Ayn Rand's aesthetics: preserving the glamor of Hollywood's silent screen.
She was drawn to romantic movies with high drama, intricate plots, histrionic acting, and monumental architecture, as her early diary entries suggest. They disclose a preference for German films--with Joe May's 1921 The Indian Tomb (Das Indische Grabmal) being her favorite--that she still maintained in 1969, when defining her aesthetics in The Romantic Manifesto in reference to Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924): "Lang is the only one who has fully understood the fact that visual art is an intrinsic part of films in a much deeper sense than the mere selection of sets and camera angles--that a 'motion picture' is literally that, and has to be a stylized visual composition in motion." (9) This emphasis on the chronological axis of the film arts, or the transmission of meaning through the dynamic relation of one shot to another, remains central to Rand's film aesthetics, which prioritize this silent cinema era, as evidenced in a 1948 letter to Mia May, with whose career as a leading silent film actress Rand would have been familiar from the films of her director-husband Joe May (including The Indian Tomb). In the letter, Rand describes how pictures sent to her by Mia May remind Rand of a time when the name Mia May represented "the symbol of the only beauty and relief I had while being imprisoned in hell." (10) Rand further claims that "the kind of pictures I want to make are in the style and spirit of the pictures you made. It is a spirit which does not exist in the world any longer--and part of my battle is to bring it back." (11) In shaping her cinematic ideal, Rand insisted on the integration of the philosophical with the aesthetic, an achievement that she believed was realized on Hollywood's silent silver screen: "they were not philosophical, but that's what I liked, it was as if Atlantis had already arrived, the ideal was right here on earth, and one did not have to be philosophical, certainly not political, all those problems were already solved, and it was the perfect existence for purposeful men." (12)
Although Rand's early admiration of screen images of America had placed her within a widespread Soviet cultural trend dubbed "Americanitis" (amerikanshchina), (13) she had avoided the appearance of a starstruck youth in her pamphlets by balancing her portrayal of elegant star-centered Hollywood life with critical commentary on the industry's stock characters, mediocre screenwriters, and sentimental happy endings. Her determination to recreate this American image herself on a Hollywood screen through her work as a scriptwriter distinguishes her from "the traditional Russian community in Hollywood, which insisted on preserving what they perceived as an authentic vision of their homeland." (14) Ironically, in her pursuit of this vision, Rand inadvertently fulfills a cliche of exile, whereby the exiled person adheres, even fanatically, to "an image of America [...] brought in from the home country via, for example, media sources there." (15) Paul Friedrich's identification of this phenomenon helps to account for her equating her own screen preferences with "movies preaching Americanism" in her "campaign for American movies" promoted by the Screen Guide for Americans. (16) Yet Rand's American ideal of "enormous benevolent freedom," derived from the sexualized romantic adventures on the silent screens of Cecil B. DeMille and Milton Sills, clashes with the values extolled in Hollywood's populist Depression-era movies and dutiful patriotic World War II films. (17) This examination of Rand's film writings will demonstrate how her adherence to this ideal necessarily caused her to reject idealized cinematic images of the commonplace, the everyman, or the communist, which she continually associated with the values of a collectivist film industry, from which she had already sought escape.
Rand specifically associated her aesthetic with that of the pre-World War I era--a world with "the most radiant cultural atmosphere in human history (achieved not by Russian but by Western culture)," which she came to appreciate for its "overwhelming sense of intellectual freedom." (18) Still, she identified her "fight for freedom" and individualism with the February Revolution by asserting that this was the only moment when her own "stage of development" was "synchronized with history." (19) She continued this right even as she witnessed the gradual Sovietization of her hometown of St. Petersburg, during her years as a university student and as a film student at the Leningrad Institute for Screen Arts (Leningradskii Gosudarstvennyi Institut Ekrannogo Iskusstva). Rand's essay on Pola Negri (1925), her published booklet Hollywood. American City of Movies (Gollivud: Amerikanskii kino-gorod, 1926), and her movie diary (encompassing the years 1922-29) reveal her early focus on star-driven adventure films with exotic settings and elaborate costumes that would not find a receptive audience in a financially-strapped Soviet film industry, which preferred to find its heroes in Sergei Eisenstein's masses or in Lev Kuleshov's naturshchik, the "real person" from "real life." (20) She discovered at the Leningrad Institute that her cinematic vision could never come to a Soviet screen:
She briefly thought about becoming a Soviet screenwriter, subtly incorporating her ethical and political ideas into her scripts. As an experiment she presented a fellow film student--a good Soviet citizen--with a writing sample that employed this technique. Immediately the student became unnerved, sensing something odd about its theme, so much so that Rand concluded that there was no future for her in Soviet cinema. (21)
Rather than adopt the Soviet industry norms encouraged by the Institute, Rand continued viewing Western films, writing her booklets on Hollywood and Pola Negri, and keeping a movie diary with notes showing a clear preference for American and German films. Her formal film education and film viewings in Petrograd thus taught her to consider Soviet film forms as antitheses to her screen ideal.
