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MSNBC Gets Ayn Rand Wrong

Microsoft’s media venture with NBC Universal’s NBC News, MSNBC, is at it again, propagandizing for the Obama administration and distorting the news, which it does nearly full-time with its roster of former Democratic Party operatives (Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell), most favored former government spouses (Mrs. Alan Greenspan, Andrea Mitchell, who never discloses that fact), and lying Christian preachers such as its new host, the Reverend Al Sharpton. Now, they’re lying about Ayn Rand.

In yesterday’s broadcast of the cable news channel’s Rachel Maddow program, the hostess, who had railed against Tea Party Republicans for refusing to compromise with the Obama administration, calling the nation’s imminent so-called default an “apocalyptic deadline”, interviewed an old Washington Post journalist named E.J. Dionne and promptly missed her cue by mispronouncing the name Ayn Rand. The pompous hostess makes a habit of snorting and sniffing her way through all sorts of other people’s mistakes, so one would think she would be more careful. It’s Ayn, pronounced like the word mine, not Ann as she stated. Then Ms. Maddow proceeded to let her guest completely misrepresent Rand and her famous novel, The Fountainhead. In the video segment, linked here [link no longer available] in its entirety with the errors contained at approximately 14:00, Dionne falsely stated that the 1943 novel by Ayn Rand is her first. The Fountainhead is not her first novel. That was We the Living.

Dionne, in a set-up segment which was clearly discussed if not rehearsed in advance, proceeded to falsely assert that, in The Fountainhead, when the main character doesn’t get his way, he “blows up a building”. Wrong, E.J. Dionne. Not only is the insinuation that the novel’s protagonist, architect Howard Roark, cavalierly acts on a whim when he doesn’t get what he wants, a total misrepresentation of the novel; to state that Roark “blows up a building” is to distort the plot and theme of Rand’s literary masterpiece, a bestseller still in print which has sold millions of copies and is taught in schools across the country. What E.J. Dionne (and Ms. Maddow and MSNBC by refusing to correct these errors) fail to grasp is that it’s his building, in every sense, and that’s the point of the novel. Roark created the building, contracted for its exact design and construction on simple, narrowly defined terms and one basic condition, and it is essentially his to destroy.

Expecting the lowest standards of journalism from this corrupt media outlet, which I have defended, even praised, in the past, is too much. Errors and distortions are routine in MSNBC programming (Dionne’s error originates in his commentary in the similarly slanted Washington Post), though welfare state and status quo advocate Dionne’s failure to grasp the concept of property ownership comes with the territory. It took eight months for Newsweek to correct MSNBC pundit Howard Fineman’s smear against Ayn Rand following my blog post about his mistake. With any luck and the help of an MSNBC or Post intern or executive with integrity and a mind of his or her own, Maddow’s and Dionne’s attempt to disparage Ayn Rand and the Tea Party movement won’t stand uncorrected that long. Don’t count on it and expect more lies and distortions. The rich and powerful intellectual fusion of the press and the state, best exemplified by MSNBC, more than state-sponsored NPR and PBS, knows that they’re fighting the philosophy of Ayn Rand. The contest is just getting started.

[7/24/2011 Update: No response to my request for a correction from E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post]

[12/08/2011 Update: Still no response to my request for a correction from E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post]

Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged, Part 1

Atlas Shrugged Part 1 poster The roughly 90-minute Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, scheduled for release in selected cities on April 15, is neither a work of art nor a travesty. It is as good or bad a movie as one has reason to expect.

The movie, based on the first third of Ayn Rand’s masterpiece about the mind on strike, Atlas Shrugged, is fast, flip, and claustrophobic. In a complex story rich with cinematic potential about those who produce incalculable value in oil, metal, and railroads, dramatizing drilling, sparks, and friction ought to come easily. Here, in an arc about the creation of the John Galt Line, a stunning achievement in the face of government control which fuses energy, material, and transportation, the action is muted, diminished, and downsized. There’s a distinct lack of suspense.

