Hail to the King


How did King Vidor get to be called King? Did he have a son called Prince?

On regular Shadowplayer Chris Schneider’s recommendation I ran LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE, a slightly gothic noir with a western ranch setting — something of an oddity. But Ruth Roman is excellent in it, fun and relaxed in a way she doesn’t get to be in the other films I’ve seen her in, like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN or BITTER VICTORY.

Ruth plays an actress — no jokes about this being a stretch, please — taking a rest cure after a chest infection. If there’s anything wrong with her perf it’s that she seems healthy as a horse (there are frequent shots of horses so we can compare with ease) but she’s such a lively, humorous, modest and intelligent character we overlook that — the supposed ill health is just plot.

vlcsnap-1907575Merecedes McCambridge: Greater Emotion Through Postural Strangeness.

Ruth gets mixed up in a more interesting plot involving Richard Todd (Irish actor, successful in England, never quite made it in America) recently acquitted of murdering his wife: there’s just enough vulnerability in Ruth to make you believe she might fall for this piece of surly damaged goods. Mercedes McCambridge is also in the cast, so it’s not a whodunnit. Her crippled brother is played by Darryl “But he’s a cripple!” Hickman, who was also disabled in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN — what’s with that type-casting? Hickman’s character is called String McStringer, which one would have thought was disability enough.

vlcsnap-1905900Zachary Scott — the Thin White Tube.

Generally all is compelling, with a welcome late appearance by Zachary Scott to thicken the plot (Zachary Scott = corn starch?) and add a light drizzle of man-sleaze. Todd does brooding quite well, but Roman is the heart and soul. This was the first film where I really got a sense of the hysterical emotionalism everybody singles out in Vidor’s work, but apart from McCambridge and Hickman, who are both extremely clear conduits for shrill frenzy, it only comes into play in one Ruth Roman bit where she starts to suspect that Todd is really guilty, and we get the full voices-echoing-in-her-head bit, complete with thunderstorm and furniture chewing. Jolly good!

vlcsnap-1913045THE FOUNTAINHEAD’s quarry scene: CALIGARI in marble.

THE FOUNTAINHEAD is a different matter — Ayn Rand’s putrid writing gives King plenty of scope for serious expressionistic bombast and flash. He turns everything up to eleven and all his knobs falls off. The compositions he slams onto the screen like a light-headed gambler wielding foot-long brass playing cards, are hyper-emphatic and triumphalist, and they just keep coming. It’s visually spectacular and beautiful enough to make the film very watchable, although creeping dismay and contemptuous laughter are its companions throughout. It’s supreme macho camp, but Vidor apparently took it quite seriously (he was, by this time, apparently, a concentrated wingnut, who would go on to approve of the blacklist). It’s beautiful, but on the level of a David Fincher video for a Madonna track: immaculate style with dubious taste; elegantly dynamic cheese; hysterically butch camp.

vlcsnap-1913078Drilling is so thrilling!

I’m not sure what my favourite aspect of the bad bad writing is — the repulsive philosophy at times almost seems creditable when applied to the specific dilemma of the artist, and by stretching every neuron to snapping point I just about see why a Hollywood director would find validation in it (“Could the interfering mediocrities of the front office please let me do my job?”), but the plot turn that has walking hard-on “Howard Roark” (Gary Cooper) dynamite a poor people’s housing estate for aesthetic reasons rather beggars belief. But I think the “dialogue” spouting from Robert Douglas’s mouth, in his role as all-powerful architecture critic (?) Ellsworth M. Toohey puts the tin lid on it. Unable to actually imagine another human being with another point of view, Rand assembles a “character” entirely composed of straw man arguments and moustache-twirling. When Toohey talks about how he was able to “corrupt” oligarch Raymond Massey’s newspaper staff, one splutters in vain, “But he wouldn’t see it like that! Not if he’s the one doing it!”

vlcsnap-1913138The great stoneface.

There’s bad writing which exposes stupidity, bad writing which exposes prejudice (often the same thing, and most often in the form of sexism) and there’s bad writing which exposes near-lunacy. THE FOUNTAINHEAD is almost entirely clapped-together out of the latter kind. The climax, in which Cooper is cleared of blowing up a massive construction site on the grounds that he’s a good architect, is so spectacularly demented as to be almost believable in this age of ours — perhaps Polanski should model his defense upon it.


THE FOUNTAINHEAD should be avoided by persons vulnerable to demagogic blandishment, but is recommended for those who enjoy spluttering. You could splutter at it for the full 114 minutes running time, then hit “Play” again and splutter all over. Keep a napkin handy.

vlcsnap-1911517I am Howard, hear me Roark!

