Sunday, December 14, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Fountainhead (1949) **

NR, 114 min.
Director: King Vidor
Writer: Ayn Rand (also novel)
Starring: Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey, Kent Smith, Robert Douglas, Henry Hull, Ray Collins

I suppose I can see how at one point in time the philosophies of Ayn Rand might’ve held appeal to some, but at this point, her narrow minded ideals seem like a pretty tough sell to me. Back when King Vidor made her novel “The Fountainhead” into a film, with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal as her idealized leads, maybe her ramblings didn’t sound quite so elitist, although I would guess she wouldn’t have a problem with that term. That’s what is hardest to swallow from her for me, the way she sees “the people” as something lesser than her characters.

“The Fountainhead” is about an architect who won’t sell out his ideals. The analogy between architecture and other forms of business is a good one as Rand uses the creativity and original designs of modern architecture as a counterpoint to the stolen designs of bygone eras popular in the financial institutions of the time. The dull overused architecture of those aging institutions represent the dilution of populist thinking, while the bold designs of modern architecture represents the harsh and stern ideals of great integrity. The problem is that too much of this plays like some sort of social science dissertation and not an engaging work of entertainment. I’ve read operation manuals that were less pedantic than Rand’s idea of high drama.

However, there’s another way to look at this movie. Forget the dialogue, the relentless socio-economic philosophizing and the wooden, tacked on romance and look at the choice of architecture as a delivery system for her ideas. Look at the production design by Edward Carrere and set design by William Kuehl. Their interiors are just as bold and brazen as the designs being espoused by the hero of the film. Their designs must’ve influenced famous James Bond designer Ken Adam, whose grand sets created a distinctive feel for Bond’s eccentric villains. The interiors here are just as dynamic as any of the Bond villains’ lairs. It did seem to me the newspaper publisher’s office should’ve change from something less bold to what it was as a progression through out the story to reflect how his thinking changes throughout the story. But, Rand does use him as an example, even from the beginning, of someone who is self made, therefore fitting her model of an admirable businessman.

Despite the perfection of the production’s design elements, they cannot overcome all of Rand’s rambling and preaching. She never reconciles her romantic ideals with her business and creative ideals. Her heroine is a strong female figure, but the way she denies herself love seems just as self-destructive as succumbing to the expected notions of society. Or perhaps we should all marry for power and just hope that our spouse perishes in time for us to spend our best years with our true love. Something tells me that would lead to a skyrocketing divorce rate.

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