There’s also a lack of sexual tension, which is crucial to the relationship between handsome steel industrialist Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler in the best performance) and his attractive railroad customer, businesswoman Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling in an uneven portrayal), who dares to order his breakthrough Rearden Metal for the new line she’s planning to build. The first third of the novel belongs to them; here, it’s a slice of business life. Thanks to Ayn Rand’s ingenious integration of plot and theme, it’s an interesting slice but, even with an effective recreation of Dagny’s claim on a bracelet, it’s been drained of sexual excitement. Amazingly, because this is integral and hard to miss, there’s no pervasive sense of loneliness, either, as Dagny Taggart takes on her monumental task. Some of the most moving scenes in the novel involve Dagny’s Herculean struggle to create something new and exciting in spite of everything dragging her down; her solitary moments in a back alley office, watched by a shadowy figure, are nowhere to be seen. What she tries to do is her answer to the sense of impending doom and her bond with Rearden is part of her reward. Neither her loneliness nor her presumed liberation are properly pictured here.

In one scene, Dagny feels the world closing in and reaches out to Rearden, looking for an answer. It’s one of the film’s best scenes, conveying the depth of her struggle against injustice and some unseen, unidentified evil, and there are other good scenes, too. The world’s creators mysteriously disappear in this broadly futuristic version of 2016, in which aviation has been downed, decent people are left begging for government handouts, and society is falling apart with only a few titans left to produce while corrupt bureaucrats and businessmen rise to power. Among them are Dagny’s brother (Michael Marsden), Hank’s wife (Rebecca Wisocky, nailing the part), and others who take some perverse pleasure in tearing apart what’s good. Sounding like the latest Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama directive, or the latest anti-capitalist diatribe or sermon from the college-bred liberal or the Bible-thumping conservative, they give the movie its sense of realism and relevance to today’s world and Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 is focused in a certain sense on them. Ayn Rand’s ability to account for philosophy and envision the future is nothing short of astonishing and the picture eerily taps her startling forecast of America’s demise. Other fine moments depict when Taggart Transcontinental meets Rearden Metal, with the sun-kissed train curving through the meadows and mountains, and Dagny’s and Hank’s discovery of what’s left to rot in an abandoned factory in Wisconsin.

The mystery of the movie is why the mind is going on strike (if and when it is), and what lies at the root of what destroys, and moves, the world. And, in depicting a novel which brilliantly deconstructs and dramatizes altruism, the idea that one has a moral obligation to help others, Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 reduces her radical rejection of this idea to a line about “stupid altruistic urges” which doesn’t come close to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, let alone express her bold, exalted alternative: the virtue of selfishness.

So, the first movie adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is lacking; the script appears to have many fingerprints and some serious problems, the production apparently faced enormous challenges of rights, budget, and schedule and libertarians appear to have held more sway over the movie than Objectivists, leaving the world’s foremost authority on Ayn Rand’s ideas and work, Leonard Peikoff, out of the loop. But A is A and the fact that this movie was made, is, in today’s tragically disintegrating culture, an achievement. Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 ultimately does not have reverence for the 1957 novel, but it’s as though it doesn’t know how, or why, and it tries. If we lived in a society in which Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was understood, accepted, and applied to everyday lives, we wouldn’t be stuck in the sludge that surrounds us, and a mangled movie adaptation would not feel like an accomplishment. But we are and it does, and that’s that, so see the independent, low-budget film version known as Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 for what it is, and know that you are catching a mere glimpse of something deeper, more mysterious and meaningful, which portrays man at his best. See the movie, but only if you read the book.

Trailer for Atlas Shrugged: the Movie

Here’s the trailer for Atlas Shrugged, the movie. My thoughts were posted here. The final version has been slightly edited from what I saw, but it’s basically the same.

Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand

Atlas ShruggedToday is Ayn Rand’s (1905-1982) birthday. So, I decided to check out the new movie version of the first part of her 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, in earnest (more on the film, which I have not seen, later). I spent some time with the picture’s screenwriter, co-producer Brian Patrick O’Toole, who is adapting the novel for the screen. Having seen a sneak preview of the trailer for the movie, scheduled to open in select theaters on April 15, I must say that this low-budget effort looks better than I had expected. Exciting enough for the uninitiated, substantial enough for Objectivists and Ayn Rand fans, the trailer opens with a man named Midas Mulligan, met by a shadowy figure who has something important to say. From there, we see skylines, speeding trains, and men of steel (including Ellis Wyatt, Hank Rearden, and, of course, Dagny Taggart), and the action and drama never let up. The trailer looks crisp, clean and polished and wraps with the question: Who is John Galt? A tag-on teases “…Ask the Question.” This is the world’s first movie about Ayn Rand’s epic theme, the mind on strike, and, though it is impossible to gauge a movie’s merits on the basis of a trailer, for what it’s worth, I’m impressed.

