tured footage of life in Barcelona, Jerusalem, Venice, Moscow, Istan­bul, Kyoto and oth­er loca­tions. For view­ers, unac­cus­tomed to see­ing mov­ing films, let alone far-flung parts of the world, it must have been a sight to behold. Below, you can see the dif­fer­ent places fea­tured in the footage, along with time­stamps. To see what the orig­i­nal black & white footage looked like, vis­it this post in our archive.

00:00 Intro
00:12 France
01:50 New York City, Unit­ed States
02:38 Jerusalem
04:25 Gene­va, Switzer­land
04:53 Viet­nam
05:12 Mar­tinique
05:22 Paris, France
07:56 Madrid, Spain
08:07 Barcelona, Spain
08:43 Venice, Italy
09:00 Lon­don, Unit­ed King­dom
09:49 Ger­many
10:17 Dublin, Ire­land
11:00 Moscow, Rus­sia
11:24 Lyon, France
14:56 Giza, Egypt
15:36 Istan­bul, Turkey
15:58 Kyoto, Tokyo
16:20 Mar­seille, France
16:35 La Cio­tat, France

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Around the World in 1896: 40 Min­utes of Real Footage Lets You Vis­it Paris, New York, Venice, Rome, Budapest & More

The Ear­li­est Known Motion Pic­ture, 1888’s Round­hay Gar­den Scene, Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

Restored Footage of 1896 Snow­ball Fight Makes It Seem Like the Fun Hap­pened Yes­ter­day


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The 15 Greatest Documentaries of All Time: Explore Films by Werner Herzog, Errol Morris & More

There are two kinds of peo­ple in this world: those who rec­og­nize the phrase “corny dia­logue that would make the pope weep,” and those who don’t. If you fall into the for­mer cat­e­go­ry, your mind is almost cer­tain­ly filled with images of bleak Mid­west­ern win­ters, mod­est trail­er homes, hood­ed fig­ures smash­ing an already-junk­yard-wor­thy car, and above all, one man try­ing — and try­ing, and try­ing — to put anoth­er man’s head through a kitchen cab­i­net. If you fall into the lat­ter cat­e­go­ry, it’s high time you watched Amer­i­can Movie, Chris Smith and Sara Price’s doc­u­men­tary about a hap­less aspir­ing Wis­con­sin hor­ror film­mak­er Mark Bor­chardt that has, in the 25 years since its release, become a minor cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non unto itself.

Amer­i­can Movie right­ful­ly occu­pies the top spot in the new Cin­e­ma Car­tog­ra­phy video above, which ranks the fif­teen great­est doc­u­men­taries of all time. The list fea­tures well-known works by the most acclaimed doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ers alive today, like Fred­er­ick Wise­man’s Titi­cut Fol­lies, which cap­tures a tal­ent show at an insti­tu­tion for the “crim­i­nal­ly insane”; Errol Mor­ris’ The Thin Blue Line, which proved instru­men­tal in solv­ing the very mur­der case it exam­ines; and Wern­er Her­zog’s Griz­zly Man, which deals in Her­zog’s sig­na­ture height­ened yet mat­ter-of-fact man­ner with the iron­ic fate of an eccen­tric bear enthu­si­ast.

Doc­u­men­tary film has expe­ri­enced some­thing of a pop­u­lar renais­sance over the past few decades, begin­ning in 1994 with Steve James’ Acad­e­my Award-win­ning Hoop Dreams (which comes in at num­ber sev­en). More recent exam­ples of doc­u­men­taries that have gone rel­a­tive­ly main­stream include Joshua Oppen­heimer’s The Act of Killing (num­ber three), in which par­tic­i­pants in Indone­si­a’s mass polit­i­cal vio­lence of the nine­teen-six­ties recall their own bru­tal­i­ty in detail, and O.J.: Made in Amer­i­ca (num­ber five), which revis­its the “tri­al of the cen­tu­ry” now so close and yet so far in our cul­tur­al mem­o­ry. There are also intrigu­ing films of a much low­er pro­file, like William Greaves’ chaot­ic Sym­biopsy­chotax­i­plasm: Take One and the late Jonas Mekas’ epi­cal­ly but mod­est­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal As I Was Mov­ing Ahead Occa­sion­al­ly I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beau­ty.

If you watch only one of these fif­teen doc­u­men­taries, make it Amer­i­can Movie, which repays repeat­ed view­ings over a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry (as I can per­son­al­ly con­firm) with not just its com­e­dy — inten­tion­al or unin­ten­tion­al — but also its insight — again, inten­tion­al or unin­ten­tion­al — into the nature of cre­ation, friend­ship, and human exis­tence itself. “If ever, in your cre­ations, there’s doubt, or you ever feel like you’ve lost your way, if there was ever a film to watch, to realign your­self, it is Amer­i­can Movie,” says The Cin­e­ma Car­tog­ra­phy cre­ator Lewis Bond. Even those of us not ded­i­cat­ed to any par­tic­u­lar art form could stand to be remind­ed on occa­sion that, as Bor­chardt mem­o­rably puts it, “life is kin­da cool some­times.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