By the time Rand entered the Institute in 1924, its students, in an effort to promote cinematic arts that addressed the interests of the people, had already organized to purge the institution of its bourgeois element and to promote Marxism-Leninism. (22) Indeed, in the year prior to Rand's arrival, the Chekist-turned-actor/director Friedrich Ermler had organized the Institute's first party cell and had formed an executive committee, which included members of the Association of Revolutionary Cinematography (Assotsiatsiia revoliutsionnoi kinematografii) like the civil war heroes Ermler and Sergei Vasil'ev. Although Ermler, along with Vasil'ev, officially left the school to form the Leningrad Experimental Film Workshop (Kinoeksperimental 'naia masterskaia, or KEM) in 1924, Ermler still maintained ties to the Institute in order "to agitate the swamp of the Institute for Screen Arts" which he considered a "breeding ground for counter-revolutionary ideas." (23) Ermler's Workshop also demonstrated to the Institute the need to train actors and directors in the cinematic arts, which fellow student and Soviet silent-era actor, Iakov Gudkin, discussed in a complaint about the Institute's outdated emphasis on theatrical education. (24) A collection of documents about the Institute and the Workshop from Ermler's archive suggests that precisely during the period when Rand was at the Institute, he was encouraging its close cooperation with studios and movie industry representatives to provide hands-on experience for its students. (25) Thus, Rand likely felt a strong Soviet presence in her cinematic education, especially since her first-year courses, including biodynamics, film make-up, and cinematography, reflected Ermler's educational emphasis on practical training in cinematic arts and KEM's training of the film actor through acrobatics, dance, and movement. (26)
Nevertheless, Rand's Hollywood focus and the inclusion of relatively few Russian movies in her diary attest to her preference for a Western aesthetic that prioritizes elaborate narrative films written as star vehicles. Indeed, her film writings consistently highlight the otherness of the young Soviet movie industry, whose experiments in film were often infused with Soviet ideology, characteristic of the propaganda shorts (agitki) and classics of Soviet cinema, e.g., Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 avant-garde hit Strike (Stachka) or Vsevolod Pudovkin's 1925 comedy Chess Fever (Shakhmatnaia goriachka). She makes no mention of her contemporaries in the Leningrad film industry, e.g., those in FEKS, who shared her admiration of Western dance-hall culture, poster art, and American constructivism (evident in her love of New York skyscrapers, which appear throughout Rand's fiction). Indeed, Soviet productions considered "Western" fail to earn good ratings in Rand's movie diaries as she gives only a 2 out of 5+ to Kuleshov's popular film The Death Ray (Luch smerti, 1925), attacked by Soviet officials for its Americanism owing to its focus on a hero from an unnamed capitalist country.27 Iurii Zheliabuzhskii's 1924 "spoof of movie mania," The Cigarette Girl from Mossel 'prom (Papirosnitsa ot Mossel'proma), earns only a 3+ for its portrayal of a cigarette girl who is discovered and made a star by a film crew that includes an American businessman. (28)
Although Rand thus distanced herself early in her artistic career from her native cinema, she addressed this cinema more fully in her American period, beginning with her censorious appraisal of Soviet film in her 1934 novel, We the Living. She clearly rejects the idealized vision of the heroic masses characteristic of Soviet documentary films in her depiction of a fictionalized civil war epic, Red Warriors, with "no plot, no hero," but instead a repeated image of a "mob of ragged gray uniforms" interspersed with rhetoric-filled intertitles, e.g., "THE PROLETARIAT STAMPED ITS MIGHTY BOOT DOWN THE TREACHEROUS THROAT OF DEPRAVED ARISTOCRATS." (29) She also unfavorably compares Soviet films to their American counterparts in an analysis of a fictive American film, The Golden Octopus (directed by Reginald Moore and censored by Comrade M. Zavadkov, both equally fictional). The brief film passage describing the heroine's viewing shows Rand's familiarity with the common practice of re-editing (peremontazh) of foreign films for Soviet consumption by recutting and rearranging them in montage sequences in an effort to emphasize a collectivist message. (30) Rand may have encountered this practice at the Screen Institute, since its aforementioned student, Vasil'ev, re-edited for a prominent state film organization in Leningrad--the North-Western Regional Directorate for Photographic and Cinematographic Affairs (Severo-Zapadnoe oblastnoe upravlenie po delam fotografii i kinematografii, or Sevzapkino)--because he felt that most American films were unsuitable for Soviet audiences. (31) Rand's passage displays a sophisticated knowledge of film analysis, in which the appended low-quality Soviet scenes (including that of "a hazy office where blurred shadows of people jerk convulsively") and bombastic intertitles (designed to give socialist context to a Western high society film) are juxtaposed with the superior acting, costume design, plot, and film quality of a foreign production:
Suddenly, as if a fog had lifted the photography cleared. They could see the soft line of lipstick and every hair of the long lashes of a beautiful smiling leading lady. Men and women in magnificently foreign clothes moved gracefully through a story that made no sense. The subtitles did not match the action [...] A subtitle said: "I hate you. You are a blood-sucking capitalistic exploiter. Get out of my room!" (32)
After the film finishes "abruptly, as if torn off," the heroine Kira explains to her companion (and to an American reading public unacquainted with Soviet cinema) "I know what they've done! They've shot that beginning here, themselves. They've cut the picture to pieces!" (33) Rand's apposition of American and Soviet film shots above exposes the dialogic nature of her early admiration of on-screen America, which she consistently contrasts favorably to cinematic communism with inferior film production. Her identification of America with this glamorized femininity and high drama of the silent screen encouraged her contempt for positive portrayals of collectivism on the big screen, of which she remained critical when working for Hollywood after her 1936 publication of We the Living. "Americanitis"
Rand's booklets Pola Negri and Hollywood." American Movietown further demonstrate that while she remained in Russia, Hollywood represented an ideal of freedom that, as she subsequently maintained, sharply contrasted with the oppressive environment of the Petrograd film industry. Her selection of quotations from Negri's book Life and a Dream in Cinema (La vie et le rove au cinema) discloses their similar idealization of the screen, as a "living movie frame" (Zhivoi kino-kadr) or "magic mirror" (volshebnoe zerkalo) with the potential to revolutionize the world. (34) By regularly sending Rand American movie magazines, her Chicago relatives, one of whom owned a movie theater on the South Side, encouraged her screen affair with America, so she was familiar with the industry by the time she herself reached Chicago in 1926. (35) Throughout her Russian film writings, she expresses admiration for directors and actors in Hollywood whose talent and industry built the movie empire, and she arrived in America with the intent of following their example, as evidenced by her work on movie scenarios in Chicago in anticipation of her arrival in Hollywood in the summer of 1926. (36) Her movie diary and screenwriting from her first years in America show that her love of elaborate sets, high melodrama, and star-centered cinema continues to inform her film aesthetic, even as she writes on both Russian and American themes. Yet also during this period, she first attempts consciously to integrate her belief in the heroism of the individual into Hollywood's entertaining moving images, so that her film analysis focuses increasingly on the way in which writers and directors encode their film texts.
