The hiss of incinerating pages sounded like the final gasps of hundreds of dying souls.
The firemen are transfixed by the books — but they still have to burn them. The cover art of most books is protected by copyright, and in most cases we were unable to obtain permission to display it — let alone burn it on camera.
So the art directors for my film designed countless original book covers that we could burn. There were always more I wanted to burn than we had time to film.
When a printed book is in your possession, no one can track, alter or hack it. When they first encounter a library, the books are like water in a vast digital desert.
Seeing, touching and smelling a book is as alien to the firemen as milking a cow by hand would be for most of us.
They interact with their “friends” through these screens, listening to them via “Seashells” — Bradbury’s version of Apple’s wireless Air Pods — inserted in their ears. Today it seems that half the words online have been replaced with emojis.
In this world, people would be crammed “full of noncombustible data” — words to popular songs, the names of state capitals, the amount of “corn Iowa grew last year.” They will “feel they’re thinking,” Bradbury wrote, “and they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”Bradbury was worried about the advent of Reader’s Digest. The more we erode language, the more we erode complex thought and the easier we are to control. Today we have designated Google and our social-media accounts as the guardians of our memories, emotions, dreams and facts.
He feared a future in which those things would be endangered, and now that future was here: The internet and new social-media platforms — and their potential threat to serious thought — would be at the heart of my adaptation.
I had never adapted a book, let alone one so important.
More important, Bradbury himself had reimagined “Fahrenheit 451,” first as a stage play and then as a musical, changing many elements, including letting Montag’s neighbor Clarisse Mc Clellan live.
(In the novel, she dies early on.) With Bradbury as my guide, and a vow to stay true to his ideas, I began working on the script.“Fahrenheit 451” was written in the early 1950s, not long after Nazis burned books and, eventually, human beings.