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Gary Cooper – The Signature Collection (Sergeant York / The Fountainhead / Dallas / Springfield Rifle / The Wreck of the Mary Deare)

75 Responses to “Hail to the King”

  1. Arthur S. Says:

    Martin Scorsese’s defence of THE FOUNTAINHEAD…

    Vidor disagreed with blowing up the building as a climax. He didn’t agree with it but he was over-ruled and so he filmed it and Alice Rosenbaum also insisted on the speech coming through unedited and poor Gary Cooper didn’t understand a word of what he was saying. Caligari in Marble is a perfect description for Vidor’s aesthetic in THE FOUNTAINHEAD. The characters even talk like they are reading intertitles from a silent film.

    To me THE FOUNTAINHEAD is about the role of a public artist in a consumerist society, how he’s adored and feared as an object of revulsion and attraction and how he uses both for his ends. And what is most interesting is how the film doesn’t invite sympathy for any of the characters. It’s really a great film for me. The final scene of THE FOUNTAINHEAD, the outrageous track-up the building by the elevator is similar to the opening of LA NOTTE(which also touches on sexual hysteria) which scales up the Pirelli building in Milan.

    Haven’t seen LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE which seems to be similar to Vidor’s BEYOND THE FOREST.

  2. It’s been years since i saw THE FOUNTAINHEAD. I saw it in a friend’s house, while we partook of a few drinks. The main thing i can recall is the sheer visual impressiveness of the look of the film and its striking phallic symbolism. My favourite Vidor is probably THE CROWD.

  3. What I love is that people think you can actually watch The Fountainhead with the sound off. It’s not that kind of movie. It’s as though he took An American Romance and (as David aptly put it) cranked it to 11. Impressive imagery in service of bad dialogue does nothing but expose the flaws. In a way, it would be better to have a more indifferent director shooting the film, so it could more easily be laughed off. The hysteria in some of Vidor’s work of the time is baffling (he after all did make Our Daily Bread the previous decade), but outside of these films being similar to a middle-aged man buying a Corvette, I can’t fathom it. The Trilogy of Sweaty Passion (Beyond the Forest, The Fountainhead, Duel In The Sun) are to me more campy than to be taken seriously. Note: The later Ruby Gentry almost would fit, but watching it again, it seems the heat went out of Vidor and it’s not as entertainingly overcompensating. Perhaps he struck up a friendship with David Selznick during Duel In The Sun and hit up his croaker for Benzedrine – there is something of the delusional and megalomaniacal in his work then (pop a bunch of Bennies, and you’ll think you’re the king of the world). It’s entertaining in a twisted way, but Vidor’s sanity could easily be questioned.

    It’s been one of the main tensions in discussion of commercial movies that has struck me. Many people in these kinds of blog discussions rhapsodize over visuals, often downplaying what they serve. It’s gotten me rather sick of posting comments on other blogs as commenters treat the story being told as though it means nothing.

  4. Arthur S. Says:

    D.C. doesn’t treat the story as unimportant, it’s just that the visual style employed by Vidor and the actors bring a different colour to the story. Ayn Rand wrote a novel as a mouthpiece for her “philosophy”, Vidor filmed that book and cast the actors that make the work into a piece of high melodrama of hot blood and sexual hysteria. Where the human bodily functions is played out in the compositions of the buildings they make.

    Vidor is an acquired taste I guess, but once acquired, the taste remains.

  5. david wingrove Says:

    Until recently, I had only ever seen Ruth Roman in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN – and always thought she was a complete non-event. Just a blank space in the screen, a sort of Keira Knightly of the 50s.

    She is, however, sensational in LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE. She more than holds her own opposite Mercedes McCambridge (something even Joan Crawford felt unsure about doing – hence her drunken tirades on the set of JOHNNY GUITAR).

    Ruth is beyond sensational in a cheesy 70s horror film called THE BABY, where she and Marianna Hill play the mother and sister of a hunky young man who is kept in diapers and treated like an infant! The two of them are simply terrifying, and the film plays like a Larry Cohen flick scripted by Edward Albee. Great stuff!

  6. Ruth Roman was one of the survivors of “Andrea Doria” disaster — a luxury liner that collided with another luxury liner and sank at sea.

    Now THERE’S a movie!

  7. Mercedes McCambridge. Her name sure has a ring to it. I always recall her great performance in Touch of Evil.

    Anna Magnani is another actress with a great face.

  8. Arthur S. Says:

    For me Mercedes McCambridge is always going to be the star of Johnny Guitar.

  9. David E. – Putting my producer’s hat on (the one with the big NO above the bill), I don’t think enough people died in the Andrea Doria wreck to make it worth a movie. Checking, checking. Yup, only 46 people died out of over 1500. Not even enough for a black comedy.

    Arthur – I enjoy Vidor of that era in a really perverse way. As I mentioned, the hypermasculanized atmosphere of The Fountainhead and Duel In The Sun, along with the sweaty passions of all three are like seeing a man with ED trying to get it up shot by shot. His output from H.M. Pulham, Esq. back to his work with Marion Davies is almost all exceptionally good, and I have no trouble with it (the early Wild Oranges seemed a misfire except for the opening accident). BTW, overall I prefer Beyond The Forest, because even though I think Bette was in on the joke, I don’t think she realized that joke went waaay too far.

