Randiana

2002-02-02

Today is Ayn Rand's birthday, so I figure I'll post some Rand-related information. Here's an interesting quote from "Hollywood: Our Strength, Our Weakness" by James F. Cooper in the Fall 2001 issue of American Arts Quarterly (a free journal on the arts and culture published by The Newington-Cropsey Foundation):

The men who once ran Hollywood understood the craft of making motion pictures better than the intellectuals who disparaged movies as "kitsch" and critics who usually praised the wrong films. Tough studio-boss Jack Warner tried in vain to convince Ayn Rand that writing a movie script for The Fountainhead (1949) was different from writing the novel. Rand had worked as a screenwriter for several years at MGM before writing the 1943 novel that made her famous, but she brushed aside all constructive suggestions from Warner, Oscar-winning director King Vidor, and the movie's star, Gary Cooper, whom she had personally selected to play architect Howard Roark. A brilliant advocate for intellectual and artistic freedom, she seemed oblivious to the formal connections between aesthetics and content. The movie version of the highly successful novel The Fountainhead was an artistic and commercial failure.

In her journals, Rand praised Frank Lloyd Wright for his intransigence -- for example, she noted approvingly that "he refused to participate in the [Chicago World] Fair, unless he could have complete say over it; Wright did it because he had an idea of what he wanted done with the Fair and he wished no interference with the idea; he had a truly beautiful and important thing to create" [151]. She seemed to think this was a grand approach to working on large projects, but she underestimated the extent to which a project like making a movie is a collaborative effort (unlike writing a novel). In fact she loathed collaboration and cooperation on philosophical grounds (there are some clear-cut passages on this in her journals), since she saw them as instances of abdicating responsibility and yielding to the judgment of others (i.e., what she called "altruism"). For a thinker who opposed false dichotomies such as mind vs. body and secular vs. sacred, she certainly seemed to have a blind spot on the individual vs. the collective. I'm as much of an individualist as anybody, but I recognize that working with others does not mean one has compromised one's individuality. I think I've noted before (probably in one of my journal entries) that all of Rand's heroes were able to work independently -- they were inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, and the like. No teamwork was ever required of them, and if it was (e.g., Howard Roark while working in the office of architect John Erik Snyte) the situation did not last long because a true Randian hero, like her idol Wright, is too much of a creative genius to collaborate and cooperate with others -- who, it is assumed, will stifle the hero's creativity and therefore individuality. (That brings up the issue of identifying individuality with creativity, but I'll open that can of worms some other night.) In any case, I think there are some seriously questionable assumptions behind Rand's views here, and I plan to critique them at greater length in a future essay.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal