is often some of the best fiction ever created. This can apply to
third person accounts as well as autobiography. Nowhere is this
so applicable as it is to film biography, particularly those based
on prose works written by individuals whose objectivity is compromised.
It approaches the science fiction conundrum of "replicant fading",
the loss of fidelity involved in cloning clones. On a more realistic
level, try making a copy of a copy of a deficient original on any
duplicating machine. Very quickly, everything begins to fade and
the image disintegrates.
essentially what happens in the video biography of one of the free
markets’ truly great defenders. "The Passion of Ayn Rand"
is based on Barbara Branden’s biography of the novelist and philosopher
who was her mentor and, in Branden’s own view, dear friend. But
one has to wonder about the validity of perceptions offered by a
biographer who was publicly renounced by her subject and never once
responded on the matter until that subject was dead. Having the
last word can be a satisfying experience when one’s detractor is
available for viewing with egg on the face. But when they are permanently
unavailable for comment, it may be more about mud pies than omelets.
probably true that Any Rand had a torrid love affair with Branden’s
husband. If she did, it’s probably also true that, as Branden says,
she first asked permission of both Branden and her own husband,
Frank O’Connor. Both of these incidents reflect the characteristics
to be found in the protagonists of her novels-incendiary passion
and lack of duplicity, which is to say an inviolate integrity. Granting
that the love affair may have been a fact, the shadings of who initiated
what action when, for whatever motives and under what conditions
or pretenses, remains unchallenged, and unanswered, since Frank
O’Connor preceded his famous wife in death.
producers of the cinematic version of this story have, however,
not missed an opportunity to engage in attacking the person when
the argument was unassailable. The argument, of course, was one
so often unpalatable to Hollywood: Lassez Faire capitalism is the
most benevolent system of government ever to have almost appeared
in world history.
to replicant fading, the dialogue in this filmography is largely
true to the book. But it is in all the wrong places and given shadings
and nuance which defy and twist even it nebulous source. Most notable
is Any Rand’s view of John F. Kennedy as an enemy of freedom.
was and is a Hollywood favorite and there is no doubt that he favored
socialist policies. There is also no doubt that Nazi stood for National
Socialism. But when Helen Mirren, in the role of Ayn Rand, offers
this parallel from a speakers podium, she does so by underscoring
the comment with a shifty-eyed glance that says, ‘Are they buying
it? Am I getting away with it?’ Anyone who ever saw Ayn Rand speak
knows her eyes were anything but shifty. They were wide, intelligent,
focused, even disturbingly perceptive-but never shifty. It was,
in fact, her very straightforward views on Kennedy that resulted
in her rift with Bennet Cerf and Random House. New American library
welcomed her into their coterie and published her comments without
alteration, reservation, a backward glance, or even, in all probability,
a shifty one.
Oliver Stone’s filmography "Nixon," another presidential
nemesis of free enterprise makes key comments of characterization
to his wife in the privacy of their bedroom. Just how this dialogue
fell on Mr. Stone’s ears is a mystery, unless of course there is
another ménage a trios afoot here, one even Stone is not
willing to talk about. Such blatantly "creative" indulgences
have no place in a biography. A similar conversation occurs in the
Rand film, one with just the kind of subtle and shady shadings movie-land
is fond of slipping past us, perhaps with shifty glance of their
own. Alone in their arboretum, Frank O’Connor (Peter Fonda) slips
his arms around his wife in an apparently gentle overture to lovemaking.
She turns in his embrace and complains, "Oh Frank, must you
always ask my permission?" Dutifully, almost shyly, he proceeds
to rip the dress off her back. Apparently the plants have ears and
is just more of the effort to tar Ayn Rand with the brush of sado-masochism
stemming from a misinterpretation-if not misrepresentation-of the
aggressive love scenes in her novels. Of one of these so-called
"rape scenes", Rand once commented, "If it was rape,
it was rape by engraved invitation." While this heated passion
was a logical outcome of her protagonists’ motives and the events
of their lives, the "women’s’ movement" emerging late
in the author’s lifetime, felt that she objectified women. Considering
that the heroine and central character of her nineteen-fifty-seven
Shrugged was a hard driving and beautiful railroad executive,
their accusations of anti-feminism ring hollow. The effort to portray
her as a sinister persona because of her sexuality, is an effort
to denigrate the argument along with the person. It dissipates entirely
in the face of another frank remark the author of The
Fountainhead made when asked for the source of her inspiration
in that novel’s most turbulent love scene. Her inspiration was,
she said openly and honestly to a delighted audience, "wishful
thinking". Her candor reveals this filmography’s attempt to
present her as a twisted dominatrix as just more of the effort to
avoid the argument and attack the thinker.
cannot be impugned by any rational argument. It has freed us from
slavery, drudgery, tyranny, short life spans, pestilence, disease-almost
every disagreeable form of oppression, except the blight of Hollywood
sophistry. Movies are a great source of entertainment and escapism.
So long as they stick to this agenda, they excel. But when it comes
time for directors to venture into biography and docudrama, there
are too many opportunities for "fine tuning" the biography
by the scriptwriter, the script by the director, and the public
perception by intent or neglect. What auteur can pass up the opportunity
to present their timeworn canards as cherished treasures? Their
methods are subtle. The ability to generate larger-than-life visions
are intrinsic to the larger-than-life screen and their facility
in producing equally over-sized emotional responses are limited
only by the nature of the music and the size of the speaker system.
But an emotional response is not an argument anymore than a leg
jumping in response to the tap of a physician’s hammer is an argument.
An argument requires facts and reason. An argument responds in kind
to its antithesis. An argument never attacks personas, unless of
course the mind which constructed it comes to desperately recognize
that there is no other means of making it resemble a rebuttal.
Rand was the Jean d’ Arc of capitalism. With a fiery pen, she lanced
fallacy after fallacy and left free market opponents without a square
centimeter of reason to stand on. Consequently, the focus has shifted
to her character. But this too may backfire. What is there in this
account of her life that is not extolled in her novels? There is
the same magnificent devotion to life, achievement and freedom,
which finds expression in a passion fueled by innocence. There is
also an intransigent devotion to principle. The Filmographers’ attempt,
conscious or otherwise, to layer these characteristics with cinematic
filters, cannot hide the magnitude of the mind or the argument portrayed.
to the personality, who did you expect, Betty Crocker?
Thomas Kelly is a writer living in New York.