Rand's Russian booklets exhibit her sophisticated understanding of the movie industry, with detailed discussions of producer-director interaction, the technical aspects of filmmaking, the influence of movie-going audiences, and the dark side of stardom. Therefore, her admiration of DeMille's elegant plot-driven cinema, Ernst Lubitsch's urbane upper-crust milieu, and Erich von Stroheim's uncompromising "striving for genuine realism" (stremlenie k nastoiashchemu realizmu) show an informed decision to promote glamorous adventures on Hollywood's silent screen. (37) Although she recognizes the significant role played by directors in shaping films and defends their creative direction against studio interests, the considerable space that she devotes to movie stars, particularly sexually-liberated women, in her booklets suggests that it is the stars who attract her to the screen. Her movie diary indicates that, while in Russia, she viewed popular Hollywood star vehicles for famous actors such as Mary Pickford (Pollyanna, 1920, and Through the Back Door, 1921) and Douglas Fairbanks (Robin Hood, 1922, The Thief of Baghdad, 1924, and The Mark of Zorro, 1920). While conscious of the ephemerality of the public's admiration and the real dangers posed to actors during filming, Rand still admires the image-driven star system, with particular regard for Pola Negri's tragic "women-conquerors" (zhenshchiny-pobeditel 'nitsy), (38) for Gloria Swanson's imperfect beauty, and for Rudolph Valentino's "beautiful sheiks" (prekrasnye sheikhi). (39) As her movie diary indicates, even after her emigration, Rand continued to follow the careers of her favorite actors and actresses, with some of whom she would have the chance to work, e.g., Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead, and Gloria Swanson on anti-communist activities. (40)
Rand's "Americanitis" did not wane with her arrival in America, but rather intensified, perhaps owing to a succession of singular events. After her chance meeting (within days of her arrival in Los Angeles) with Cecil B. DeMille at his Culver City studios, which earned her a small acting role in his current film King of Kings (1926), she met her future husband, the actor Frank O'Connor, on the film's set. Living at the Hollywood Studio Club, working for DeMille as an actress and then a junior screenwriter, and dating a Hollywood actor, Rand was immersed in the movie culture that she had so admired from afar while in Russia. These rapid life changes follow a not atypical emigre pattern of "overcompensation in the direction of assimilating with speed," but they also evidence Rand's drive for success, which she believed depended upon her ability to write fiction (scenarios especially) in the English language. (41) During this period of assimilation, Rand did not completely divorce herself from Russia, but rather maintained regular correspondence with her family, continued to write journal notes in her native tongue, and still viewed movies with Russian actors (Ivan Moz zhukhin and Natacha Rambova) and Russian themes, e.g., De Mille's The Volga Boatman (1926); Viktor Tourjansky's Michel Strogoff (1925); Ernst Lubitsch's Forbidden Paradise (1924), with Pola Negri; and Clarence Brown's The Eagle (1925), with Rudolph Valentino. Indeed, her movie diary lists movies with her fellow emigres such as Ivan Lebedeff, who secured her a job at RKO's wardrobe department in 1929, and Theodore Kosloff (a former lover of Rambova and a well-known associate of DeMille), whom Rand may have encountered on the set of King of Kings. Still, given Soviet Russia's pervasive influence on and behind the big screen, its scant presence in the pages of Rand's movie writings prior to Red Pawn indicates a reluctance on her part to view cinematic images of her former homeland. For example, Rand did not enter into her movie diary Josef von Stemberg's The Last Command (1928), despite its starring one of her long-standing favorite actors, Emil Jannings, as a Tsarist general who, owing to the difficulties of exile, was forced to play himself in a Hollywood movie. Also notably missing is the popular movie Tempest (1928), developed from an idea for a script that famed director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko entertained while in Hollywood, where he attended the elite screening of King of Kings. (42) Some of Rand's favorite directors and actors worked on the film, including Tourjansky, von Stroheim, and John Barrymore, who plays the lead role as Ivan Markov, a peasant who forsakes his revolutionary comrades for the love of a general's daughter.
Instead, her journals show that Rand devoted her first years in exile to experimenting with depicting America and Americans in film scenarios as she sought to hone her writing skills. Her 1927 notebooks contain three scenarios--the unfinished The Country Doctor, the New York story The Skyscraper, and The Siege--that attempt to translate the "epic" genre to the silver screen by highlighting her heroes' courage, personal strength, and industry, which lead them to triumph. (43) For example, in The Siege she presents the heroism of American Kenneth Hartley, who saves a hotel full of guests in Peking from a mob of Chinese bandits. She uses the silent screen formula of exotic locale, dangerous epic conflict, and romantic adventure, with Kenneth and his millionaire love interest Ellen Darrow at the center of the drama. Her notes to The Skyscraper, a scenario on which she worked for DeMille, display a similar dramatic conflict in what she characterizes as "an epic of construction." (44) Under Rand's pen, the basic plot of "the building of a skyscraper" is trans formed into a story about the determination of a master builder, "The Man Victorious," to erect his "proud skyscraper" and protect it from "blazing [...] flames" at the cost of "his body burned and bleeding." (45) In a similar fashion, when Rand writes her film synopsis about Russia, Red Pawn (sold to Universal Pictures in 1932 but never produced), she draws on typical imagery of "revolutionary plots, of GPU spies, of secret executions and exaggerated horrors" and of "glamorous grand dukes and brutal Bolsheviks" that she found characteristic of novels on the Revolution translated from Russian, even though she rejected this source material for her own We the Living. (46)
Red Pawn's primary conflict--that of a Commandant of a Siberian prison island who must choose between his duty and his love for a woman (the Russian princess Tania)--resembles the common princess-peasant film about the Russian revolution (in which a former-peasant-turned-communist must choose to betray the Revolution or his love for a member of the former aristocracy), which Oksana Bulgakowa finds in vogue while Rand was writing for the silent screen in the 1920s and early 1930s. (47) For instance, DeMille's Volga Boatman (1926) shares with Rand's Red Pawn the eroticization of the Revolution, whereby the princess comes to represent "an object of exchange" between the old regime (Prince Dimitri and Prince Victor, respectively) and the new (the boatman and the Commandant). (48) Like the Russian spy Tania, played by Greta Garbo in the 1928 MGM production The Mysterious Lady (which earned a 4- in Rand's movie diary), Princess Tania falls in love with the enemy officer while trying to seduce him. (49) Red Pawn also contains another staple of Hollywood Russian-themed movies (including The Cossacks, 1928): the chase scene. In Rand's synopsis, "the law" or "the hand of the proletarian republic" chases the main protagonists fleeing in a horse and sleigh and captures them after a brief shoot-out in the Siberian wilderness. (50) Hence, Rand as a scenarist draws on Hollywood's tradition of Russian vogue, specifically of the Russian Western, to create her own Soviet Western, with a protagonist whose conflict between duty to "brutal Bolsheviks" and love for a glamorous lady represents the romantic aesthetics of Hollywood's silent screen. (51)
