Last night I finally saw King Vidor and Ayn Rand‘s The Fountainhead (’49), start to finish. (I had previously only seen clips from the rock quarry scene.) I was amused and at times frustrated, but never bored. And that’s saying something.
For this is one crazy, bizarre and curiously obstinate film of ideas (individual vision vs. collective go-alongism**) and ardent sexuality (i.e., Gary Cooper‘s Howard Roark putting the high hard one to Patricia Neal‘s Dominique Francon).
It’s not at all realistic or convincing as far as anyone’s idea of human behavior is concerned, but it’s certainly been written with a capital “W” by someone with a strong (as in “listen to me….no, really listen!”) point of view about vision vs. commerce, that someone being Rand, of course.
It’s a nutty movie, but at least it understands itself and stakes its philosophical claim and lays the Randian agenda face up on the table — take it or leave it.
Howard Roark is a gifted, strong-willed architect of principle who won’t be compromised or pushed around, not to mention a tough, brawny fellow with a pulsing, rock-hard donkey schlong who knows how to slam ham like a champ.
I can’t say The Fountainhead is an especially good film, but at least it’s ballsy in more ways than one, not to mention plain-spoken.
The Fountainhead was shown in 35mm at the Film Society of Lincoln center’s Walter Reade theatre. (Saturday, 8:30 pm show.) It looked clean (scratch-free) and well cared for, but there were almost no decent blacks to be savored in the whole thing. Almost every frame was composed was in varying levels of gray. I’m not saying it looked bad but it had a vaguely diminished, half-milky quality. It didn’t excite me.
Face facts — 35mm prints are getting older and older as speak, and quite often can’t stand up to the sharp, richly hued look of digital.
And my God, poor Patricia Neal! Having vigorous off-screen sex with Cooper must have been great, but that heightened, bug-eyed, flaring-nostrils way of emoting is awful. In just about every scene she’s saying “I can’t deal with my libidinal longing, Gary…I want to be ravaged!!” And King Vidor, who should have known better, actually encouraged Neal to give this kind of embarassing, over-the-top performance. She was 15 times better in The Day The Earth Stood Still (’51), 25 times better in A Face in the Crowd (’57) and 50 times better in Hud (’63).
Friendo to HE: “Neal was only 22, It was her second film after a Ronald Reagan comedy shot a few months previous.”
HE to friendo: “Okay but what’s Vidor‘s excuse? He was in his mid 50s during filming — by any yardstick a seasoned director who knew the ropes. And yet he encouraged Neal to deliver almost a parody of a sexually charged performance. Good God. Two years later, at age 24, Robert Wise guided her into a fully believable, calmly centered, first-rate performance in The Day The Earth Stood Still. That flared-nostril stuff isn’t on her — it’s on Vidor.”
** In today’s world Howard Roark would be written as a courageous anti-wokester (i.e., someone like myself) and the villainous go-alongers would be modelled upon the you-know-who brigade (Eric Kohn, Anne Thompson, David Ehrlich, Elizabeth Wagmeister, Clayton Davis, Tom O’Neill, the Toronto Film Festival Stalinists, etc.).