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Episode 155 - The Fountainhead (w/ Larry Karaszewski)


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Poll: Episode 155 - The Fountainhead (w/ Larry Karaszewski) (12 member(s) have cast votes)

Should "The Fountainhead" enter The Canon?

  1. Yes (2 votes [16.67%])

    Percentage of vote: 16.67%

  2. No (10 votes [83.33%])

    Percentage of vote: 83.33%

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#1 Dalton Maltz

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Posted 21 May 2018 - 11:08 AM

Screenwriter Larry Karaszewski joins Amy to discuss the 1949 film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s book, “The Fountainhead.” They consider Ayn Rand’s creative control and her anti-communist history, the casting of Gary Cooper as Howard Roark, and the coalescing of character archetypes with Rand’s ambitious ideas before making their final cases.

#2 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 21 May 2018 - 04:44 PM

I vote no, mostly because it's just not that good a movie. The technical filmmaking is nice, and I think the actors do what they can with the material, but Rand's script is simply terrible as drama. It makes no sense from scene-to-scene, there are no coherent character arcs, and everything just seems geared towards delivering Objectivist philosophy in didactic and unfettered fashion. That's not a very entertaining approach.

Even taking The Fountainhead purely as an "idea movie," it falls apart because the world of the film has no internal logic or believable connection to the real world. Roark just seems to succeed in between scenes and then we're told that it happened. Would a guy who keeps rejecting decent business offers really be able to do that? Even as a metaphor for filmmaking, it seems like complete bullshit -- nobody makes a movie by themselves. Great auteurs (like, say, the Coen Brothers) succeed because they can make a large team of people commit to a collective goal, not because they do literally everything themselves.

I can see an argument for the book being part of the literary Canon, but the movie doesn't seem to be remembered for much, other than as a footnote in the careers of people like Vidor and Cooper. Easy no vote for me.

#3 FictionIsntReal

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Posted 22 May 2018 - 03:16 PM

I vote no, because the film is merely a curiosity. The book is famous (for better or worse), but the film is a footnote to it which few remember today. I have some complaints with how coherent the message of the film is and how well it fits with other parts of Rand's avowed beliefs, but I suppose those would really be complaints about the book rather than the film specifically. Some other notes I thought of in response to your discussion: HUAC was founded in 1938, over a decade before this film was released. But nobody remembers them going after Trostkyites, Bundists and other opponents of our alliance with Stalin during those years (people also tend to misremember Joseph McCarthy as being part of it, though he was never a member of the House of Representatives). Also, I find it strange Amy compares the Hays code (or at least Joseph Breen's administration of it) with Roark. Aside from Rand's atheism being contrary to Breen's Catholicism, Roark is actually creating something himself (setting aside sycasey's argument below) whereas Breen was just placing constraints on the work of others. Even stranger is when they said there aren't many movies about creators. There are LOTS of them, even if we restricted the subject to just moviemakers!

View Postsycasey 2.0, on 21 May 2018 - 04:44 PM, said:

Roark just seems to succeed in between scenes and then we're told that it happened. Would a guy who keeps rejecting decent business offers really be able to do that? Even as a metaphor for filmmaking, it seems like complete bullshit -- nobody makes a movie by themselves. Great auteurs (like, say, the Coen Brothers) succeed because they can make a large team of people commit to a collective goal, not because they do literally everything themselves.

