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Film: Where is John Galt when you need him?

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES Fall 2013

John Galt

Some may remember “The Fountain Head” of 1949. Directed by King Vidor it was based on Ayn Rand’s first novel.  While the book had not gone well, the film was surprisingly popular.  Viewers may have been puzzled over why an architect’s building design should have caused enough fuss to make him blow it up but since it was Gary Cooper it must have been OK.  The novel’s thesis, expanded in Ms Rand’s social philosophy of “Objectivism” praising independence and selfishness as virtues, was subject to scathing criticism.  In 1972 Al Ruddy, a movie producer who counts “The Godfather” among his credits, was prepared to take on the daunting task of filming a novel of over a thousand pages and with plot complications that boggle the mind and challenge all credibility.  He expected to line up a winning cast including Clint Eastwood, Henry Fonda, and Faye Dunaway but the project fell through when Ms. Rand, true to her novel’s heroes, demanding control and final approval of the script — she blew it up — so to speak.  It would be forty-four years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged and thirty-nine years after Ms Rand’s death that a film version of the book would be made.

‘Atlas Shrugged - Part I” , directed by Paul Johansson, appeared in theaters in 2011.  The film opens on an American in the year 2016.  We are in a near dystopian ruin — a world depression, oil shortages, infrastructures crumbling, rampant unemployment — to show you how bad it’s gotten gas is $42 a gallon.  It’s a mess, all right and because of misguided governmental social altruism.  Poorly distributed the film never found an audience, not surprising given its preachy wordiness and woe-fully short on crowd-pleasing sex and violence.  There quickly followed in 2012 a documentary, “Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged.”  As noted in the credits the doc had approval but not the participation of the Ayn Rand Institute.  Directed by Chris Mortensen this is both a bio of Ms Rand and a defense of her philosophy.  As the title suggests the novel may be read as a prediction of hard times ahead — so too the film.  As proof, the doc is liberally peppered with current news items and film clips.  It’s a mess all right.

“Atlas Shrugged - Part 1” ends with the disappearance of all our titans of industry and science who might have spared us these ills were it not for a busy-body government and its regulatory obstacles. Each exits the scene asking, “Who is John Galt?” but leaving behind the prototype of a device that can produce energy from static electricity, which is a lot cheaper to use than gas.

“Atlas Shrugged - Part 2- The Strike” opened this last October, timed nicely to precede the presidential election. Again with a cast of unknowns and a new director, John Putch, we learn that John Galt, an engineer, who reprises the heroic role played by Gary Cooper in “The Fountainhead” was, as we could have guessed, the inventor of the wonder machine. Exasperated by the government’s meddling he destroys it in a sulk and squirrels away the country's real movers and shakers in a hidden valley called Atlantis.  The entire gang goes on an extended vacation while waiting for the total collapse that was sure to come.  A hot romance helps Part 2 along —well — until it comes up to a long, long, still inspiring, peroration by Mr. Galt ala “Fountainhead.”

“Atlas Shrugged - Part 3” is being planned and if faithful to the novel should be relieved by a good deal more action than the previous parts — torture, a bloody rebellion, lots of killing, and building blown up — the final collapse, you see.  Oh, it’s been a mess, all right.

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