  10. Beyond the Forest is definitely pleasing in a peculiar way, and it doesn’t provoke spluttering. I’m not sure to what extent Vidor is subverting Rand — he seems to be fully into some aspects of the tale, perhaps not so much others. If he’s aware of the bad writing he doesn’t so much appear to be trying to make it absurd, as trying to crank up the THRUST until the weaknesses are submerged in POWERFUL, MANLY storytelling and imagery. Which is why it’s so funny.

    As far as his mental state, I’ve seen him interviewed in old age, and I’ve seen his later documentary The Metaphor, in which he appears, and he seems perfectly sane, and pleasant. Plus anyone who spends their retirement investigating a famous cold case murder from Hollywood’s past is to be commended for their lively and inquiring mind. And Vidor came up with an entertaining conspiracy theory as a result.

    As for the Andrea Doria, maybe there’d be a way to get around the low body count — making it more of a “disaster averted” movie. The problem would be that Ruth’s not quite famous enough. Put Marilyn Monroe on a sinking ship and you’d have something.

  11. David C –
    Couldn’t Marilyn be the flotation device in a Frank Tashlin film of the disaster?

  12. Aha. THE FOUNTAINHEAD, Slavoj Zizek’s choice for best American movie of all time.

  13. Frank Lloyd Wright, the inspiration behind the book, was approached to design the buildings for this film. Hollywood found him to be too expensive and impossible to work with.

  14. Well since only 46 people died on the “Andrea Doria” instead of Celine Dionne have Mylie Cyrus sing the title song.

    The Fountainhead, to me, is raally about Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal , carrying -on on-screen much as they were off. (Hubba-Hubba!)

    People have been threatening to make Alice Rosenbaum’s other giant doorstop Atlas Shrugged into a movie for years. Among them

    (wait for it)

    Michael Cimino.

    Cue Celine Dionne.

  15. Miley? David, you’re wishing disaster on the film before the first shot. Of course, it inspires a nice documentary title – The Disaster of the Making of The Disaster of the Andrea Doria.

  16. A Frank Tashlin disaster movie is quite an appealing idea. The Titanic seems tailor-made for him (except he’s too kind-hearted to kill so many people).

    It occurs to me that I’d also like a Tashlin remake of Die Hard starring Jerry Lewis in the Bruce Willis role. The chronology is a little hard to work out (my remake is made and set in the early 60s) but I can TOTALLY SEE IT.

    I see from the IMDb that the Atlas Shrugged screenplay is by the appalling James V Hart (Hook, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and the appalling Randall Wallace (Braveheart), possibly the two worst, most thick-eared, flat-footed, block-headed writers in Hollywood. Absolutely perfect, if you want a film that faithfully reproduces the experience of the Rand’s work. Throw in Akiva Goldsman and it’d really take off.

    Although I quite like Heaven’s Gate, in places, he does seem like quite a good choice. But Oliver Stone would do — I doubt he’d have much trouble adjusting his outlook to embrace Randian self-determinism.

  17. I seem to recall that Ruth, like a certain M. Lewinsky, was of Litvak descent.

  18. I am too. What should I conclude about myself?

  19. david wingrove Says:

    The Ayn Rand adaptation I would give anything (well, almost anything) to see is the 1942 Italian film NOI VIVI, starring Massimo Girotti and Alida Valli. It’s her early novel WE, THE LIVING adapted as (allegedly) a Fascist propaganda movie. I think it was directed by Goffredo Alessandrini, the one-time Mr. Anna Magnani. God, the more I write about it the weirder it sounds…

  20. It’s available (from my hidden source). I’m on it.

  21. One cable station has been running a lot of ’80s-’90s blockbusters, and it really reminds me how many awful screenwriters there were/are in Hollywood when I used to frequent the multiplexes. To paraphrase an old cigarette ad – not a Hecht in a hodful.

  22. Poor King. Poor Coop. Poor us.

    Three years after The Fountainhead, Coop went on to do High Noon, a carefully veiled critique of the blacklist. By this time, Coop was helping to finance film workers who had lost their jobs because of the blacklist. The HUAC testimony that he delivered (in which, it must be noted, he did not name any names, unlike the likes of Robert Taylor) left a bad taste in his mouth. His friendship with High Noon writer and producer Carl Foreman and Fred Zinnemann pushed him to the centre-right and environmentally to the centre-left. He became a follower of Thomas Merton. And he kept his distance from Ayn Rand.

