Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Fountainhead

Beth’s mother and aunt were watching the movie version of Ayn Rand’s book when we arrived earlier this week. We were greeting, and the movie was well along, so I did not get the full experience. What I saw, tho, was compelling.

I’m not saying it’s a good movie, nor am I promoting Rand. The movie was made to pack a wallop. There is a wallop there, tho not what perhaps was intended.

I read the book for some reason while in high school. I am sure that I missed all the visionary philosophic conditions that Rand must have loaded the book with, I just read for plot. The movie clearly wanted that philosophy front and centre.

The movie stars Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, and Raymond Massey. I do not remember the plot well. Something to do with superstar architect and Promethean ego Howard Roark designing a wonder house then burning it down because his vision was sullied by crass exploitive capitalistic mundane. Something like that.

I used the word compelling earlier. I mostly meant the visual look. I was reminded of Citizen Kane in how images were patiently framed. I should mench that I consider CK largely a pile of hokum, but it certainly was zestily done. Fountainhead had such shots as looking over a man’s shoulder as he opens the door to the expanse of a courtroom. Such tableau do not seem to be so dominant in movies now. It may be that in colour movies, such effects have less impact. Maybe my perception is wrong.

Whatever, the sense of space and direction attracted my eye and drew me in. Into what? Speeches, of course. How else to get your point across?

All the characters stood for something. They represented unions, and big business, and lax mores, and visionary creative spirit, and whatever Rand needed to expound upon. I do not recall being wearied by this stuff in the book, but maybe I discreetly skipped the talky parts. I would do that, you know.

The movie culminated in Cooper’s big courtroom scene, where he explains in philosophic terms his innocence, right makes might. This was essential malarkey, and a real challenge for Cooper to motor thru. He stood before the jurors and spoke with folksy determination, pounding his thesis of the nobility of the creative man. Cooper was right for the part. A ham like Welles would have turned Roark into a curtain-chewing Iago. Still, Cooper’s semi-stutter allowed too much of the nutty logic to show. He was close to blithering, altho we all knew it was for the best. He spoke for the common genius.

I might not have bothered to report on this movie except for the last scene. By then, everything has proven fine. Not only was Roark found innocent but his newspaper magnate nemesis hires Roark to build the tallest building in the city/world, and do so carte blanche, the only way someone like Roark can proceed. Total victory! And furthermore, the magnate kills himself! What could be better???

Okay so love interest Patricia Neal arrives at the site of this still uncompleted building and is told Roark is at the top. She hops into the little cage elevator and zips skyward. The piddling city can be seen below. Neal giddily turns around and steps back to look up, which caused both Beth and me to acrophobically jump. Standing at the pinnacle is the figure of Roark.

That’s how the movie ends, with Gary Cooper standing godlike on top of this skyscraping grandiose victory for the spirit of creative genius and vision of self-fulfillment. He has a weird grimace of determination. It is not the sort I might have, since my mere dreams and vision lack the scope of his magnificence, but instead shows Roark in full possession of the world and all its chattel. I said godlike, but you can also see Gort, the robot from The Day the Earth Stood Still, which Neal also starred in. Klaatu barada niktu, Gort. Now, I hanker to read the damn book again.

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