I wouldn't say that Roark is portrayed as being able to build things by himself. He requires a client (analogous to a producer) willing to go along with his vision, and when he goes for too long without one he goes to work in a quarry. And while his excavation of building materials there isn't directly tied to the buildings he makes as an architect, we get the picture that a lot of grunt-work from guys like him, the "Danny Devito" guy and even that guard Dominique distracts went into it. In order to create that housing project, Keating had to act as his front and the clients had to agree to those conditions (which they later reneged on). I think Roark goes too far in assigning the idea as the fundamental ingredient whose originator deserves total control (and a rather destructive/wasteful form of veto power), but I don't think the film is trying to say he accomplished everything by himself without anybody else's cooperation (maybe a movie about a hermit mathematician could take that stance). As for whether one could take that stance in Hollywood, Rand herself did that for this movie. I don't think she could afford to in her earlier career in Hollywood, and Larry remarked that it's atypical if you're not Neil Simon, but it's not impossible. Rand is aiming at an ideal rather than everyday realism, so I'll allow the path of Roark's career. Despite having just read about how much more common "jury nullification" was for sympathetic defendants from the Gilded Era to mid 20th century in "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice", I won't grant the same leniency to her depiction of the trial, because the negative view she & Roark have held for the masses throughout the film is inconsistent with its outcome.

#4 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 23 May 2018 - 08:25 AM

View PostFictionIsntReal, on 22 May 2018 - 03:16 PM, said:

I wouldn't say that Roark is portrayed as being able to build things by himself. He requires a client (analogous to a producer) willing to go along with his vision, and when he goes for too long without one he goes to work in a quarry. And while his excavation of building materials there isn't directly tied to the buildings he makes as an architect, we get the picture that a lot of grunt-work from guys like him, the "Danny Devito" guy and even that guard Dominique distracts went into it. In order to create that housing project, Keating had to act as his front and the clients had to agree to those conditions (which they later reneged on). I think Roark goes too far in assigning the idea as the fundamental ingredient whose originator deserves total control (and a rather destructive/wasteful form of veto power), but I don't think the film is trying to say he accomplished everything by himself without anybody else's cooperation (maybe a movie about a hermit mathematician could take that stance). As for whether one could take that stance in Hollywood, Rand herself did that for this movie. I don't think she could afford to in her earlier career in Hollywood, and Larry remarked that it's atypical if you're not Neil Simon, but it's not impossible. Rand is aiming at an ideal rather than everyday realism, so I'll allow the path of Roark's career. Despite having just read about how much more common "jury nullification" was for sympathetic defendants from the Gilded Era to mid 20th century in "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice", I won't grant the same leniency to her depiction of the trial, because the negative view she & Roark have held for the masses throughout the film is inconsistent with its outcome.


Sure, the movie isn't literally saying that Roark built those buildings all by himself. It's more about the philosophy behind the movie being bullshit: that this somehow gives him the right to just destroy the thing on his own (something that other people worked on and have money invested in), and that a unanimous jury would agree with him!

Same if you apply it to the movie business: yes, Rand used the same approach in demanding full control over this movie. But the outcome was that the film wasn't well-received and she never wrote another movie script again, not her being regarded as a conquering hero. I think the reality is that the filmmakers who we think of as "singular geniuses" (who produced multiple great films) actually did a better job of fostering a collaborative atmosphere on their movie sets than the legends about them would suggest.

#5 Susan*

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Posted 23 May 2018 - 04:35 PM

I watched the whole movie on Filmstruck -- really I did. But I'm an idiot and I missed the opening credit saying that Ayn Rand wrote the screenplay. During the first 15-20 minutes, I kept thinking what an odd tone the movie had. What do you call it when characters tell the audience all their motivations and backstory in a super-obvious/unrealistic way? I don't think I've even seen a movie so full of that during the opening scenes. I hated that. I'm glad I was judge-y about the screenplay without knowing who wrote it.

It's certainly an oddball movie and I'm glad I finally saw it, but I can't vote for it.

Helen Mirren won an Emmy for the Passion of Ayn Rand, a movie I cannot recommend but it portrayed Ayn's relationships in her mature years. :/

FYI -- I'm a gigantic fan of old movies. I love so many of the old-time actors--leading men and character actors. I have never understood the appeal of Gary Cooper. I don't like his acting and he was too old for the part, but I think it's crazy to say that he's not attractive in the movie. He' conventionally leading-man attractive in this movie and generally.