    After King Vidor finished Solomon and Sheba, he quit film making for twenty years. He was a bouncing ball of political ambitions, a liberal in the twenties (eee The Crowd), a leftist in the thirties (see Our Daily Bread), and…well, a buddy of Ayn Rand (you know what to see). All indicators point to him disliking Rand as the work continued. After twenty years of reflection and sleuthing the William Desmond Taylor murder, he returned to film, making The Metaphor, a low budget documentary about artist Andrew Wyeth. He was interested in making more small films but he died before that could be done. All indicators point to him pretty well rejecting the far right beliefs that he fostered in the post-war, pre-Kennedy years.

    Rand is pond scum. Sorry, but I cannot hold back on this. She is the Barbara Cartland of political fiction. Her contempt for people is indicated in the amazingly stilted dialogue in her novels. Her writings are applauded by Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Her Johnny-Cash-in-drag face graces protest placards of the teabaggers and birthers. She, like her friend and mentor Friedrich Hayek, was an ex-Communist (tell THAT one to your Objectivist pals!) who went to the opposite end of the spectrum using the same determinist philosophy and methodology of the system that she abandoned. It is notable that Orwell commented on Hayek’s 180 shift by saying that there is no prude like a reformed whore. Thank you, Ayn Rand. You were on the vanguard of the blacklist. Without you, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon would be footnotes in history. Alan Greenspan would be an accountant in some obscure investment firm (and now he, the close confidante of Rand, looks at the Rand movement like Alec Guinness at the end of The Bridge on the River Kwai…”What have I done…what have I done?”) and a generation of antisocial nerds would have to find another outlet…like, say, Dungeons and Dragons.

  23. Alan Greenspan was once of her boyfriends.

    Surely a subject for a Sam Rami horror film.

  24. John – The most amusing thing I found about Rand was her admiration for a ’20s robber/kidnapper/murderer named William Edward Hickman, who she planned to use a fictionalized version of for her first novel. Apparently the guy was nothing less than a sociopath, and Rand admired him for exactly that.

  25. You are right, David. But here is the heart breaker. She never consummated a full relationship with Rand. She preferred the comparatively dashing Nathaniel Brandon.

    I remember an Eddie Murphy routine on SNL where he said that it is fine for ugly people to have sex as everyone makes some bizarre faces while in action. But the thought of a Rand/Greenspan tryst gives me the willies.

  26. mmedin – That is VERY INTERESTING! I wasn’t aware of that!

    I remember seeing a photo of the poor girl that he murdered. I have a strong stomach, but this was WAY beyond the realm of my nightmares. She admired HIM? That is hideous.

  27. Thanks, John!

    I definitely prefer Salma to Friedrich Hayek. Can’t act, but she’s prettier.

    The info on Cooper and Vidor is very welcome, it makes me feel fonder towards both of them. Of course I knew Cooper did High Noon but I didn’t know his feelings about all that.

    Vidor also managed to make another little film in 1965, not listed on the IMDb; Truth and Illusion, An Introduction to Metaphysics, a sort of filmed essay. Quite odd, but charming!

  28. Rand considered him quite the philosopher, apparently. I read a blog entry on it about a year ago, and somehow it didn’t surprise me a bit, as it’s where Objectivism ultimately leads. Or as one wag put it, a true Objectivist should go straight to Somalia, as that’s the land of opportunity for them. No damned government rules there!

  29. You are welcome, David.

    The story goes that Foreman first bumped into Coop in a restaurant and it became ugly, Foreman insulting Coop very loudly. Off camera, Coop was quite a conversationalist, but this time he was reduced to his film persona. Coop never forgot this and hunted down Foreman, offering to help him. When Foreman’s company went under in the mid-fifties, Coop kept pumping money in until Foreman confronted Coop to tell him that it was beyond salvage. They remained friends until Coop’s death.

    My favourite blacklist story deals with Harry Cohn of Columbia, who reluctantly fired his writing staff in accordance to the blacklist and the more meddling moguls like Mayer. He re-hired them all…under fake names.

  30. It gets so bizarre, mmedin. And it does trace the path of Objectivism. I know of no-one that is successful from that foolish movement. Curiously neither was Ayn Rand. When she died, her total sum worth was $400,000.00 for everything. What kind of capitalist is that?

  31. Arthur S. Says:

    A dumb one. Nothing like Old Father Brecht who kept his posh auto in East Germany and insisted on a fancy coffin in his will.

  32. And got it. Hypocrisy to the left of me…hypocrisy to the right of me…

  33. There is a sad footnote to the Marion Parker murder. A young man who was identical to Hickman, was twice beaten by the LA police into a confession. He did not confess, stating that he was innocent. When he was released the second time, he committed suicide because he did not want to be in any remote sense like Hickman.

  34. Christopher Says:

    watched Fountainhead with my mom a couple of years ago..we laughed all the way thru it..

  35. Tony Williams Says:

    John is right (if you excuse the word) about Rand. French critic Reynold Humphries was interviewed about her on UK radio and his criticism was savagely edited when it was broadcast.

    As for David C’s opening remark, John Huston’s son was known as Emperor Rosko when he was a Radio 1 DJ so perhaps that was the first name of Vidor’s dad?

