Saturday, January 14, 2012
I'm an architect (or at least I play one in real life). You know what this means? This means that almost by law, I was required to read Ayn Rand's THE FOUNTAINHEAD, and an easy read, it's not. The book is at at least three inches thick and its philosophies take time and patience to absorb. However, once you've completed the novel, it's impossible not to walk away re-evaluating your own sense of values, even if you're not an architect.
At it's heart, THE FOUNTAINHEAD is the story of architect Howard Roark who must stand alone against the rest of the world in order to maintain his own personal sense of values, standards and self-worth. But more than that, THE FOUNTAINHEAD challanges the reader (and the film viewer) on the philosophy of selfishness and questions the easy willingness to compromise their ideals, resulting in potential greatness being dragged down by the "mob" mentality of other human beings to the level of everyday mediocrity. It also grants a moral sanction for people to believe in themselves, their dreams and their aspirations without asking anyone's permission, free of committees, collective thinking or the perceived need to seek approval from others. And what happens when our ideas and work are deliberately compromised or altered by the ignorant power of others? Do we have the right to take our own work back and completely destroy it, if need be? Howard Roark believes he does when a building he designed by his own mind and hand is erected as a completely society-conforming piece of mediocrity. He literally destroys the building before it can be completed and then stands trial for his crime (was it a crime?) with the entire city seemingly against him, calling for his blood. I won't tell you how it all turns out. That's up to you.
All of that is pretty deep and thought-provoking, indeed. One can only try to imagine the challenge Warner Brothers faced in trying to bring this epic novel to screen and maintain a level of cinematic entertainment as well as it's serious topics. Gary Cooper as Howard Roark pulls the character off just about as well as any other movie star from the 1940s might have. Patricia Neal as Domonique Francon is solid, but I can't help but wonder what Barbara Stanwick might have been like in the role, whom I understand campaigned for it almost as soon as the book was published. As a classic black and white version which consolidates the entire novel in just under two hours, it works as well as can be expected for movie making during the golden age of cinema. However, I dare say THE FOUNTAINHEAD is one of those rare stories that could use a complete make-over in the form of a week long television mini-series.
All that having been said, I'm going to dive into a personal theory of my own regarding THE FOUNTAINHEAD and it's Hollywood film version. Follow me on this, okay...Ayn Rand wrote the film's screenplay based on her own work. Now bearing in mind the strong philosophies and convictions the author speaks of, it would have been safe to assume than Rand would have written a screenplay that faithfully adapted her own work without the burden of Hollywood changes and edits. However, as mentioned earlier, the film comes in at just under two hours, jumps through the storyline very quickly at times and manages to completely eliminate major characters and plot points. Do you all see what I'm leading up to?? If Rand truly believed in her own convictions and beliefs, then why did she seemingly sell herself out so easily to the pressures of Hollywood cuts and edits? Did she give in and sell her soul just like the rest of human kind or were her philosophies and convictions nothing but pure fiction from the beginning? I suppose that's a debatable argument that could go on for a long time, but it's a point I've never been able to shake since the first time I saw the film.
By the way, those of you who are fans of the legendary rock back RUSH will likely know that many of their song lyrics were inspired by the words of Ayn Rand. Consider the lyrics from just a few of their most popular songs...
- WITCH HUNT (from Moving Pictures): "They say there is strangeness to danger us in our theatres and bookstore shelves, that those who know what's best for us must rise and save us from ourselves".
- VITAL SIGNS (also from Moving Pictures): "Everybody got mixed feelings about the function and the form. Everybody got to deviate from the norm".
- SUBDIVISIONS (from Signals): "Opinions all provided, the future pre-decided, detached and subdivided in the mass production zone. Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone".
Man, I love that band!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Howard Roark: "I am an architect. I know what is to come by the principle on which it is built. We are approaching a world in which I cannot permit myself to live. My ideas are my property. They were taken from me by force, by breach of contract. No appeal was left to me. It was believed that my work belonged to others, to do with as they pleased. They had a claim upon me without my consent. That is was my duty to serve them without choice or reward. Now you know why I dynamited Cortlandt. I designed Cortlandt, I made it possible, I destroyed it. I agreed to design it for the purpose of seeing it built as I wished. That was the price I set for my work. I was not paid. My building was disfigured at the whim of others who took all the benefits of my work and gave me nothing in return. I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy, nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim. It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing. I came here to be heard. In the name of every man of independence still left in the world. I wanted to state my terms. I do not care to work or live on any others. My terms are a man's right to exist for his own sake."