Archive | Capitalism RSS feed for this section

Movie & Blu-Ray Review: Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life (1997)

ARASOLBluRayCover

Click to Buy

Strand Releasing’s 1997 documentary Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, is, in retrospect, a cinematic achievement. The 143-minute movie debuts on Blu-Ray on July 28.

Other than a new trailer and enhanced English SHD sound, this is the same product as the Collector’s DVD edition several years ago. But Objectivists, Ayn Rand fans and those who recognize the power and relevance of her novels We the Living (1936), Anthem (1938), The Fountainhead (1943) and, in particular, her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957), and her books and other writings, should invest in owning this film if they don’t already have it.

Given the historic events since writer and director Michael Paxton‘s Oscar-nominated movie was released in movie theaters, the reasons to see it have multiplied.

In silent movie clips, letters, pictures, drawings, paintings, interviews, dramatization and animation, Paxton pieces together the ideas, stories and events in Rand’s life in chronological order. This approach allows the viewer to discover, rediscover and appreciate her life, career and philosophy. It is factual, thoughtful and respectful, even reverential, without being overloaded, dense or dogmatic. Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life depicts Ayn Rand (1905-1982) as the heroic figure she was.

Backed by documentary evidence, from her original name on a ship’s passenger manifest during her escape from Soviet Russia to highlighted stills with Rand as an extra on Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings, Paxton presents Ayn Rand’s life in terms of essentials. For example, he integrates a movie diary entry and early clip of the silent film era’s Gish sisters with their later intersection in Ayn Rand’s life. This theme of realizing heroic ideals and goals recurs throughout the faded photograph-styled motion picture, with movie stars such as Greta Garbo and Gary Cooper. Aided by actress Sharon Gless (Burn Notice), who narrates the film with grace, and Jeff Britting’s correspondingly ascendant score, segmented snippets, scenes and stories converge as a whole picture. Among those interviewed are Objectivist intellectuals who knew Rand, including her heir and Ayn Rand Institute founder Leonard Peikoff (for full disclosure, I am an Objectivist and I’ve met and studied, worked or become friends with some of those involved or who appear, including Paxton and Peikoff). The late CBS News journalist Mike Wallace is also interviewed.

Accordingly, one gets a strong sense of a personal life, including the affair with psychologist Nathaniel Branden, which is telescoped here for practical purposes, and her friends, associates and preferences. Ayn Rand’s husband, Frank O’Connor, is a steady yet elusive figure.

But the focus is on her intellectual development as a philosopher and progression as a writer, from childhood and studies in St. Petersburg and witnessing the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia to her brief time in Berlin, on the trans-Atlantic voyage to New York City, months in Chicago, Hollywood years and on lecture tour. Finally, Ayn Rand triumphs in New York City, where she creates Objectivism and writes Atlas Shrugged. The movie deposits each part of her life into the big picture. Of course, it is larger than life.

Asked to write a screenplay for DeMille called “The Skyscraper”, selling an adaptation of her story Red Pawn, seeing her play, Penthouse Legend, morphed into something else, one sees the challenge, effort and struggle of the young writer Ayn Rand. The initial allure of a screen version of her anti-dictatorship novel We the Living, which was published in Hollywood’s Red Decade, draws attention from Bette Davis, who apparently indicated that she wanted to portray the heroine, Kira, until she was advised that doing so might hurt her career. A pirate film version was made in fascist Italy (the best movie based on an Ayn Rand novel; read my review here) in 1942. A Sense of Life recalls Ayn Rand meeting the only actress to portray Kira on screen, Alida Valli, who tried to persuade David O. Selznick (Gone With the Wind) to make We the Living in Hollywood.

The nation’s decline permeates the film. Ayn Rand begins life as an eager newcomer, distressed to have missed a sight of the Statue of Liberty while entering New York, where her life ends after it seems as if almost everyone in America missed the point of her novels and philosophy. Part of what makes A Sense of Life an accomplishment is its objectivity with regard to her legacy. Ayn Rand’s answers, estimates and explanations, presented in quotations, papers and audio-visual excerpts, speak volumes.

“If anyone destroys this country,” Ayn Rand says at one point in a late night interview with Tom Snyder on NBC in the 1970s, “it will be the conservatives. Because they’re all altruists.”

Whether appearing on the Today Show, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or Snyder’s Tomorrow Show, Ayn Rand was extremely clear and concise. Those familiar with her books will find much to think about. Even those who are agnostic or hostile to her philosophy may gain from seeing her in action through archival material. Those who are new to Ayn Rand will learn about the philosophy in a general, not pedantic, sense. Each viewer will learn more about what moved her to create a system of thought so radical, controversial and enduring. Everyone watching the movie can judge Ayn Rand as she thought, wrote and lived.