Both in the notes to her scenarios as well as in her correspondence to film director-producer Kenneth MacGowen, Rand starts to articulate an artistic vision that engages "philosophy in a motion picture" in an entertaining way with an appeal "to all types of audiences," even the "ranks of people" who expected nothing more than "puns and seduced virgins from their entertainment." (52) She therefore differentiates between the "philosophical problem" of Red Pawn, i.e., the Commandant's conflict between love and duty, and the movie's dramatic plot, which is "the story of a woman who comes at the price of a great sacrifice, to rescue her husband from a life sentence in prison and of her worst enemy's great, unhappy love for her." (53) The mass appeal of the plot--"the very meat of the film" (54)--which is meant to "express and unite everything, all the concretes," has an epic quality in that it flows from a universal "grand theme" which "expresses various main ideals, ideas, and events of a given epoch." (55) In this respect, Rand retains the silent era preference for plot-driven films with histrionic acting and monumental architecture. Yet she also hopes to infuse them with intellectual content, so that the "highbrow" can enjoy something other than "vague and plotless" artistic films, since "no amount of the best acting, directorial 'touches' and camera work alone will ever hold anyone." (56) Here, Rand again embraces Hollywood's aesthetics by emphasizing the entertainment value (or commercial aspect) of a film about Russia over the technological experimentation in film editing and camera work for which her compatriots' Russian screen images had already gained an international reputation. Eisenstein enjoyed such great American success with his October (Oktiabr', 1927) that he had already worked on Theodore Dreiser's American Tragedy for Paramount, and in 1931 Boris Pilnyak worked with Irving Thalberg on a film project about an American engineer helping to construct the new Soviet state. (57) Rand, on the other hand, continued to work on developing plot-driven star-vehicles for the Hollywood entertainment industry. At the same time, while working on these moving pictures, she came to revise her binary model of "highbrow" and "lowbrow" aesthetics as the philosophical problem of film began to occupy a more prominent role in her art.
Defining the Ideal
After a decade of viewing Hollywood images on the silver screen, Rand found that her preference for movies with "strong, unusual characters in unusual, exciting events and in a real, dramatic conflict" would not prevail in a Hollywood seeking to profit from a Depressionera public looking for escape through the screen lens. (58) Rand, of course, understood how penniless people could view the screen as a "private avenue" (59) to another world, an experience she recalls in Atlas Shrugged: "People [... ] went without meals in order to crowd into movie theaters, in order to escape for a few hours the state of animals reduced to the single concern of terror over their crudest needs." (60) In Hollywood she already recognized the studios' tendency to follow slavishly "every desire of the almighty public" whose fickle tastes had ruined many careers. (61) At that time, she had believed in the prestige of the director and in the star power of screen celebrities to counter studio demands, since she largely credited directors and movie stars with the creation of Los Angeles with its "bright lights," concrete boulevards, and the thriving movie enterprises of MGM, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Fox, and United Artists. (62) With the consolidation of the movie industry in FDR's Hollywood, Rand concluded that there existed a monopoly preventing the cinematic expression of her aesthetics from reaching the screen, since the studios benefited financially from producing movies that embraced the populist values (perhaps best embodied in Frank Capra's films) shared by prominent directors and actors. As the new talkies' preference for natural speech, ordinary characters, and everyday themes and locales supplanted the glamour and high drama of the silent screen, Rand became increasingly conscious of the way in which her ethics informed a film aesthetics counterposed to the populism embraced by mass audiences.
Biographer Anne C. Heller notes that Rand seems to have come to this realization only after she left Hollywood in 1934 for New York, where Stalinist and Marxist experiments were more openly entertained in literary and artistic circles. (63) From this vantage point, "the growing appeal of Communist battle cries to screenwriters and directors" became more evident to Rand, (64) especially after her perceived blacklisting by Hollywood following her vocal denunciations of Soviet Russia and 1936 publication of We the Living. (65) Rand herself later attributed her early failure to recognize Communist leanings in the movie industry to her isolation in Hollywood. (66) Yet her alienation of Ivan Lebedeff and Eugenic Leontovich, fellow emigres in the industry, also suggests a change in Rand's interpersonal relationships during a period when her niece Mimi Sutton recalled several "ruptures with friends." (67) The White Russian actor Lebedeff, who played various noblemen and Russian types on screen throughout the 1930s, had encouraged Rand's early screenwriting and had even given her a party to celebrate the October 1934 opening of her play Woman on Trial at the Hollywood Playhouse. (68) The established emigre stage actress Eugenie Leontovich befriended Rand when her interest in playing the part of Kira in a stage version of We the Living (later entitled The Unconquered) led to George Abbott's 1940 production of Rand's play. (69) Sutton noted Rand's "long telephone conversations with her, half in English and half in Russian," as well as a break with Leontovich, which Heller attributes both to artistic differences with other actors and to a warning against participating in an anti-Communist play that might damage her Hollywood career--a warning reportedly posed by Leontovich's husband, the director Gregory Ratoff, whose 1944 film Song of Russia Rand later critically evaluated before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). (70) Such examples of her growing, yet partially self-imposed, isolation from industry representatives may account for the failure of her original scenarios to reach the screen, even though she had established herself as a writer.