Another movie trailer, the two-minute trailer for the 1949 cinematic adaptation of Rand’s third novel, The Fountainhead, which she adapted for Warner Bros., wrongly refers to the story’s mediocre architect Peter Keating, as “selfish.” But a DVD feature, The Making of The Fountainhead, included with the erroneous trailer on the disc’s extras, gets Ayn Rand’s ideas right in an informative account that makes a solid companion to what is rightly called a unique and hugely entertaining movie.

Anthem stageRand’s second novel, Anthem, has been adapted for a comic book (or graphic novel) by Charles Santino with illustration by artist Joe Staton. Anthem: The Graphic Novel ($15), published this week in trade paperback, is the first ever illustrated novelization of any of Ayn Rand’s work. Anthem was also adapted by Jeff Britting for the stage in Austin, Texas, where it was apparently a resounding commercial and critical success. Rand’s unsung first novel, We the Living, was pirated in fascist Italy in 1942 for what became an outstanding screen version. I reviewed the movie for the Ayn Rand Institute’s newsletter, Impact, here.

100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand

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From 1996 to 2003, Scott McConnell conducted a series of interviews with dozens of people who met, worked for or with, and/or knew Ayn Rand (1905-1982). The new trade paperback, 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand is the result. This long-anticipated volume, a project of the Ayn Rand Archives (full disclosure: several of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances including McConnell are among the participants), is an important addition for anyone interested in Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and creator of Objectivism.

100 Voices is an ambitious work about a literary and philosophical genius but it is a collection of interviews about Rand and the content should not be taken as fact or biography. Here, we read that Rand sided with Gen. Douglas MacArthur over President Harry Truman, thought Walt Disney’s animated features were too cute, met Senator Joseph McCarthy, found something to like about former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon, visited the Playboy Club, and entertained Barbara Stanwyck and Clark Gable at her home. There is more, both from those who did not like her and (mostly) those who admire her. The 600-page-plus edition covers her early Hollywood years through her last days in New York City, when she apparently considered going back to Hollywood to finish a script for Atlas Shrugged. Drawbacks include overly scripted questions and an occasional dead-end interview. The interviews were conducted by Archives researcher McConnell, now a documentary filmmaker, with everyone from Rand’s dentist to Fountainhead co-star Patricia Neal. Most exchanges occurred via telephone and it shows in the transcripts, which come off rather clipped, with short, general questions, what seem like heavily edited answers, and not a lot of conversational back-and-forth. For example, Miss Neal, interviewed in 1997, answers “[s]he was very friendly” when asked what Ayn Rand was like and that particular interview is less than four pages. McConnell notes that each person interviewed (or an heir) approved of each interview. I came across minor errors and inconsistencies, which McConnell acknowledges in advance in the preface. Rand fans may already be familiar with much of this material.

There are multiple rewards, including the stories of the Florida family that hosted Miss Rand during her attendance of the historic Apollo 11 rocket launch at Cape Canaveral in 1969, and ordinary, middle class Americans seem to have the most consistently fond and insightful memories of Ayn Rand. These are personal and business recollections of Rand at work, at play and, occasionally, in crisis, at various stages of her extraordinary career, so there are tales about everything from her visits to the doctor’s office to her visit to West Point, and that alone makes this book worth reading. 100 Voices is an unprecedented collection of never-before-published interviews with those who knew the 20th century’s most challenging thinker including her friends, family, and associates, actress Raquel Welch, architecture photographer Julius Shulman, writer Mickey Spillane, actor Robert Stack, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, and the late financial journalist Louis Rukeyser, who interviewed Ayn Rand for his television program months before she died. These 100 voices talk about Ayn Rand’s thoughts and actions on everything from her cats to psycho-epistemology and Immanuel Kant and their answers, comments, and claims make one want to delve deeper into her novels, short stories, plays, lectures, and ideas.