This includes her relationship with her husband, whom she apparently adored, and her professional connections with those who advocated for the publication and adaptation of her books, including Warner Bros.’ advocate for making The Fountainhead, Barbara Stanwyck, and Ayn Rand’s family. Whether in a movie clip of Ayn Rand at her Richard Neutra-designed home in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley or footage of her congressional testimony against Communist infiltration of Hollywood studios, Paxton ranges over the sweep of her private and professional life.

However, this is earned in steps, not lobbed as a propaganda piece (such as 2012’s Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Altas Shrugged), and Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life is gentle, not overbearing.

There is an emphasis on Hollywood, which deals in pictures, and the film regards her foremost as an artist who is a philosopher, not the reverse. Pictures evolve into its progression and vice versa: Ayn Rand meets legendary movie producer Hal Wallis (Casablanca), for whom she wrote Love Letters with Jennifer Jones and You Came Along with Lizabeth Scott, writes Anthem, campaigns for Wendell Willkie’s 1940 presidential candidacy, is deemed “too harsh” by Hollywood conservatives and suggests Garbo, with whom The Fountainhead director King Vidor subsequently met, to portray Dominique Francon on screen (which did not happen; the part went to Patricia Neal).

That’s merely when she was young. If Ayn Rand’s life is like something out of Ayn Rand’s fiction—meeting DeMille on the movie studio lot, meeting her future husband by chance in a Hollywood library, being invited to dine at Taliesin with Frank Lloyd Wright—it is because she chose to pursue happiness. As she might have put it, she wanted to be selfish.

Ayn Rand’s selfishness, the highest Objectivist virtue by this admiring account, was consciously practiced. Again and again, with New York City as the pinnacle of man’s achievement and the Empire State Building as a visual focal point, unfolding from an artist’s portrait of Ayn Rand to the crowning achievement which is Atlas Shrugged, the woman at the center of A Sense of Life lived by the exalted ideals she identified, explained and dramatized. She visited steel mills in California, Chicago and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and rode on trains and studied architecture as research for her work. She gave herself a renewed sense of purpose in adapting Atlas Shrugged as an NBC miniseries after her husband died in November of 1979, when it became abundantly evident that America was falling apart.

As her career winds down and Ayn Rand is seen seated at an intellectuals’ round table surrounded by men, she had been invited to the Apollo 11 rocket launch putting man on the moon, an event which she attended, denounced racism—appropriately, a sign held by a somber-looking black woman reads “Integration”—and attended an invitation-only dinner at the White House with President Gerald R. Ford and the First Lady, Mrs. Betty Ford.

Before social media, proving that she grasped what most did not about objective communication, Ayn Rand had created courses, conferences, lectures, discussions and publications emanating her philosophy, Objectivism, and disseminating her ideas across multiple media platforms, from radio and television (Today, Tonight, Tomorrow) and theater and movies to an interview in Playboy and other print media. She even wrote a column for the stagnant Los Angeles Times. It’s all here. The evidence of her genius but also her strength is plain; she never lets up, she does not stop acting to advance her values, she never lets what matters go.

Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life positions TV’s talk show pioneer Phil Donahue as a proxy for the general public with regard to understanding Ayn Rand and Objectivism. In her two Donahue appearances, one sees his evolution as a host, as the powerful pair discuss God, altruism and the death of her husband. Relentlessly clarifying confusions, Ayn Rand acts as a springboard to an entire examination of one’s deeply held premises.

Donahue challenges. Rand responds. Donahue reflects. The viewer thinks.

This is the effect of the film. I have seen it several times since I attended advance screenings and the premier in 1997. Whether on a home theater screen or a movie theater screen, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life plays like the absorbing, accessible and enlightening movie it is. It prompts the viewer to think—about her comments, ideas and books and her stories, heroes and themes—about whether and how these apply to one’s life. The film is a solid cinematic introduction to and retrospective of Ayn Rand, Objectivism and her books.

In it, one also learns the early history and first stage of a movement made by her philosophy. It’s not flawless—occasionally, musical cues are distracting and Anthem gets short shrift—and moviemakers should continue to explore her life. But, unlike her detractors’ psychologizing, almost everything asserted here derives from the facts of reality or conclusions based on the firsthand observation of its fascinating subject, Ayn Rand.

If you’re up to it, to paraphrase Objectivism’s creator, check those premises; Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life is a good place to start.