All the same, Rand continued to define her movie aesthetics in her fictional writings, in which she often focuses on screen actresses whose ethical responsibilities include "bringing to life a completely heroic human being" in an age that "places the life of that [the] herd above all things." (71) Rand most fully examines the ethical choices in filmmaking in her 1934 play Ideal, which centers on an actress who signs with a studio for the sake of "a few who want the highest possible and will take nothing less and will not live on any other terms." (72) Rather than adopt the common 1930s motif of an actress's challenging road to stardom (e.g., William Wellman's 1937 classic A Star is Born or Gregory La Cava's 1937 comedy Stage Door), Rand depicts an actress at the peak of her stardom, much in the way she had once described Negri's "atypical, not cliched" [ne tipichna, ne shablonna] persona conquering Hollywood. (73) Like Negri, Ideal's Kay Gonda stands out from her fellow screen actresses, but Rand is more specific about Gonda's unique qualities-such as her movements, her voice, and her words--which evoke "across the infinite distance of a screen" an image of unattainable perfection, i.e., "Man at his highest possibility." (74) Although Gonda consciously chooses to project this "illusion" or "impossible vision" for the screen, she will not succeed much longer without seeing "that glory" in the "real, living, and in the hours of my own days." (75) For this reason, Gonda searches amidst her fans, who are primarily representative of Rand's "lowbrow" types using movies as an entertaining narcotic, for the intelligent viewer who is interested in helping to preserve this screen ideal. Gonda discovers Johnnie, who by sacrificing his life for her not only enters her ideal world where his "own voice" moves "on waves that touch no ugliness, no pain," but also preserves her art for the "few who want the highest possible." (76) Thus, Rand retains in Ideal the dual fan base she described to MacGowen, and reveals a still more cynical impression of the fans, whose willingness to debase their "goddess" Gonda for money, fame, or sex forces the actress to conclude: "They hate me in their hearts for the things they see in me, the things they have betrayed. I mean nothing to them, except a reproach." (77)
By the late 1930s and early 1940s, Rand's work on her novel The Fountainhead betrays an increasingly hostile view of the Hollywood industry, which appears no longer capable of appreciating strength on screen and instead seeks to destroy artistic talent. The original 1938 manuscript of The Fountainhead indicates that talent can still reach the silver screen, because the gifted actress Vesta Dunning, who leaves a blossoming stage career for the screen, follows in the tradition of Rand's image of Pola Negri from thirteen years earlier, a "type of strong and powerful woman" (tip sil'noi, vlastnoi zhenshchiny) whose "gloomy, harsh face" (mrachnoe, zhestkoe litso) allows her to stand out "amidst the sentimental dolls" (sredi santimental'nykh kukol) in Hollywood. (78) Dunning, of whom Lux Studios "had not expected much," becomes an overnight success in "not an unusual picture," because she is "the first woman who ever allowed herself to make strength attractive on the screen" by acting "awkward, crude, shocking" instead of "gracious," "gentle," or "sweet." (79) Nevertheless, the hero Howard Roark predicts the destruction of Dunning's talent as an actress owing to her need for adoring fans, an addiction that commonly plagues Rand's mediocre artist. Such an artist represents Rand's conformist type of the "second-hander" who allows society to dictate reality by asking "Is this what others think is true?" instead of "Is this true?" (80) Although Dunning's character does not appear in the final 1942 version of The Fountainhead, the role of the quintessential second-hander is reserved for the architect Peter Keating, whose pursuit of fame leads him to a vacuous film industry, which conflates architecture and motion pictures with "starlets in shorts and sweaters, holding T-squares and slide-rules," and to guest appearances in newsreels with actress Miss Dimples Williams. (81) Such second-handers, too busy pandering to the public in return for fame, allow the industry to be governed by populist ideologues such as Ellsworth Toohey, who finds the tale of Tristan and Isolde "the most beautiful story ever told--next to that of Mickey and Minnie Mouse." (82) Toohey's hostile takeover of the newspaper, the Banner, from publishing magnate Gail Wynand signals a new era of media appealing to the common man, a taste of which Wynand encounters on the city streets with the swing version of Richard Wagner's "Song to the Evening Star" and a contemporary adaptation of Romeo and Juliet advertised as "Bill Shakespeare's immortal classic! But there's nothing highbrow about it! Just a simple human love story! A boy from the Bronx meets a girl from Brooklyn. Just like the folks next door." (83)
By the time she wrote Atlas Shrugged (1957), Rand had decided that Hollywood's production of pictures "glorifying the commonplace for possessing no glory" allowed only "girls of indistinguishable names and interchangeable faces" on the screen. (84) Consequently, her unforgettable movie star Kay Ludlow must vanish from the silver screen, which no longer celebrates strong women like Negri who once victoriously destroyed "peaceful family hearths" (mirnye semeinye ochagi). (85) This screen now presents them as "symbols of depravity, nothing but harlots, dissipation-chasers and home-wreckers, always to be beaten at the end by the little girl next door, personifying the virtue of mediocrity." (86) Such a characterization of Hollywood reflects Rand's common complaint about the sentimental treatment of love on the screen (a trend arising from the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code in the 1930s), because she preferred a "strong sex story," which she hoped to bring back to Hollywood not only with her own "'rape' scene" in The Fountainhead, but also by encouraging remakes of silent classics like The Isle of Lost Ships (1923) with Milton Sills. (87) The fact that the sexualized movie star Ludlow in Rand's final novel must flee into exile into order to maintain her artistic integrity suggests that Rand ultimately concluded that Hollywood produced films for lowbrow consumption only, and no longer sought to draw to movie houses those seeking an ideal on the screen.
