Re: Gary Cooper (The Fountainhead) / King Vidor / Timothy McVeigh

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Thursday, December 18, 1997 5:59 PM

FilmGene <> began with a quote from me, then responded:
><<The acting does seem like mouthings of the dialogue. I don't blame this on
>Rand's screenplay nor on Vidor's socialist leanings. >>
>Why would "socialist leanings" lead to mouthed dialogue? I presume any
>ideological stance could lead to this (or even lack of talent).

This point is strictly academic in this case, as I have indicated that I don't believe this has anything to do with the outcome of "The Fountainhead" film, that it was others who thought so. Nonetheless, I'll elaborate.

An analogy might help: some musicians and conductors can play beautiful performances of some moods of music but not others. A romantic piece of music may sound unconvincing when performed by someone more at home with downbeat or cynical music. The "repertoire" of emotional vibrations within a particular performer may be consonant with some combinations of sounds but less so with others.

Another way of looking at it: if emotions were a on a color spectrum, some people would be sensitive to every shade of purple, of every nuance between it and each of the two primary colors on either side of it: blue and red. Such a person might see as one shade of yellow what are in fact multiple shades of it. For a different person, the portions of the spectrum most precisely developed would differ.

What this has to do with film directing is that directors can have sensibilities fine-tuned to some nuances of emotion but not others. This latter may be influenced by and/or influence political preference. A socialist, being someone who wants "to bind all men together" (from "The Fountainhead," where the term is applied to Toohey), someone attuned to the proverbial "average man" who is to be the recipient of government's largesse, may not ever have truly given attention to the characteristics of a man who prefers to stand alone, of someone who opts to practice integrity when those around him choose not to. Hence, such a director may be vaguely aware of historical persons or fictional characters who have these characteristics, but he will be hard-pressed to present them as real, vibrant, breathing, multi-layered.

In this context, it's worth noting that sometimes when screenwriters or directors put "feet of clay" on depictions of persons who otherwise would exhibit integrity, these writers and directors talk of giving the character "humanity," as if being average was being "human" whereas living by uncommon, but carefully considered, choices is somehow not "human."
>Anyone who thinks King Vidor had "socialist leanings" (shades of HUAC!)
>evidently never knew the man -- I did.

I'll defer, as my information is second-hand at best.
>Vidor worked for and was the darling of
>one of the most singularly capitalist organizations in the world -- MGM. Hardly
>a hotbed of socialism.

If Vidor was their darling, why were so many of his projects of the 1940s taken away from him in the editing and re-cut so that they met with his disapproval? He looked back on his output of that decade with sadness for what could have been but wasn't.
>[Next is a quote from me, followed by Gene's response:]
><<It doesn't matter how many blocks (it's all the same development) as the
>trial is strictly on whether a criminal act was committed. The judge
>specifically instructs the jury that financial loss was not to be considered
>by them. Monetary damages would be determined at a civil trial later, the
>judge tells them. >>
>Since the screenplay is Ms. Rand's, it is not surprising that she attempts to
>cover this massive plot hole with such a small piece of cheesecloth. A criminal
>action, as David rightly points out, has nothing whatever to do with monetary
>matters. It is about the commission of a crime, not a civil contract breach. It
>is the People vs. Howard Roark, not any corporate entity.

My comments will follow the next pair of quote and response:
><<Cooper's defense of the criminal charges rest on non- payment to him of the
>terms previously accepted by all parties, and the spurning rebuffs of the
>unresponsiveness, callous bureaucrats who brazenly contend that their noble
>cause justifies the trampling of (negotiated) rights. An alternative for
>redress was denied.>>
>Hogwash. Breach of contract is no defense for a criminal act. Why did he stop
>there? Why not kill them? Of course, in Ms. Rand's intellectual house of cards,
>this would strike an unsympathetic note with the audience. But the logic is the

This is still a specific story about the action taken by a specific man who took specific steps to uphold specific rights. The story should be judged on the basis of whether he acted properly given the whole picture. It doesn't matter that Miss Rand created that story to illustrate a theme, so long as there could potentially be real-life counterparts who would analyze their plans and the consequences with the same level of attention. You seem to want to shoe-horn Roark into a "collective" of dynamiters, to treat them all the same, to ignore the differences that would put one of them into a category that doesn't apply to others of them.

The issue in the Roark case was his being the forgotten man of progress, the man whose innovations were indispensable but whose rights were shunted. By taking away what would not have existed but for him--but nothing more--he makes a public issue of Who Needs Whom.

(In answer to your query, "Why did he stop there [with the dynamiting]? Why not kill them?," the answer is implied in the previous paragraph: he had justification only so long as he took back only what had been taken from him but nothing more. And, too, only so long as he had exhausted the other forms of remedy (a point that is handled quickly in the movie).)

In earlier posts (on "Hollywood Ten" [back when that thread had justification for having that name]), you admonished readers about accepting the viewpoint of the linked "Los Angeles Times"/Ayn Rand Institute editorial by saying "Consider the source." I countered "consider the facts." The same type of differences of mindset is at work here. You want to be spared the considerations, delimitations, contingencies, etc., that differentiate one case as justified and another not. I say that one should sweep aside the ready-made judgments that apply to that which is superficially similar but fundamentally different.
>I suspect [Timothy] McVeigh felt pretty
>justified in his act -- as justified as Howard Roark did.

McVeigh's feelings are not a valid consideration. Nor were Roark's. As you rightly observed earlier, the case was The People vs. Roark. The jury decides on the basis of standards that derive the fundamental requirements of life and a civilized society. Where there are conflicting criteria (intellectual property, the need of a society for innovators, need for housing, the derailed plans made by the promoters of the housing project), these must be evaluated on the basis of what is more crucial. The acquittal of the defendant in the case of "The Fountainhead" is how the story conveys its theme that achievements of mind are to be esteemed.

Did McVeigh act on anything but anger? Was there precise thinking to justify specific targets and rights? The answer here is No, that McVeigh is reported to have had delusions of a mass of people coming to join his fuzzily-defined cause on no basis other than shared emotional prejudices. McVeigh necessarily swept aside a lifetime of observations of how people come to choose their associations and attachments, of what they value, of how they believe a particular grievance should be made a public issue. He spread terror, not enlightenment. That did him in. (Significantly, McVeigh didn't own up to his destruction. Roark stayed at his site to be found next to the detonator, then admitted the action, debating only the motive of his action, not the fact of it. He thereby removed what would otherwise have been public fear of a future of terrorism perpetrated by him. He put himself in the position of either be jailed or of being acquitted.) And that is the difference between McVeigh and Roark.


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