The Blu-Ray Edition

As I wrote, this is the same two-disc edition as the earlier release, a DVD Collector’s edition, with a couple of additions and enhancements other than the film’s transfer to the crisp, higher-definition Blu-Ray format. Chapter selections are clearly marked.

The extras include a new trailer, which was not on the DVD, a rare photograph gallery, a deleted dance sequence evoking Ayn Rand’s unpublished work in progress “To Lorne Dieterling”, the complete filmed version of scenes from Ayn Rand’s play, Ideal, and more. Cast and crew bios, an interview with writer and director Michael Paxton, (whom I interviewed for the movie’s release; read the archived newspaper article here), stills, bonus footage and additional information are all included. Fans and Objectivists should not skip the additional interviews with Ayn Rand’s friends, scholars and associates, including Harry Binswanger and Leonard Peikoff, as they have more to say about her than is contained in the 143-minute movie.

In a July 2015 statement accompanying press materials, director Michael Paxton says that “telling stories about independent and heroic women have always been and continue to be a theme in my work as a filmmaker.” He should be proud that Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, which continues to earn interest in the themes, books and philosophy of Ayn Rand, is a heroic story well shown and told.

Click to Buy Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life Blu-Ray edition

 

Defending Bob Hope

BobHopeAirportAfter I read that the local government is considering removing Bob Hope’s name from Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, I wrote an op-ed for the local newspaper (read my article here). My theme is that Bob Hope Airport is a name that honors the city, the man and the airport. Citing history, I explain that each has similarly capitalist origins which ought to be properly named, recognized and revered. My article caught the attention of a local news producer for an L.A. NBC News affiliate, who wanted to interview me for the evening telecast, though I was unable to do so. But I’m glad the op-ed was noticed and I hope that my activism helps Bob Hope Airport retain its rightful name.

Taylor Swift’s Activism for Apple

TaylorSwift on TimeWhen an individual moneymaker takes a moral stand on principle, realizes it with action and wins, the activism ought to be studied as an example in success.

This week, recording artist Taylor Swift provides such an example. Swift, a pop country music star, recently took to Tumblr (a blogging platform) to write a letter of activism (read Swift’s letter here). Swift explains that Apple’s new Apple Music streaming service precludes payment to artists in the first three months. Swift argues that this is wrong. In a persuasive, simple letter implicitly based on egoism, not altruism, because she predicates the letter on achieving her own values in an explicit expression of magnanimity, Swift makes the case for what amounts to intellectual property rights. Swift advocates what Ayn Rand called the trader principle, the essence of capitalism. As Swift concludes her letter to Apple: “Please don’t ask [artists] to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

Besides Swift’s fundamentally acknowledged fact that Apple’s terms are Apple’s to set, what distinguishes Swift’s activist letter from other forms of celebrity activism is her recognition of the good for being good. Swift does not malign Apple. In fact, she titles the post “To Apple, Love Taylor” and proceeds to express her “reverence” for Apple’s innovation and achievements. This demonstrates an understanding that acting in accordance with the company’s professed philosophy of human progress through new ideas is consistent with trading value for value. Harnessing the power of an artist that leftists and racists should regard as a beneficiary of “white privilege” or being among some inexplicably causeless “one percent” of wealthy millionaires, Swift, who has previously expressed support for Barack Obama, offers a perfectly rational example of selfish activism.

The letter is selfish, as against self-centered (as she points out when she writes that the issue of paying artists “is not about me”, which in this context is true), because in writing it she seeks to gain, keep and advance her values; in this case, the ability of artists to earn money to create. In a wider sense, the successful artist posting such a letter deepens the bond with fans and adds credibility to his brand. Swift’s letter succeeds on a number of levels in dispelling the myth that capitalism and benevolence are incompatible. Swift gains value as described, the struggling, unknown writer gains, her competitors also gain, and so do her patrons, employees and partners. The customer gains with greater funding for all artists which leads to more creation, variety and competition. Apple, too, gains from the compliments, publicity and Swift’s endorsement for the new platform and a better grasp of what top artists want and how they may communicate.

Capitalism is, in fact, win-win.

Taylor Swift’s letter displays an understanding of this principle. She does not seek the unearned. She also does not merely “kill them with kindness”, as a cynic might claim. The letter, praising Apple for allegiance to progress and innovation, is not structured for unearned guilt, vanity or opportunism. Swift’s letter ends with a thought which begins with the word ‘please’ extended as a courtesy, not with an arbitrary demand that Apple has a moral duty to serve others and sacrifice its profit. Swift backs her words with action, withholding her property on principle. This is the essence of good, selfish, rational activism (read my thoughts on activism here) in a dispute among good, selfish, rational men.