Advocating for her Aesthetics in Hollywood
Before she reached this conclusion, however, Rand tried to cultivate ties with politically conservative contacts to promote her vision of strength on screen. She contacted prominent fellow members of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, which was formed in 1944, with producer Sam Wood serving as its first president, to counter communist tendencies in Hollywood. Rand approached Barbara Stanwyck about Paramount's producing Red Pawn for the screen, as well as Walt Disney and DeMille about translating Anthem (1946), her "contribution to the cause of freedom," to the screen. (88) In her letter to DeMille, she envisions the production "as a picture on the grand scale, as a dramatic fantasy, on the order of the magnificent spectacles which you made in the silent days" and even suggests developing the film along the "method" of The Ten Commandments, on whose set they had worked together. (89) As she worked for the Alliance in writing her Screen Guide for Americans (which subsequently led to her HUAC testimony), she advocated for her aesthetics with a modification of the American-communist apposition of her youth by identifying "Americanism" with her screen "ideal of man's dignity and self-respect" and linking communism to "horror and depravity on the screen" or the portrayal of a man as "a helpless, twisted, drooling, sniveling, neurotic weakling." (90) Because of her connections with the Alliance, Rand finally realized her long-awaited goal of bringing her American vision to the screen when Stanwyck discovered The Fountainhead for Warner Bros. Nevertheless, her increased exposure to the Hollywood industry, with her testimony before HUAC and the filming of The Fountainhead, led her to conclude that the artistic potential of movies "has not as yet been actualized, except in single instances," because the "philosophical-cultural disintegration" of the age renders impossible the unified "creative cooperation" of the artists necessary for the collaborative filmmaking process. (91)
Both in her published Guide and her HUAC testimony, Rand addresses the impact of this disintegration on the film industry, which she presents as a battleground for opposing political ideas that define the age. These ideas are shaped by humans acting on "moral premises" that communists would like to corrupt by introducing "casual bits of propaganda into innocent stories" (92) which subsequently infiltrate the conscience of people through the "tremendous medium" of the screen. (93) In order to ensure that those working in the industry do not unintentionally adopt collectivist principles, she specifically delineates these propaganda techniques, many of which are common to Soviet films of the 1920s, including typage (e.g., presenting a villainous businessman as a "typical representative of a whole social class"); the use of ordinary lines such as "I wanna be just like ever'body else" to glorify the collective; and the casual insertion of "lines favorable to Soviet Russia" into pictures. (94) Rand wanted to demonstrate for HUAC how such techniques had been used to promote communist ideology in William Wyler's 1946 hit The Best Years of Our Lives, but her testimony was limited to Gregory Ratoff's 1944 wartime musical Song of Russia, which she privately dismissed as a "bad-plot movie" and a "musical about Soviet Russia that wouldn't fool anybody." (95) Still, she used her testimony to highlight in a general manner the many ethical (and hence political) choices involved in selecting stories, music, dialogue, sets, and characters for public consumption on the silver screen, and she insisted that these choices necessarily preclude any association of Americanism with images of Soviet Russia. For this reason, she strongly objects to the verbal and visual comparisons of the two countries in Ratoff's musical, such as the American national anthem dissolving into "a Russian mob, with the sickle and hammer on a red flag very prominent above their heads." (96)
Rand likewise objected to the application of a Hollywood formula for popular entertainment that she admired--sweeping historical theme, exotic locale, symphonic musical score, and grand decor--to a Soviet reality that she had already characterized as barren in Red Pawn, with images of a frozen Siberian prison fortress and of austere, loyal Bolsheviks as well as the steady drumbeat of the red hymn. For this reason, her aesthetics were offended on a philosophical level by Song of Russia's luxurious sets of a Russian restaurant and a peasants' marble palace, an elaborate classical score (at times used to highlight pastoral Soviet images), and extravagant stagings of a ballroom scene and of a religious wedding ceremony in a village peopled with perpetually smiling peasants and manicured starlets. (97) Yet she defends her criticisms on a political level with the contention that Americans living in a free society are unable to "conceive of" a "totally inhuman" Soviet reality, even though several of her fellow Russian emigres had worked to create this cinematic vision of Soviet Russia. (98) The film's director, Ratoff, along with its cast, including the famed stage and screen actor Michael Chekhov, as well as a number of established character actors (e.g., Vladimir Sokoloff and Feodor Chaliapin, Jr.), had direct knowledge of Soviet Russia, since they had emigrated in the 1920s. Rand likely knew something of at least Ratoff's Russian experience, owing to her past friendship with his wife Eugenie Leontovich. Nevertheless, Rand argued with the film's political content, perhaps because she saw in the movie an abuse of the screen arts in the name of public welfare, since the Office of War Information had encouraged the cinematic glorification of America's allies for the war effort. Rand later responded to such practices in Atlas Shrugged, in which she portrays the last of the state's talented people fleeing into exile because of a coercive government's manipulation of its complacent viewing audiences with an Orwellian usage of the small screen. While Rand left this warning about the future of a society that allows the dissemination of collectivist ideology through the film medium, she still remained hopeful that the artistic potential of motion pictures--"An art that requires the synchronization of so many esthetic elements and so many different talents"--could be realized in the future, a hope fed by the production of films such as The Fountainhead. (99)
Rand, comparing her role in the filmmaking process to that of a "god" (but not an "omnipotent" one, "unfortunately") remained cautiously optimistic about the film project, because she had gone to tremendous lengths to exercise creative control over this collaborative moviemaking venture. (100) To protect the integrity of her novel, she suffered through the tedium of adapting the novel for the screen, fought with the producer and director over creative decisions, repeatedly visited the set during filming, and defended her script before the Production Code Administration, which had objected to how the courtroom speech of her hero Howard Roark equated self-sacrifice with "enforced subordination to collectivistic control." (101) In her script, Rand succeeds in retaining the epic nature of her novel for the film medium through references to low angle shots to highlight soaring architectural design, recommendations on the extreme close-up framing of body parts to signify synecdochically the strength of the human spirit, and the verbose text of Roark's infamous courtroom summation--one of the lengthiest in Hollywood history. Furthermore, the movie reflects this epic scale in the dramatic performance of Gary Cooper (a longtime favorite actor of Rand's) as Roark; in the panoramic shots of the city, quarry, and construction sites; and in the elaborate sets designed by William Kuehl, Edward Carrere, and Bert Tuttle, which were critical for the film's architectural subject and reminiscent of the constructivist and futurist set designs from the 1920s. (102)