50 Must-See Doc­u­men­taries, Select­ed by 10 Influ­en­tial Doc­u­men­tary Film­mak­ers

Watch 80 Free Doc­u­men­taries from Kino Lor­ber: Includes Films on M. C. Esch­er, Stan­ley Kubrick, Han­nah Arendt, Hilma af Klint & More

Errol Mor­ris Makes His Ground­break­ing Series First Per­son Free to Watch Online: Binge Watch His Inter­views with Genius­es, Eccentrics, Obses­sives & Oth­er Unusu­al Types

Por­trait Wern­er Her­zog: The Director’s Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Short Film from 1986

The 10 Great­est Doc­u­men­taries of All Time Accord­ing to 340 Film­mak­ers and Crit­ics

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

When François Truffaut Made a Film Adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

The pro­tag­o­nist of Ray Brad­bury’s Fahren­heit 451 is a “fire­man” tasked with incin­er­at­ing what few books remain in a domes­tic-screen-dom­i­nat­ed future soci­ety forced into illit­er­a­cy. Late in life, Ray Brad­bury declared that he wrote the nov­el because he was “wor­ried about peo­ple being turned into morons by TV.” This tinges with a cer­tain irony giv­en that the lat­est adap­ta­tion was made for HBO (2018). That project, which one crit­ic likened it to “a Glax­o­SmithK­line pro­duc­tion of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World,” will prob­a­bly not be the last Fahren­heit 451 movie. Nor was it the first: that title goes to the one Nou­velle Vague auteur François Truf­faut’s film direct­ed in 1966, though many count that as a dubi­ous hon­or.

A con­tem­po­rary review in Time mag­a­zine mem­o­rably called Truf­faut’s Fahren­heit 451 a “weird­ly gay lit­tle pic­ture that assails with both hor­ror and humor all forms of tyran­ny over the mind of man,” albeit one that “strong­ly sup­ports the wide­ly held sus­pi­cion that Julie Christie can­not actu­al­ly act.”

Truf­faut bold­ly cast Christie in a dual role, as both pro­tag­o­nist Guy Mon­tag’s TV-and-pill-addict­ed wife and the young rebel who even­tu­al­ly lures him over to the pro-book lib­er­a­tion move­ment. Though some view­ers see it as the pic­ture’s fatal flaw, Scott Tobias, writ­ing at The Dis­solve, calls it a “mas­ter­stroke” that ren­ders the near­ly iden­ti­cal char­ac­ters “the abstract rep­re­sen­ta­tives of con­for­mi­ty and non-con­for­mi­ty they had always been in the book.”

It’s easy to imag­ine what appeal the source mate­r­i­al would have held for Truf­faut, the most lit­er­ary-mind­ed leader of the French New Wave; recall the shrine to Balzac kept by young Antoine Doinel in Truf­faut’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal debut The 400 Blows. By the time he went to work on Fahren­heit 451, his sixth fea­ture, he’d become what the Amer­i­can behind-the-scenes trail­er calls an “inter­na­tion­al­ly famous French direc­tor.” But this time, cir­cum­stances con­spired against him: his increas­ing­ly frac­tious rela­tion­ship with Jules and Jim star Oskar Wern­er did the lat­ter’s per­for­mance as Mon­tag no favors, and the mon­ey hav­ing come from the U.K. forced him to work in Eng­lish, a lan­guage of which he had scant com­mand at the time.

Truf­faut him­self enu­mer­ates these and oth­er dif­fi­cul­ties in a pro­duc­tion diary pub­lished over sev­er­al issues of Cahiers du Ciné­ma (begin­ning with num­ber 175). Yet near­ly six decades lat­er, his trou­bled inter­pre­ta­tion of Fahren­heit 451 still fas­ci­nates. New York­er crit­ic Richard Brody calls it “one of Truffaut’s wildest films, a cold­ly flam­boy­ant out­pour­ing of visu­al inven­tion in the ser­vice of lit­er­ary pas­sion and artis­tic mem­o­ry as well as a repu­di­a­tion of a world of uni­form con­ve­nience and com­fort­able con­for­mi­ty.” Today we may won­der why the paraso­cial rela­tion­ship Mon­tag’s wife anx­ious­ly main­tains with her tele­vi­sion, which must have seemed fan­tas­ti­cal in the mid-six­ties, feels dis­com­fit­ing­ly famil­iar — and how long it will be before Fahren­heit 451 gets re-adapt­ed as a binge-ready pres­tige TV dra­ma.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Truf­faut Became Truf­faut: From Pet­ty Thief to Great Auteur

Ralph Steadman’s Hell­ish Illus­tra­tions for Ray Bradbury’s Clas­sic Dystopi­an Nov­el Fahren­heit 451

Behold Sovi­et Ani­ma­tions of Ray Brad­bury Sto­ries

Why Should We Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451? A New TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion Explains

Ray Brad­bury Reveals the True Mean­ing of Fahren­heit 451: It’s Not About Cen­sor­ship, But Peo­ple “Being Turned Into Morons by TV”

How the French New Wave Changed Cin­e­ma: A Video Intro­duc­tion to the Films of Godard, Truf­faut & Their Fel­low Rule-Break­ers

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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