  36. Heh! I guess the Vidor grand-children are called Duke and Countess or something.

    Still to write up Love Letters, a more tolerable, and somewhat better-written, Rand movie, directed hy Dieterle. Demented, but not so noxious.

  37. In adolescence, many of us become enthralled with the idea aof Ideas and are tickled to find that they now fit in our brains. Randians absorbed her Idea at this stage and then decided that their brain-work was complete. After all, the point of thinking is to have an Idea, and now they have one. Done and done.

  38. Funnily enough, Vidor’s book ON FILMMAKING starts out with him reassuring the reader that King Vidor is indeed his real name. He wasn’t the only regally named director back then either–let’s not forget King Baggot!

    I haven’t seen Lighning Strikes Twice, mostly because I’ve heard it’s lesser Vidor, but now I’ll go ahead and order it from the Warner Archives.

    I think you might be inaccurate in describing Vidor as a concentrated wingnut–from what I’ve read and seen, he was a contemplative man and not an ideologue. (I don’t remember where I read it, but I recall that while he helped found the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, he’d dropped out by the time of the blacklists.)
    As you noted, Vidor was attracted to Rand’s stupid book by the validating theme of the embattled artist (his own masterpiece An American Romance was butchered by MGM, causing him to forever leave the studio). It’s also possible that Vidor’s avowal of philosophical solipsism, as shown in Truth and Illusion–where the universe resides only within the individual consciousness–somehow chimed with Rand’s much less sophisticated pseudo-philosophy.

    There are two first-rate books that are vital reading for anyone examining Vidor’s work: King Vidor: Interviewed by Nancy Dowd and David Shepard, and the excellent critical study King Vidor: American, by Raymond Durgnat and Scott Simmon. The latter is particularly good on how Vidor’s later neo-primitive melodramas have been underrated and how reading them as just camp avoids looking at the gender issues at work and Vidor’s lurking sympathy with the monstrous heroines’ Blakean energy. (Ruby Gentry, a superior reworking of Duel in the Sun, is perhaps the deepest of those films…not to mention the sweatiest.)
    Also, if you haven’t already seen them, I recommend The Stranger’s Return and An American Romance, two of Vidor’s very best.

  39. Message to Tony Williams:

    Thank you.

    There is a great piece about his book on this page, this being the interview in question mentioned by Tony: http://politicalfilmcritics.blogspot.com/2008/11/bbc-radio4-interview-with-reynold.html

    Humphries comes close, very close, to calling Rand an out-and-out fascist sympathizer.

  40. Thanks IA! I’ll watch out for those movies. Ruby Gentry is beautiful, and I felt even Beyond the Forest did show some sympathy for its monster.

    I’d like to think I’m wrong about Vidor’s political shift to the right. He seems too thoughtful to settle into such a pattern, but you can never tell.

    Love Durgnat’s writing, so I’ll be watching out for the Vidor study.

  41. The thing, David, is that you never can tell.

    There are so many seismic shake-ups in Hollywood…Cagney going from left-wing liberal to conservative. The same regarding Sinatra, Kazan, Ford and countless others. Reagan…no. I see him as an opportunist from the start.

  42. christian Says:

    I’ll always defend Rand as a writer and thinker when she wasn’t off her rocker. Her essays about art, especially filmmaking, are insightful. She gets it. Read her pieces on Fritz Lang, who she adored. Her essay on the Bond novels and their films is particularly precient. You read one of her books when you’re young and foolish, and they represent the same artistic rebellion that others would associate with Henry Miller, no less an amoral soul. I understand the vitrol aimed at Rand, but conservatives actually despise her for her atheism. And I love her dialogues between characters debating esthetics etc. Curt, sharp, regardless of her politics. THE FOUNTAINHEAD is a crazy movie and that final shot in incredible. Flame on.

  43. We coulda had a nice flamewar, but the embers are stone cold now :)

  44. I think that a significant part of the the appeal of Rand, even for those her consider her “an intellectual carrot,” is the way her writings give us arrogant artists — and then show that arrogance to be a virtue. This would speak to people like Vidor, I believe.

    And then there’s the sex — and not just for kinky people (cf. the riding crop in “Fountainhead”). Hot ‘n’ throbbing *schadenfreude*, dontcha know.

    Neal is one of the prime glories of “Fountainhead.” As for Cooper … there’s quite a tradition of badmouthing his Roark. My impression is that the role is, essentially, unplayable. It’s an abstract notion of an *uebermensch*. At least Cooper gives us an essentially loony character without twitches or frothing at the mouth — unlike, say, the Bogart whom LeRoy reputedly wanted for the role and who, it seems to me, would have have made Roark too visibily unstable.

    Raymond Massey is very decent, too. I like those scenes where he and Neal and Cooper loll around the tree as if they were living out some sort of polygamous Eden.