Despite expressing frustrations over actors' deviations from the script during filming and over the editing in the cutting room, Rand's correspondence shows that, having observed the audience at the preview, she was convinced that the film successfully transmitted her aesthetics of strength on the screen, owing especially to her conscious design of its "good plot." (103) Evidence that her American ideal informed these aesthetics may be found in her reference to Roark as her "steel man" in a letter to the CEO of a steel company--a metaphor, which, while evoking a leading communist figure in Stalin, the man of steel, at the same time prioritizes his antipode, the Herculean architect Roark who builds towers of strength. (104) Rand ultimately concluded that this ideal was not effectively communicated through her film's projection on the big screen, perhaps because of an advertising campaign that overlooked the film's "ideological content." (105) However, ten years after the movie's release, Rand was encouraged by the movie's broadcast on the small screen and found that the "intimacy of television is much better suited to the presentation of ideas." (106) She imparts this viewing experience to Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged when her heroine observes the Roark-like hero, John Gait, on the small screen that transmits "the unyielding clarity of his features, the look of being an entity, a look of asserting existence." (107) The potential of this medium to present the philosophical dimension to her aesthetics likely persuaded Rand to adapt her masterpiece Atlas Shrugged for the small screen, since in November 1981 she announced her work on a nine-hour teleplay of the novel, a teleplay that remained unfinished at the time of her death in March 1982. (108)
In this respect, Rand, motivated by her cinematic preference for Hollywood's silent screen, translated a youthful escapist search for a glamorous world into a lifelong ambition to realize the materialization of her envisioned ideal on the screen. Immersed in an era of revolutionary upheaval, Alisa Rozenbaum looked to travel through the "magic mirror" to Hollywood where the "newest of all the arts" in "the youngest country in the world" created an attractive alternative to her reality. (109) Even after her emigration, Rand's aesthetics remained rooted in the Western silent screen tradition's focus on the heroic individual and the epic scale of existence, while Hollywood's norms changed over time according to shifts in cultural environment and political administrations. This clash with culture encouraged Rand to articulate a film aesthetics in which she evinced a growing realization that cinema, the result of a collective effort governed by the value-judgments of its collaborators, had yet to achieve its potential because of the collaborators' inability to project a unified philosophical vision owing to social fragmentation. At most, she could identify individual actresses displaying strength on film and the work of a few favorite directors as "random moments" when her "sense of life" was reflected in the aesthetics of moving pictures. (110) Still, just as she remained optimistic to the end of her life about America's promise, she also maintained a belief in the potential of the screen--the small screen--to represent her image of Americanism. Unfortunately, she did not live to see the digital revolution that would have promoted her more unified artistic vision of film owing to a democratization of the production and distribution process, under whose conditions she could have exercised substantial creative control due to her successful scriptwriting, access to capital, connections in Hollywood, and sophisticated knowledge of the production process.
St. Louis University
(1) Grigori Kozintsev, "AB: Parade of the Eccentric," Futurism/Formalism/ FEKS: 'Eccentrism' and Soviet Cinema 1918-36, ed. Ian Christie and John Gillett (London: British Film Institute, 1978), 13.
(2) Richard Taylor, The Politics of the Soviet Cinema 1917-1929 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1979), 144-45.
(3) Ayn Rand, "Red Pawn," The Early Ayn Rand, ed. Leonard Peikoff (New York: Signet, 1984), 156.
(4) In her 1958 foreword to We the Living (New York: Signet, 1987), Rand called it "as near to an autobiography as I will ever write" (xvii).
(5) Rand, "Red Pawn" 155.
(6) Michael S. Berliner, "Ayn Rand in Russia," Archives Annual 4 (2008): 12. 17 Sept. 2008 <http://www.aynrand.org/site/DocServer/volume4. pdf?docID= 1601>.
(7) In Cinema and Soviet Society, 1917-1953 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), Peter Kenez reports that between 1923-25, the precise years when Rand began recording in her film diary, the number of cinemas more than doubled (owing to the state's lowering of rental charges and of its taxes on tickets) and that a thriving film culture, complete with magazines and film reviews in newspapers, developed in the capital cities of Moscow and Leningrad (83).
(8) Berliner, "Ayn Rand" 12.
(9) Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature, rev. ed. (New York: Signet, 1971), 72.
(10) Ayn Rand, Letters of Ayn Rand, ed. Michael S. Berliner (New York: Plume, 1995), 408.
(11) Rand, Letters 408.
(12) Barbara Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand (New York: Doubleday, 1986), 57-58.
(13) In chapter three of her study Movies for the Masses: Popular Cinema and Soviet Society in the 1920s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), Denise Youngblood addresses Lev Kuleshov's complaints about "Americanitis" (50, 55).
(14) Olga Matich, "The White Emigration Goes Hollywood," The Russian Re view 64 (April 2005): 188.
(15) Paul Friedrich, "Binarism versus Synthesis: Eastern European and Generic Exile," Realms of Exile: Nomadism, Diasporas, and Eastern European Voices, ed. Domnica Radulescu (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2002), 163.
(16) Rand, Letters 395.
(17) Branden 57.
(18) Rand, Manifesto vi.
(19) Branden 19.
(20) Taylor 137.
(21) Jeff Britting, Ayn Rand (New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2004), 25-26.
(22) N. S. Gornitskaia, ed. Iz istorii Lentil'ma: Stat'i, vospominaniia, dokumenty. 1920-e gody. 2nd ed. (Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1970), 222, 224. Gudkin confirms the Sovietization of the Institute during Ermler's tenure there (111-12, 115).
(23) I. V. Sepman, ed., Fridrikh Ermler: Dokumenty, stat'i, vospominaniia (Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1974), 95.
(24) Gornitskaia, 112-13.
(25) For materials from the archives, see the aforementioned collection edited by N. S. Gornitskaia (222-38).
(26) Gornitskaia, 117.
(27) Youngblood 60.
(28) Youngblood 75.
(29) Ayn Rand, We the Living (New York: Signet, 1987), 383.
