Before we had Rush and the Internet!


We already had Ayn Rand: We never went through an Ayn Rand phase. We’ve never read her novels.

We probably saw her on Carson once or twice. That was likely enough.

Last night, TCM aired the 1949 version of The Fountainhead. We watched about half an hour, having watched a similar chunk a few months ago.

Last night, it struck us that this may be the oddest film we’ve ever watched. Offhand, we can think of no other film where all the characters seem insane, and all the events seem impossible.

Lake Wobegon this is not!

(Did New York ever have a daily newspaper with dueling architectural columnists? Maybe—we have no idea.)

As noted, we’ve never read the books; those Carson spots were likely enough. (Poor Ed tried to ask probing questions.) It did occur to us last night that these books may have been a way to be publicly nuts before talk radio, cable and the Net made the practice so easy.

It used to be hard to hear crazy ideas. For the most part, if you were totally out of your head, you weren’t allowed in major media.

Today, lunacy is almost required for such spots. At one time, it was quite rare.

Before we had Rush and Sean and now Lawrence, it was hard to hear total bull-crap in public. But Ayn Rand’s novels were already there.

So was that crazy movie.

According to the leading authority: According to the leading authority on the film, it was poorly received by the critics:
The Fountainhead was panned by critics in its initial release. The Hollywood Reporter wrote of the film, "Its characters are downright weird and there is no feeling of self-identification." The Los Angeles Times said that the film would not "catch the interest of what is known as the average movie audience—whoever they may be nowadays." The Communist-published Daily Worker deemed The Fountainhead to be "an openly fascist movie." The trade magazine Variety called the film "cold, unemotional, loquacious [and] completely devoted to hammering home the theme that man's personal integrity stands above all law." The New Yorker deemed the film to be "asinine and inept.” Cue described it as "shoddy, bombastic nonsense.” Bosley Crowther, in his review for The New York Times, called the film "wordy, involved and pretentious" and characterized Vidor's work as a "vast succession of turgid scenes."
All those claims may be true, of course. But what about the fact that all the characters seem insane and all the events seem impossible?

“Downright weird” characters in “turgid scenes?” For us, that doesn’t quite catch it.


  1. As someone who read both of Rand's famous novels as a kid, and on whom they had a profound impact, they never seemed insane to me at the time, though looking back they obviously are. I've often wondered why, but the only conclusion I can draw is that I was just a dumb kid.

    A somewhat defense of Atlas Shrugged:

    Other viewers see the film differently (I have not seen it).

  2. Rex Reed liked "The Fountainhead" and thought it was sexy.

  3. I'm one of the adolescent boys Krugman referred to.
    The characters were cardboard cutouts and the dialogue was stilted and unconvincing.

    I rejected the premise because the heroes and villains spoke like no one in my experience. I would say most of them were irrational at best, and might have been insane if they were real people.

    My brother, on the other hand still believes in Objectivism. He is a social Darwinist but says he is Libertarian. What the heck, he read Hubbard's DIANETICS: The Modern Science of Mental Health back then, and tried to purge his mind of bad memories.

    I read it and thought thought Hubbard was nuts then, but had a knack for writing space opera.

    I also read Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, Frank Norris, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Werner von Braun, Alfred Korzybski, S.I. Hayakawa, Vance Packard, Mickey Spillane, Henry Miller, and D. H. Lawrence. Works of the last three were hard to get, but fell open to all the right passages. All work and no play is boring.

    Anyway, Rand's work was, and is, nonsensical scribblings touting social Darwinism.

    Paul Ryan claims he was mightily influenced by her clap-trap, which is sufficient reason in itself to ban him from any position of power or responsibility.

    Perhaps he thinks Romney's bumper sticker comments are really long, bombastic speeches about why entrepreneurs stride like giants above the masses.

    To call someone an intellectual because they like Ayn Rand's philosophy is insane.

  4. Having just completed Atlas Shrugged for the first (and mercifully the last) time at age 22, I completely agree with your overall assessment of the characters, and for that reason I see the novel as little more than a beach read.

    Besides being unrealistic, the dialogue is quite frankly terrible, and the "philosophy" behind the book's message is about as hollow as the drone characters.

    And from an intellectual standpoint, I don't really think she was revolutionary in adding anything of value to the high philosophical discourse, was she? Besides swan diving over the not-so-fine line of extremism, the John Galt monologue doesn't even attempt to be an expansion of any cognizant philosophical work of the past (Kant's boomroast of Hume, etc.) as much as it seems like an emotionally disjointed rant with little more credibility than a Glenn Beck chalkboard lesson.

    To quote 1995's Billy Madison, a film from which I probably took away more lessons than Atlas Shrugged:

    "What you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

    ...2 months of my life I will never get back.

  5. It's a religious text. Religious texts seldom seem sane to an outsider, and indeed, seeming sane is not their purpose. Their purpose is to educate, to reinforce, to proselytize. The bible is even more nutty, and millions of people believe nearly every word of it is true. The bible is, though, a much better read.

    Anyway, what's wrong with Rand isn't even Rand, but the lack of a countering movement, something to balance the extremism of "Objectivism." Since Marxism has been largely rejected, there's nothing on the other side, and as a result what was extreme right wing is now unopposed. Given that it IS extreme, and societies don't do well under extreme, doctrinaire systems, it bodes ill for the future. Instead of attacking the document, the views that it espouses have to be destroyed, or this stuff we're seeing is just the beginning. They're shouting "Freedom! Liberty! Self determination!" And you're saying Ayn Rand sucks as a writer. One of these arguments influences peoples' minds about what kind of society they should live in; one does not.

    1. Good point. How about Compassion! Cooperation! Diversity! instead. What else?

    2. Good point. How about Compassion! Cooperation! Diversity! instead. What else?

    3. Instead of stuff like "compassion," which isn't really an American virtue regardless of what we tell ourselves, it's better to stress things like opportunity. In sales, the first thing you have to be able to do is tell people what's in it for them, and what the left has to offer is opportunity -- educational opportunity, economic opportunity in terms of jobs, and so forth. The right has to pretend that cutting taxes for the rich offers opportunity for everyone, but it's pretty flimsy, and we have decades of evidence now that it doesn't work. But the left isn't hitting them on it, at least not hard enough. Much easier and satisfying to laugh at Ayn Rand's poor character development.

  6. Growing up in a liberal Republican household in NJ in the 1950's and 60's (by 1968, my parents had become Democrats, but I'm remembering more the late 50's and early 60's), in a pretty Republican town, my politically active parents had two passions: civil rights (associated more with moderate-liberal Republicans there and then than with Democrats), and countering conservative Republicans. The conservatives my parents had to deal with achieved their great victory with the nomination of Goldwater. But even these folks would have died rather than be associated with Ayn Rand's "philosophy," which was out there with the Birchers, a more coherent group whom these conservatives considered quite crazy and dangerous. That people like the Koch brothers (who remind me strongly of John Birchers) or Randian "objectivists" now drive any part of our political discourse, much less drive it to the enormous degree they do, would have astounded these 1950's and 1960's conservative Republicans, and would have disgusted them.

    A point to remember about Rand's novels when they were first coming out. They were considered "sexy" and "steamy" for their day, a major part of their appeal not just to adolescents but to adults. As for the reviews of the movie, The Fountainhead, that Bob S. cites, which don't talk about the insanity of the characters and impossibility of the events: I suspect the movie reviewers were taking for granted what most of their readers already knew from reviews of the book or from having read it.

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