    And the famous scene where Roark deflowers Dominique (to return to the *crucial* stuff) … has anyone noticed how similar this is to Stanley’s attack on Blanche in “Streetcar”? The film had not been made yet, but the play *had* opened. And these both did end up as Warners pictures, right? Perhaps the people making “Fountainhead” were not unfamiliar with the Kazan/Williams.

  45. Agree that Bogie could have undercut it by playing Roark like Dixon Steele. I think Coop did fine playing it straight, if that’s what’s wanted, and since he’s the author’s mouthpiece he’s slightly more convincing (Rand was a nut, but a REAL nut) than the pasteboard swine and sheep surrounding him. (Exception: Neal, and Kent Smith, who’s not the most interesting actor who ever lived, but fine in support, a convincing weakling, no gibe intended).

    Massey… works. But the character is particularly ludicrous, and the actor doesn’t escape looking silly at times. Henry Hull is like a little yapping dog — also silly but enjoyable.

    I’d heard that people asked Rand if the deflowering were rape, and she said “If it was, it was rape by engraved invitation.” A simple “no” would do, dear. The movie makes it very clear that it’s consensual, which is a slight relief. Intrigued by the possibility of a Streetcar influence, but presume the book was out before the play.

  46. Christian — dissenting voices are welcome, and we’ll try to avoid flame. I’m intrigued by the sound of Rand’s film essays, and may attempt to check them out. I doubt I’ll be seduced, but I may be entertained.

  47. Here’s a link to some of Rand’s tastes. Anyone who reckons that Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is the greatest play ever written can’t be all bad. It’s also nice to see how she also liked Fred Astaire, Rod Serling and Vermeer. At least the lady seems to have been fairly eclectic.


  48. david wingrove Says:

    While I’m not a fan of Ayn Rand by any means, it seems dangerously easy to overestimate her influence on the nauseating likes of Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh et al. With a few rare exceptions, stupid and obnoxious right-wingers simply don’t read books – by Ayn Rand or by anyone else!

    A friend of mine at university was an Ayn Rand aficionado. He had two signs on his door. One read: “PROFIT EQUALS VIRTUE.” The other one read: “BEWARE – UNBRIDLED EGOTISM WITHIN! GET THE HELL OUT OF MY WAY, INC.” He was, in fact, one of the sweetest, gentlest, most thoughtful and most mild-mannered people I have ever known.

    So while I agree that Ayn Rand was more or less totally off her rocker (and an excruciatingly bad writer to boot!) I would no more blame her today’s ghastly neo-cons than I would blame Wagner for the Nazis. Sure, they appropriated some of his music for their own vile ends – but he was dead long before Nazism even existed!

  49. David W. – Your analogy doesn’t hold unless you consider Wagner a philosopher who created a system of thought that mutated into Nazism. Rand did not create the neocons, but Objectivism spawned some of the neocons ends. Now if you said we could no more blame Rand than Nietzsche for the neocons, I’d agree. BTW, I’m not defending Rand (who I find a horrifyingly funny example of how a bad novelist and philosopher can be taken so seriously, because she’s useful to those in power).

  50. love Ruth Roman in LIGHTNING–love King Vidor in general (especially RUBY GENTRY and THE WEDDING NIGHT–along with the usual suspects)

    I think of Ayn Rand as the Ed Wood of philosophers–everything she does is wrong (it all starts with conflating the aesthetic and the political realms–NOTHING good ever came of this practice), but it’s always wrong in compellingly unique ways

    THE FOUNTAINHEAD is, quite simply, madness itself–exposing the gap between artistic/personal/sexual self-expression and political freedom with stark raving clarity… as others have noted here, artists qua artists (even terrible artists like Ayn Rand) make VERY bad citizens (the flip side of this, of course, is that citizenship wouldn’t mean much in a country without artists–who the hell wants to live in Plato’s Republic?)

    the struggle to reconcile radical modern subjectivity with communal goals has been at the heart of every important political debate in the west during the past few centuries–and THE FOUNTAINHEAD dramatizes in particularly visceral ways what happens when people confuse subjectivity with Objectivism

  51. Alice Rosenbaum WAS an excruciatingly bad writer. The “best-seller” lists are full of them. Her trick was combining a thin “intellectual” veneer with a direct appeal to people’s inherent narcissism. Add to that the notion that Capitalism is perfection itself and you’ve got yourself a “philosopher.”

  52. —————————
    it all starts with conflating the aesthetic and the political realms–NOTHING good ever came of this practice.
    I wouldn’t agree with you. If fact, if there was a greater aesthetic awareness, I believe there would be more integrity and justice in politics.