(30) Jay Leyda, Kino: A History of Russian and Soviet Film (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960), 189. Yuri Tsivian describes this process at length in "The Wise and Wicked Game: Re-Editing and Soviet Film Culture of the 1920s," Film History 8:3 (1996): 332-37.
(31) Youngblood 62. Vasil'ev is best known for co-directing the 1934 civil war film Chapaev.
(32) Rand, We 175.
(33) Rand, We 175.
(34) Ayn Rand, "Pola Negri," Russian Writings on Hollywood, ed. Michael S. Berliner (Ayn Rand Institute Press, 1999), 25, 26.
(35) Rand, "Pola Negri" 10.
(36) Rand, "Pola Negri" 10.
(37) Ayn Rand, "Gollivud: Amerikanskii kino-gorod," Russian Writings on Holly wood, ed. Michael S. Berliner (Ayn Rand Institute Press, 1999), 55.
(38) Rand, "Pola Negri" 20.
(39) Rand, "Gollivud" 58, 60.
(40) Indeed, Rand kept "an appendix of sorts" in the back of her diary with a list of favorite actors and actresses that is included in Russian Writings on Hollywood (112).
(41) Friedrich 164.
(42) For further production history of Tempest, see Harlow Robinson's Russians in Hollywood, Hollywood's Russians: Biography of an Image (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2007), 35-39.
(43) Ayn Rand, Journals of Ayn Rand, ed. David Harriman (New York: Plume, 1997), 15.
(44) Rand, Journals 10.
(45) Rand, Journals 10, 14, 15.
(46) Rand, Letters 5.
(47) Oksana Bulgakowa, "The 'Russian Vogue' in Europe and Hollywood: The Transformation of Russian Stereotypes through the 1920s," Russian Review 64 (April 2005): 231.
(48) Bulgakowa 232. Note that this also resembles the exchange in Josef von Sternberg's The Last Command (1928) in which a Tsarist Grand Duke sentences a revolutionary to prison and takes his love Natacha as a mistress.
(49) Rand had viewed several of Garbo's movies, and was pleased that she was considered when casting Dominique in The Fountainhead (Letters 132).
(50) Rand, "Red Pawn" 189.
(51) In "Russkie v Gollivude/Gollivud o Rossii," Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie 54:2 (2002): 403-28, Olga Matich outlines the Russian vogue in Hollywood of the 1920s and 1930s, while Bulgakowa discusses the Russian Western in connection with George W. Hill and Clarence Brown's The Cossacks (228-30).
(52) Rand, Letters 8.
(53) Rand, Letters 7-8.
(54) Rand, Letters 7.
(55) Rand, Journals 15-16.
(56) Rand, Letters 6.
(57) See Richard Taylor, ed., and William Powell, trans., Beyond the Stars (London: BFI Publishing, 1995) 286-88 and B. Pil'niak, O'kei: Amerikanskii roman (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1976) 532-35.
(58) Rand, Letters 430.
(59) Branden 57.
(60) Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York, Signet, 1985) 461.
(61) Rand, "Gollivud" 52.
(62) Rand, "Gollivud" 50.
(63) Anne C. Heller, Ayn Rand and the World She Made (New York: Doubleday, 2009) 84.
(64) Heller 84.
(65) Robert Mayhew, Ayn Rand and Song of Russia: Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2005), 77.
(66) Mayhew 75.
(67) Heller 127.
(68) Heller 77. Pola Negri, who had acted in a film entitled Woman on Trial (1927), attended the play on the opening night.
(69) Heller 126.
(70) Branden 154-55; Heller 127.
(71) Rand, Letters 15-16.
(72) Ayn Rand, "Ideal," The Early Ayn Rand, ed. Leonard Peikoff (New York: Signet, 1983), 290. Her interest in the theme of the actress is suggested by the outline of a play from the 1930s, "Serf Actress," on which she worked with Gladys Unger, a friend from the Hollywood Studio Club (Berliner, ed., Letters 41).
(73) Rand, "Gollivud" 15.
(74) Rand, "Ideal" 265, 245.
(75) Rand, "Ideal" 280.
(76) Rand, "Ideal" 282, 290.
(77) Rand, "Ideal" 219, 289-90.
(78) Rand, "Pola Negri" 20.
(79) Ayn Rand, "'The Fountainhead (unpublished excepts) 1938," The Early Ayn Rand, ed. Leonard Peikoff (New York: Signet, 1984), 417.
(80) Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (New York: Signet, 1971), 607.
(81) Rand, Fountainhead 172.
(82) Rand, Fountainhead 233.
(83) Rand, Fountainhead 662, 661.
(84) Rand, Atlas Shrugged 667.
(85) Rand, "Pola Negri" 22.
(86) Rand, Atlas Shrugged 719.
(87) Rand, Letters 430.
(88) Rand, Letters 316.
(89) Rand, Letters 316.
(90) Ayn Rand, Screen Guide for Americans, Journals of Ayn Rand, ed. David Harriman (New York: Plume, 1997), 360, 361.
(91) Rand, Manifesto 72.
(92) Rand, Guide 356.
(93) Rand, Letters 316.
(94) Rand, Guide 359, 362-63,364.
(95) Mayhew 97.
(96) Rand, Journals 372.
(97) Rand, Journals 373-76.
(98) Rand, Journals 380.
(99) Rand, Manifesto 72.
(100) Rand, Letters 402-3.
(101) Jeff Britting, "Adapting The Fountainhead to Film," Essays on Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, ed. Robert Mayhew (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007), 104.
(102) In The Fountainheads: Wright, Rand, the FBI and Hollywood (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), Donald Leslie Johnson includes an interesting discussion of how films that Rand viewed in her youth, such as Iakov Protozanov's Aelita (1924) and Fritz Lang's Metropolis" (1927), had an influence on the film's set design (134-36).
(103) Rand, Letters 429.
(104) Rand, Letters 378.
(105) Branden 213.
(106) Branden 213.
(107) Rand, Atlas 1030.
(108) See Britting's Ayn Rand for a fuller account of the history of the teleplay (114-18).
(109) Rand, "Gollivud" 66.
(110) Rand, Manifesto 72.
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