By Tallulah Morehead
June 4, 2009
I watch a lot of old movies on TCM, mostly because TCM are my initials. (I'm Tallulah Clytemnestra Morehead) and I just finished watching a doozy of a terrible movie on TCM, one that has to be seen to be disbelieved: the ultra-hilarious piece of right-wing objectivist claptrap, the movie of Ayn Rand's ridiculous novel, The Fountainhead, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, as glamorous, sexy Fascists, I mean an architect and his best gal.
I'm afraid Juliette's blowing up the H-Bomb on that island on Lost must have screwed up the Time-Space Continuum. This can't be Normal Reality, because this movie is the most absurd piece of twaddle I have sat through since the final season of Roseanne.
Enormously well-hung Gary Cooper plays Howard Roarke, the most brilliant, unpopular, and egotistical architect in the world. The movie is all about how people are always trying to get Howard Roarke to design buildings just like the same ones everyone else designs, but Howard is too great to listen to anyone, even his clients. People are always telling him his designs are too outré, although his houses are all Frank Lloyd Wright rip-offs, and his office buildings are all rectangular glass and steel structures that look exactly like every souless office building clogging the downtowns of every major city in the world, the very style that Jacques Tati spent his great movie Playtime attacking. "We can't take a chance," they always say to him, as though they were gambling their lives building an office tower or a block of flats. Has the designer of Disney Hall in Los Angeles been lynched yet?
The villain of the story is a newspaper architectural critic, who wields tremendous public power. He writes a column of architectural criticism, and his slightest word can bring the city to a halt. What planet is this? When the publisher fires the architectural critic, the staff walks out in support of the critic, and the paper buckles under to the critic, and the publisher shoots himself. Star Trek is more realistic.
Howard does not consider architecture to be a collaborative art. Rather, it's the solitary work of a lone artist, toiling away in an attic somewhere. Making even the tiniest change in any of his designs is intolerable to Roarke.
He means it. When a block of flats he designed are built while he is on a vacation with Patricia Neal, with changes made at the orders of the people paying for it to be built, Roarke dynamites it. He stands trial for blowing up this building he didn't own, in the middle of Manhattan, without so much as a blasting permit. It's a wildly illegal, irresponsible, dangerous, negligent act of overwhelming egotism, an SMD: a Snit of Mass Destruction.
He's found innocent, and the jury and the whole courtroom erupts into applause at this horrific miscarriage of justice. He has admitted committing the crime on the stand. His defense was that he has way better taste than the pigs who paid for it, so he should be able to blow it up. The jury buys this idiocy. The movie paints him as a hero.
The first clue that Howard Roarke has something weirdly wrong with him comes early on. He's going out of business. A friend offers him a loan, and he refuses it. Okay. He has too much pride to take help. That's fine. But he says, "I never ask for nor give help."
What? He never "gives help"? He never helps anyone?
Yup. That's exactly what he means. He's anti-helping his fellow man. In his trial summation, six minutes of Gary Cooper giving a completely unhinged, turgid speech, he actually says, "The world is perishing in an orgy of self-sacrifice ."
Whatever finishes off mankind, it won't be an excess of self-sacrifice. The movie is pro-selfishness and egoism (which is just egotism misspelled), and anti-altruism. It preaches, at length and in a superior tone, that Altruism is Bad. And it means it.
The "love" story subplot is a scream. Patricia Neal is an architect's daughter who hates anything that makes her happy, because her taste is too supurb, and the masses with their bad taste will destroy anything she likes, so she deliberately throws out any stuff she has that she likes (We first meet her dropping a lovely nude statue down an airshaft), and she refuses to marry the man she loves, and instead marries a man she finds creepy, to avoid being happy, so happiness can't be taken from her. She'd rather be miserable, than be happy, and risk being made miserable by the masses. If you can find any sense in that, let me know.
So she's vacationing in a lovely home that adjoins a marble quarry where they dynamite rock all day, every day. Let me repeat this: she is intentionally vacationing in a house next door to a site that is blasting rocks with dynamite all day long, every day. You can't get more relaxing than that.
Her idea of sight-seeing is riding her horse to the quarry and then wandering around, drooling over the hunky, muscular workmen driving pickaxes into walls of granite. This is, in my opinion, the only sensible thing in the whole movie. And her favorite workman is Howard Roarke, who is working there after driving himself out of business with his too-high standards of taste. She first sees him holding a jackhammer, drilling away into into solid rock. She is turned on by the ever-so-subtle sexual implication of his drilling into rock with a jackhammer. She must imagine she has a marble hymen.
Now she can't get him out of her mind. She rides around on her horse, imagining Howard and his drill while she's being jostled in the saddle. At one point she rides up to him and slashes him across the face with a riding crop, which makes him grin, and the unforgettable final shot of the film is her riding up over 100 stories in an outdoor elevator (No elevator can go that far. It takes three to get to the top of the Empire State Building.) to where Howard is standing, on top of his not-yet-finished "Tallest building in the world." The shot tracks in on his crotch as he stands astride his masterpiece, the world's-biggest-phallic symbol.
The movie was written by the novelist-nutball, Russian-American, writer-philosopher Ayn Rand. She promoted a form of highly-anti-communist philosophy called "Objectivism," probably because it is so objectionable.
Being virulently anti-Communism-and-Socialism, she believed that ownership and rights of property were sacrosanct, although when Howard Roarke, her Ideal Man, blows up other people's property because he doesn't like it, it's a righteous act, not a violation of other people's rights of property. Ayn was a hypocrite.
Ayn wrote every word of dialogue, and forbade a word of it to be changed. She was the Howard Roarke of screenwriters. What she was not was a good writer of dialogue, none of which sounds like human speech, and all of which sounds like a lecture from a Fox News lunatic.
Ayn insisted that Gary Cooper say every damn word of her summation speech, which is utterly nuts from beginning to end. Jack Warner, no slouch in the anti-Commie department himself, ended up cutting it down a little. It's still six minutes of Gary Cooper standing in one place, making a completely insane-yet-boring speech, in praise of selfishness, condemning altruism, and stating that there are only two types of humans: "Creators" and "Parasites." That's it. No shades of gray. No middle-management.
When Ayn learned that some slight cuts had been made to her speech, she squawked and hollered, but she did not blow up Warner Brothers, nor set fire to the negative and all prints, nor even beat Jack Warner into paste with a poker (Damn!), which makes her a raging hypocrite. It's what Howard Roarke would have done. It's what Bette Davis would have done.
Ayn is having a small vogue right now (very small, as the country is becoming far less happy with rightwing nutballs), because her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, an insane novel that makes The Lord of the Rings seem like a speedy short story, is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary just now. This means that the people who began reading it the day it came out, are nearly through it by now, those that haven't hanged themselves.
Ayn believed in a woman looking up to The Ideal Man, and Howard Roarke is Him. And Ayn claimed she wrote it for Gary Cooper, so he's her sexual ideal. Well, at least she's left Hugh Jackman for me.
Have you ever seen a photograph of Ayn Rand? For a woman who wants strong muscular men to drill her like a jackhammer, Ayn went to a lot of trouble to look like a Bloomsbury literary Lesbian. In fact, she looked rather like a young Rosa Klebb, only not as sexy.
Ayn died the day after John Belushi died, although I don't think she did so to cheer us up again.
Life is too short to spend any of it reading the insane horrors which are the writings of Ayn Rand. Read my book instead.
I'll be back Monday darlings, with my review of The Tony Awards. Until then, Cheers darlings.