  53. I don’t see a lot of corroborating evidence for that assertion Peter–aesthetic are aesthetics… politics are politics… one of the best things about Inglourious Basterds is the way it works to undermine the fantasy that people can find common cause through their devotion to art (i.e. many Nazis recognized a great film when they saw one–I’m sure many Republicans would too)

  54. but the main point is that what is right for a creative artist is wrong for a citizen

  55. Or at any rate it often is. Cronenberg, quoting Nabokov, says that as a citizen and a parent he has responsibilities, and as an artist he has none. Now, when he makes a film he has a responsibility as an employee to try to make it on the agreed schedule, but creatively his responsiblity is to the idea, to the work of art itself.

    Artists often make bad citizens but not always, and to over-generalize is almost to excuse inexcusable behaviour. Perhaps the egotism that allows somebody to purse an artistic vision at all costs can cause them/us to neglect common standards of decency in private or civic activity. Just because they’re great doesn’t mean they should get away with this. Also, when people are very successful, they often get unbearable anyway, so there’s that too.

    So I can see why Vidor is on Roark’s side when he refuses to compromise his vision, and why he didn’t quite accept the idea of Roark blowing up his vision with explosives.

    I think aesthetic awareness MIGHT help some politicians, but there have been people who enjoyed both Beethoven and mass murder. And while illiterates like George W Bush probably aren’t inspired by Rand because they haven’t read her, they are often the mouthpieces of somewhat smarter, even more wicked men. Bad ideas can have very bad consequences. Bad art per se is just junk. And good art does not necessarily create moral improvement, but can enhance life enormously.

  56. I think that aesthetics should inform every aspect of life, politics included.
    When we attempt to separate the aesthetic from the conduct of life in general, be it on a personal or political level, we leave the way open to all sorts of problematic behaviour.

  57. If you scroll back and forth between Anagramsci’s avatar (flailing man) and my avatar (grinning cat), it looks like a scene from The Incredible Shrinking Man.

  58. Can you say more about how this would work, Peter? I’m not sure I can visualize the impact of aesthetics on my personal life, except in so far as beauty often makes me happy.

  59. david wingrove Says:

    Thanks, I agree that Nietzsche is a MUCH better analogy to Ayn Rand than Wagner. (Even though much of Wagner’s RING OF THE NIBELUNGEN is founded on a myth of heroic Aryan identity that does find direct parallels in Nazi ideology).

    Must admit that I simply never thought of Nietzsche as he is a writer and philosopher I respect – while Rand and Wagner are two ‘artists’ I despise profoundly. I’m stll trying to steel myself to watch the Liliana Cavani biopic BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, which may show just what a ‘bad citizen’ Nietzsche was.

    As for the idea that artists make ‘bad citizens’ surely there are lots of people (not necessarily artists) who have no interest in being ‘citizens’ at all – good, bad or indifferent – and wish only to get on with their own independent lives.

    Few things are more sinister to me than the current mania of New Labour (among other governments) to co-opt people into a wholly bogus and self-serving notion of ‘citizenship’. How can a state or government expect automatic allegiance from people unless it is able to earn their respect?

  60. it’s true–I think you’ve just invented a new form of expression DC–avatar puppet theatre

    couldn’t agree more with your comments–artists can of course be good citizens, but not while behaving AS pure artists (and of course the purity of aesthetic expression is precisely what causes the problems at the societal level–I think we’re all aware of the expressly aestheticizing impulse of fascism–i.e. the state-as-work-of-art)

    the things we want from the state (ensuring the material and psychjological preconditions for a happy existence–freedom from fear and deprivation) are very different from the things we want from life (a sense of meaning that comes from valuable communication with specific individuals and–for me and probably many here–elements of an artistic tradition)

  61. DW–I agree that aestheticizing citizenship (Labour-style) can become a problem… I don’t like the idea of looking to the state for meaning–I want a state that makes a genuine (rather than an in-name-only libertarianism that blithely ignores economic realities) effort to ensure that everyone under its aegis gets a chance to find meaning for themselves

  62. David, re the impact of aesthetics on one’s personal life, I think it is a question of form and function, harmony and proportion. A sense of what is right and what is wrong. Interestingly, the word “evil” in Old English meant ‘beyond appropriate bounds’

    Taking your extreme example of people who enjoyed both Beethoven and mass murder, I would suggest that mass murder is grossly wrong and immoral, and by extension totally lacking in any sense of aesthetics, morality and aesthetics being closely related.
    On a more ordinary and banal level, I would consider hypocrisy in political circles as an aesthetic as well as moral failure.

  63. When Anthony Burgess created a character who is a violent criminal but a music lover, he was commenting on the failure of art to be morally redeeming. Or perhaps “failure” — is the wrong word. The purpose of art, in Burgess’s view, has nothing to do with moral improvement per se. I’m sure our government would prefer art that teaches us all how to be good citizens, and the church likes morally uplifting messages, but the purpose of art is more exploratory than prescriptive.

    I agree that murder and hypocrisy are both ugly things, so they can be seen on an aesthetic level, sort of. But I find moral standards more useful for judging them, and aesthetic standards more useful for judging art. To aestheticize an abstract idea or feeling is, literally, to make it perceptible. And morally corrupt art is art that starts from a corrupt premise, I would say.