Those inclined to flame, troll or otherwise rant against anyone who deviates in the slightest degree from one’s values ought to look at Taylor Swift’s letter and learn from her example. This is activism that succeeds. As Apple executive Eddy Cue posted today on Twitter (and, as I teach in my social media course, social media is a crucial, legitimate tool for selfish communication), after granting Swift’s request: “We hear you, [Taylor Swift]…Love, Apple.” The exchange, namely that they are free to have it, is why I love capitalism.

Starbucks’ #RaceTogether

1017px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011.svgAs usual, both leftists and conservatives proved their bankruptcy, this time in attacking Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s encouraging new campaign.

On the left, the reaction was predictable. Leftists say they want a conversation about race. But they don’t—not really. What they want are more controls, dictates and unearned guilt trips against capitalism, business and the individual based on race. The hatred heaped by the left upon this particular business, one of the most successful examples of capitalism in history, was an anti-capitalist diatribe against Starbucks, unleashed on social media and, of course, personally attacking private executives. The leftists’ objections to Starbucks’ partnership with a newspaper to foster discussion of thoughts about race, “Race Together” (#RaceTogether on Twitter) ranged from an assault on Starbucks for employing too many white people, itself an example of racism, to a generally dismissive approach to taking ideas seriously if the idea originates with a big business.

Today’s conservatives agree with leftists, as they so often, without realizing it, do, because they share the New Left’s hatred of taking ideas seriously and they share the New Left’s approach to acquiring knowledge: faith over reason. Conservatives, as I observed in this post years ago when I wrote about the pro-capitalist origins of the individualistic Tea Party movement when it was being hijacked, do not seek real, radical change from welfare state cronyism to capitalism and individual rights. Conservatives are not, as Ayn Rand spent most of her career pointing out, radicals for capitalism; they seek to conserve the status quo based on altruism and collectivism—the roots of racism, as Rand argued—and some modified form of government control. To the extent conservatives support capitalism, as some still claim to do with varying degrees of credibility, they are mixed because they also seek to dictate or control free speech, sex, trade, abortion and drugs. Conservatives, like leftists, oppose egoism, pure capitalism and individual rights.

Like today’s college-bred New Left descendants, today’s church-bred New Right descendants embrace today’s bankrupt, cynical culture with enthusiasm. Don’t take my word for it. Read their posts, forwarded e-mails and Tweets, joking about racial comments, insults and attacking an American company for trying to profit from fostering an exchange of ideas for the sake, in the words of Starbucks’ CEO, of a better company and country. Conservatives, and their Christian libertarian brethren, demonstrate the same disdain for capitalism in practice that leftists do, only conservatives pretend that they actively support the company’s right to choose its practices.

But they do not—not really. In practice, they defend any religious CEO, quarterback, cable TV celebrity or chicken food chain for making controversial actions or comments, and sometimes they have a point. But when a lone businessman seeks to start a voluntary discussion about a controversial topic, those who cry that they never get a fair hearing on controversial topics attack the forum and they do so with the same derision as the left. It’s a point radio host Rush Limbaugh has often made; conservatives try so hard to live through others, i.e., leftists, that they act like them. They don’t know how to take yes for an answer. It’s as though they haven’t got the strength of their convictions and they’d rather argue than use reason and persuade. Just because Mr. Schultz, who is clearly biased to the left, didn’t frame the issue exactly right—his comments are loaded with self-hating prejudice against whites—conservatives rant, crack racial jokes and ridicule and reject voluntarily talking politics in a cafe predicated on profit by social gathering.

This is the pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit of the Starbucks effort. Social, even intellectual, discourse in gatherings is central to the Starbucks business proposition. Not only does Starbucks stand to lose and go out of business if Americans remain divided, Starbucks stands to gain and prosper if Americans become united. Howard Schultz, as two business writers know and recently observed (see reference links), knows that voluntarily talking politics in a cafe predicated on profit by social gathering is precisely what America needs.

Starbucks, with 4,700 U.S. stores, published a full page ad in Sunday’s New York Times asking: “Shall We Overcome?” with the words “RaceTogether” and the company’s mermaid logo. The question is intended to stimulate conversation and debate about issues of race in America by encouraging employees to talk with customers after writing, and only of their own volition, the words “Race Together” on a coffee cup. Today’s edition of the company’s partner in the campaign, USA Today, will have the first of a series of inserts with a variety of perspectives on race relations. Starbucks says its baristas are under no obligation to generate debate—in my experience this week, no one did—and, according to Starbucks, the goal is simply to activate an exchange of ideas.

