For nearly 20 years now, Ayn Rand’s mammoth ode to capitalism and self-interest, Atlas Shrugged, has labored to find its way to a place it probably doesn’t belong anyway: the movie screen. Why so long a journey? Well, while some people (Alan Greenspan! John Mackey!) consider it the intellectual equivalent to The Lord of The Rings, that trilogy’s success didn’t exactly wrap up with a 100-page speech to the masses.
But now, in a roll-the-dice move that would make John Galt proud (or Howard Roark laugh), the current option-holder of Shrugged, entrepreneur John Aglialoro, has set a, gulp, June 11th start date on the production.
And while that’s only weeks away, and he’s currently lacking a single cast member (no word yet on Angelina Jolie or Charlize Theron as Dagny Taggart), Aglialoro has at least selected a director: Stephen Polk. Okay, if not Aglialoro, is Polk worried about the film’s casting? Nope!
Polk said they are not intimidated to film a storied book even if stars don’t align. “For more than 15 years, this has been at studios and there has been a whole dance around who’ll play the iconic roles,” Polk said. “Making it an independent film was the game-changer. Everybody is saying, how can you shoot this movie without a star? We’re shooting it because it’s a good movie with great characters. We’ve been in pre-production for months, but kept it a mystery. Part of the reason is because there’s so much crap about how you need a great big budget and stars. We aren’t looking for big names to trigger press or financing.”
For those of you wondering how Polk, whose acting credits far outweigh those of his directing (29 to 1), landed such a gig, what follows is the trailer for his last (and first) film, ‘08’s Cherly Ladd and Barry Bostwick-starring, Baggage:
Okay, now, given the above, we still can’t be sure how the resulting Atlas Shrugged film is going to turn out. But here’s something I do know: it’s gonna have a hard time stopping critics from seizing upon one of the novel’s central images: the train wreck.
Andrew Corsello’s The Bitch is Back article from GQ on the boorish subject of Ayn Rand Assholes is probably the best takedown of Ayn Rand’s followers (and Alan Greenspan and Wall Street) I’ve yet seen and certainly the funniest (other than Stephen Colbert’s). It was about time for an article like this to appear and I am glad it was Corsello who wrote it.
I myself became an unabashed Ayn Rand fanatic when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I’d been reading the works of Victor Hugo and so I was totally primed for discovering another “Romantic” (note capital “r”) writer like Ayn Rand next, but it wasn’t via her well-known fiction that I discovered the Russian-born novelist and philosopher, but rather a more obscure volume called Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, which I read extremely slowly so I could take in the complexity of the thought. It’s a very dry, technical book, but made a huge impression on me (more on this below, it merits special mention).
The next thing I read was Anthem, which is interesting enough, but slight compared to her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged which I read after that. Eventually I would go through nearly ever word of hers in print up to about 1979. I mean everything. Via mail order I collected single issues of The Objectivist and The Ayn Rand Letter until I had them all and I kept them in bound cases like holy relics. This is what can happen when bright kids read Ayn Rand, they get obsessed, but hopefully, like me, they will grow out of it. Discovering Lenny Bruce, Marx, Marcuse, Crowley, Burroughs and the Firesign Theatre deprogrammed my teenage ass but good and by the time I was 14 and I soon stopped caring about Ayn Rand altogether. (In my case I was young enough not to have had any shameful, reactionary moments to cringe about and regret, not like young Marty Beckerman)
By the time I was in my twenties and living in the Wall Street area of Manhattan, I’d see young, obviously Republican, stock broker types reading Atlas Shrugged on the subway and I’d feel silent contempt for them. Discovering Ayn Rand after high school is bad enough, but to discover her post-college is true pathetica. Her strident greed is good moralizing about the ‘virtues of selfishness’ (one of her best known non-fiction titles) would have an appeal to would be Gordon Gekkos, of course, but… yuck. Talk about an impoverished intellectual diet.
Many people who loathe Ayn Rand tend to go on about what a cack-handed writer she was, but this is not strictly true because her books, even the 75,000 page Atlas Shrugged are real page turners. I can absolutely see why Atlas Shrugged is still one of the all time best selling books in history—I was captivated by it myself, of course. The characters are vivid. The book’s plotting—which has tons of relentless momentum despite the novel’s legendary heft—is a tour de force. It’s Rand’s dialogue that seals her reputation as an author you just can’t take seriously. To be fair, she was writing in her second language, but the problem with her books is that no one actually speaks to one another, they just make speeches at each other. Hectoring, long-winded speeches. It’s fine to read stuff like that as a teenager, but when I crack open one of her books today, I shake my head in disbelief at how bombastic and horrible her writing is. It’s Dan Brown level tripe.
If you don’t believe me, try this one for size, the trailer for King Vidor’s screen version of The Fountainhead with a script by Rand herself. Can you imagine how difficult it was for the actors to get their lines out and try to sound convincing saying them?!?! (It’s one or the other!)
Here’s a clip of Ayn Rand on Phil Donohue’s talkshow that I recall seeing at the time it originally aired. She got really peevish with both Phil and the audience at points. Check her out. Who talks like that?
*One quick thing I wanted to say about Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is that it is an unfairly ignored and misunderstood work on how concepts are formed, shunned by academia simply because it was written by Ayn Rand. Had it been written by Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead or Wittgenstein, it would be (rightfully) celebrated as an important philosophical treatise.I may think Ayn Rand sucks as a novelist, but I highly recommend this book.
It’s commonly known that Frank Lloyd Wright served as inspiration for the Howard Roark character in Ayn Rand‘s The Fountainhead. Last weekend, though, the LA Times made note of the lesser-known correspondence between the two that preceded that book’s publication.
Wright, it seems, wasn’t initially eager to meet with Rand (maybe he sensed, even then, their ideological differences?), but their letter-writing “evolved into a robust exchange of ideas as well as this: a preliminary rendering of a ‘cottage studio,’ in colored pencil on paper, that the legendary architect crafted for Rand.” The rendering (above) apparently left quite an impression on her:
The house you designed for me is magnificent. I gasped when I saw it. It is the particular kind of sculpture in space which I love and which nobody but you has ever been able to achieve. I was not very coherent when I told you what kind of house I wanted—and I had the impression that you did not approve of what I said. Yet you designed exactly the house I hoped to have. The next time somebody accuses you of cruelty and inconsideration toward clients, refer them to me.
My views on Rand’s Objectivism aside, it’s too bad the cottage studio was never constructed. While preparing for the filming of King Vidor’s The Fountainhead, Rand flirted with moving out to Los Angeles, but ultimately decided she was better off in Manhattan.
One of Rand’s early letters went to great lengths to assure Wright that her Roark was not about him per se, “My hero is not you. I do not intend to follow in the novel the events of your life and career.”
Well, if Rand had followed Wright’s career, it would certainly have been interesting to see how her novel might have accommodated the below ‘56 clip from What’s My Line. In it, the master architect plays the game show’s “mystery guest.” (That’s Rat Packer and JFK brother-in-law Peter Lawford blindfolded on the right.)