  64. Anyone who reckons that Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is the greatest play ever written can’t be all bad. It’s also nice to see how she also liked Fred Astaire, Rod Serling and Vermeer. At least the lady seems to have been fairly eclectic.

    Then again, anyone who thinks that Spillane is better than Shakespeare, or that Rachmaninoff is better than Stravinsky certainly can be called eclectic. Nuts, but certainly eclectic.

  65. The opinions are not nuts, it is her determinist method of getting the point across that is odd.

  66. Arthur S. Says:

    The idea of “artists not being good citizens” is tricky because “being a good citizen” itself is ambiguous as a goal. Jean-Jacques Rousseau got himself into controversy when he said that Jesus and his Apostles were essentially anti-social misfits who would be outlaws in any civil democracy. I think for better or worse artists do have to stand out from the crowd not to be put on a pedestal but to be sufficiently distanced so that they can look at things from a more individual perspective.

  67. david wingrove Says:

    This whole debate about artists being ‘good citzens’ is turning into something of a time warp.

    Are we not – forgive me for even suggesting it – getting back to Roman Polanski?

  68. Arthur S. Says:

    In Polanski’s case his rape and everything around it doesn’t reallly raise any questions about his function and ability as an artist in the way Wagner being an ideological influence on Nazism is. That is comparatively banal.

  69. True. I absolutely don’t accept any notion that Polanski gets a free pass because he’s an artist, which some commentators are basically arguing. That idea horrifies me.

    It’s true that being a good citizen is an idea filled with possible contradictions. I generally applaud whistle-blowers and people who lift the lid off corruption, although the state generally insists that they’re causing panic and defying the Official Secrets Act and it would be much better if the public didn’t know. To me, those anti-social characters are heroes.

    Likewise artists who offend the morals of the day in their work are raising questions and moving the cultural discussion onwards. But that has nothing to do with shagging little girls.

  70. Arthur S. Says:

    I don’t think any commentator has made that claim. That’s jut the hysterics projecting that on any one critical of Polanski’s arrest, especially the backlash on Scorsese and Woody Allen for signing that petition. Polanski has already suffered enough for his actions and is no longer any threat to anyone and is a devoted father. What I find odd is that nobody made a big deal when Hugh Grant, Johnny Depp, Sigourney Weaver, Harrison Ford worked with Polanski during his exile or when he won his Oscar or when those films got US distribution and now when he’s trapped, it’s like they’ve been always against him from Day 1. That’s hypocrisy.

    I think the ultimate acid test for toleration of unruly behaviour on the part of an artist is Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who collected boyfriends and drove them apart and two of them committed suicide. Except Fassbinder never sought to install himself on any pedestal or plinth save for being a film-maker who made a connection with his audience.

  71. david wingrove Says:

    Sorry, but Polanski’s lawyer should have begged Woody Allen NOT to sign a petition in his defence! Given Woody’s own hankering for much younger women (Soon-Yi Previn was basically his adopted daughter) his support for Polanski is frankly an embarrassment. With friends like that…

  72. Arthur S. Says:

    Woody and Soon-Yi deny any presence of any parental role projected or enacted by the former over the latter and they look very coupley in that Barbara Kopple documentary. Anyway, that petition was drafted by a French film organization and they contacted everyone from…anywhere. The same petition signed by Wes Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, Scorsese, Michael Mann, Woody Allen was also signed by Souleymane Cisse, Ermanno Olmi, Bertrand Tavernier.

  73. re: art vs citizenship

    when I talk about citizenship, I mean something like a responsibility to the human race (which, for me, means qualified opposition to pretty much any actually constituted state that any of us could name)

    I’m not talking about the morality of art–I’m more concerned about the economic underpinnings of the art system (i.e. the Greeks thought art could not flourish in a society without slaves–and we still don’t have any way to prove them wrong–given that our free time is still basically being generated by labour elsewhere in the world)

    this isn’t a problem I expect anyone to solve–it’s more like a paradox that anyone who believes in art AND social justice ought to keep in mind… artists as artists have to be selfish (there’s an emotional component to this as well–you can’t have a decent romantic relationship Rand-style either)–the hope is that the effects selfishness can be mitigated

    Polanski seems like a cut and dried case to me–he committed a crime, point final

  74. At last, I get back to this…
    I’m all in favour of citizenship as you define it, I just don’t use the word that way because I suspect it confuses people. It seems to more often mean responsibility to society. Which can be very ambiguous in itself, but does have some value and meaning. And it shouldn’t be entirely the same as responsibility to the state or government.

    In terms of influencing opinion, Woody’s signature is probably not that helpful, I’d agree. I’m prepared to believe that he was never a parent to Soon-Yi, but a lot of people aren’t. And it’s still a bit weird to run off with your partner’s adopted daughter. Weird enough…

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