I love Amy, but she made me want to hit my head against the wall with the comment about people knowing Patricia Neal mostly from Breakfast at Tiffany's. So glad she was challenged on that right away. I didn't even remember Patrica Neal being the older love interest of George Peppard. But I hope Amy remembers her from A Face in the Crowd. And please see Hud.

FYI -- I can think of 3-4 other Astaire and Rogers films that I'd watch before Swing Time. Yes, the scene where he pretends that he can't dance and then they dance all over the dance studio is a perfect musical number, but the overall story etc isn't as memorable. The Gay Divorcee has The Continental and the gigolo who forgets his secret code phrase.

#6 Johnny Pomatto

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Posted 24 May 2018 - 08:09 AM

I had no first hand experiences with the writings of Ayn Rand. Sure, I had gleaned much of her philosophy and beliefs from other works and discussions, but I had never read a novel. It had all seemed rather daunting. Last year, (I believe it was on inauguration day, Turner Classic Movies showed THE FOUNTAINHEAD and I thought it was a fitting opportunity to get a little acquainted with the book tangentially, as well as see a classic Gary Cooper film that had so far eluded me. What struck me almost instantly was technically stunning the film was. Hardly a surprise, given that it was directed by the legendary King Vidor, but this was not a film that was often pointed to as a classic film of the golden era of Hollywood. Perhaps that's because of Rand's dense and labored screenplay, as well as a rather tragically miscast Cooper. Cooper is one of those legendary Hollywood actors who when used properly, (HIGH NOON, PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, BALL OF FIRE), embodied the epitome of sincere Americana. Naturally he should be the perfect fit for Rand's work, which is based in stoic capitalist patriotism. But Cooper lacks the edge and irony of someone corrupted by such beliefs, and the film suffers for it. Patricia Neal is a welcome addition to the cast though. I've always been entranced by her quirky beauty, offset by her almost skeletal toothy grin. She deserves a better leading man in this film. And what is The Canon all about? It's about choosing the best films. And while I think that the context of introducing Rand's works into the Hollywood sphere is an important one, I feel like this is likely a situation of this being a pale adaptation of a book, that one's story of how it came to be made is perhaps more interesting than the final product. I feel like to put this film into The Canon without highlighting the context of the story behind it, doesn't leave much to consider based solely on the film itself. I enjoy the film. It's certainly a fascinating oddity of the era, but I don't think I can vote it into The Canon.

#7 bleary

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Posted 24 May 2018 - 10:26 AM

Someone in the forums led off their review of Cry Uncle! with "What the hell did I just watch?" I have to say that was my reaction after watching The Fountainhead.

As pointed out by everyone in this thread, the film's plot and screenplay are so absurd, illogical, and ill-conceived that it's hard to find words to describe it. As Susan* pointed out above, most of the characters just state their feelings, goals and personal histories as if that's a normal thing to do. The idea that the man who blew up a low-income housing project is portrayed heroically as being literally on top of the world in the closing scene is, well, if not Kafkaesque, certainly Lynchian. Moreover, just the idea that every single character in this film (and perhaps every citizen of New York?) has such insanely strong, stubborn views about modern architecture feels like something out of an absurdist comedy sketch. During Roark's courtroom speech, I half-expected a "South Park" style subtitle to pop up saying, "This is what Randians actually believe."

And yet, as pointed out again by everyone in this thread, the film is technically stunning. I must admit, this is the first King Vidor film I'd seen, so the craftsmanship present in this film took me by surprise. And the amount that the actors really commit to the nonsense script gives it such a surreal quality. I think Larry Karaszewski was spot-on when he described it as a fever dream. It's so disconcerting, particularly in today's political climate and particularly knowing that so many people who have so much power buy into the nonsensical message.

So in the end, this read as a beautifully shot unintentional horror film, and in that sense, it kind of worked for me. I don't think the yes votes will carry this one, but I'll throw a yes in, provided its Canon entry's plaque clarifies that we all realize just how bananas this script is. But in an evil way. Evil bananas. That's the world we're living in right now, after all.