This might not be desirable, in demand or in a company’s interest in a purely laissez-faire capitalist economy, yet in today’s divisive, government-controlled society, made worse by a divisive president and me-too political parties, isn’t one more likely to find an honest exchange among traders in a coffee shop than on a college campus (remember when Brandeis disinvited an infidel?) or a political arena?

Is it possible that Starbucks is the perfect place to start?

Imagine people talking, listening and learning, becoming informed, and making better cases and arguments. The founders did this in pubs when they sought to create America, which ended up being debated and founded in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

Debates about ideas are good for a business built on gathering—especially in an environment in which speech is stifled by political correctness, speech codes, disunity, mass government surveillance of private lives and censorship. Conservatives often complain about not having a forum in which to make their points and they incessantly gripe about mainstream media. Leftists often complain about the need to enfranchise and converse and they incessantly gripe about businesses for the smallest grievances. Both should find the good in Starbucks’ campaign and unite in support of Starbucks’ call for voluntary discussion of a controversial topic free from government coercion. Another more toxic type, the nihilist, festers in this blank, death-based culture. See the links for an example.

If Americans are not fully free to have rational arguments in halls of government, academia and the media, and apparently and increasingly Americans are suppressed and restricted, let Americans chat over coffee—and at least leave Starbucks alone to sponsor, prosper and profit from it. I think the initiative has the potential to advance a radical American future free from those who want to control people’s lives for God and tradition and from those who want to control people’s lives for the race, tribe or collective. Conservatives and leftists have been propping up the same false dichotomies and continuous loop of Clintons, Bushes and asinine wars, policies and schemes for decades. America needs better ideas and new forums for free expression. Let us embrace this new effort by Starbucks—or any other American business that dares to speak up when Americans desperately ought to speak up—and let’s get to the business of saving America by encouraging Americans to speak up in pursuit of reason.


Reference links

“Why Race Together” by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and USA Today Publisher Larry Kramer, Starbucks Collection 

“Starbucks CEO has a terrible idea to fix race relations”, by Alexandra Petri, Washington Post

“Starbucks ‘Race Together’ Initiative Is Brilliant”, by David B. Yoffie and Michael A. Cusumano, Time

App Review: Starbucks 
Product Review: Starbucks’ Verismo

The Producer Vs. the President

The company created by Steve Jobs (1955-2011), whose authorized biography is published in softcover today, is making news again. So is the president, Barack Obamamade possible by the New Left, who is to speak to the country tonight to preach faith in statism and altruism in foreign policy, this time pitching a military intervention in Syria.

Jobs and Obama are a contrast in two types of man.

On one hand, we have Obama, the son of an African, a president who was abandoned by his father, as he wrote in Dreams From My Father, who defines himself by his blood and stands for nothing but New Left ideals which ultimately redound to a distinctive death premise. On the other hand, we have the late Steve Jobs, the biological son of a Syrian, a producer who was abandoned by his father, as Walter Isaacson wrote in the biography, who defined himself by his actions and stands for everything self-made and American—ideals which ultimately amount to reverence for life.

81px-Apple_logo_black.svgWhat Jobs created, Apple, today announces more of the exquisite products and services the company creates, despite unceasing government persecution. In what remains the single most unregulated U.S. industry, technology, Apple, the byproduct of decades of failure, success, ridicule, effort and an ingenious integration of art and business, triumphs with exceptional production (at relatively low costs) that enhances our lives in immeasurable ways. What Obama created, a nation governed by dictates, on this date announces more of the depraved lies and ideas the government enacts. In the single most dangerous American presidency in history, Obama’s America, the byproduct of decades of infiltration, contamination, propaganda, initiation of the use of force and integration of faith and force, subverts America’s founding ideals with the unprecedented, systematic destruction that diminishes our lives in immeasurable ways.

September 10, 2013 is a good date to mark the contrast for what Ayn Rand once observed as a philosophical battle between Apollo, the god of reason, vs. Dionysus, the god of raw, unchecked emotion—which is ultimately a choice between life and death—in her brilliant essay on man’s first step on the moon and the savages at Woodstock because today, whatever the ultimate outcome, makes the choice unmistakably obvious to all but the most blanked, docile and compliant. If you love the man who creates, you must reject the man who dictates. Today—with tomorrow’s 9/11 ghosts haunting you to remember what’s at stake—offers no other choice. In the deepest sense, what Steve Jobs represents lives and what Barack Obama represents is totally devoid of life; it is, like Obama’s eyes, dead. While the president sacrifices the living, the producer acts to create, live and enjoy, sacrificing nothing and requiring no sacrifice, offering only a consensual, honest and voluntary trade. Take your pick of what’s offered today. Make it fast. At this rate, tomorrow may not come.