by Dean Brandum
With an adaptation of Atlas Shrugged finally hitting the screens (and slinking out quickly, its boxoffice would indicate), I got to thinking about the other, infamous Ayn Rand cinema excursion, King Vidor’s The Fountainhead (1949). As detested as it is by some critics, I actually find it most loopily enjoyable.
Anyway, the hero of the story is Howard Roarke, a brilliant architect who refuses to compromise his designs to placate the dimwitted, the close-minded, anyone who wants a neo-Roman touch or anyone who wants to include amenities that may be beneficial to poor people. Yeah, he’s a helluva guy.
So in the movie he is played by Gary Cooper and in one pivotal scene he unveils his masterpiece –
Unique and with no concession to architectural traditions, this skyscraper’s beauty lay in its pure functionality. Patricia Neal swooned, but sadly the scared, lunk-headed public would not buy such a proposition. Poor Howie becomes a martyr to all those free-thinkers unwilling to bend to the collective.
Were such a situation ever to occur many of us would be outraged at such talent and ideology being so encumbered. But the very first time I saw The Fountainhead (maybe 25 years ago) something struck be about the design presented in the film. What cinema’s Howard Roarke had essentially designed were Melbourne’s Gas and Fuel Buildings.
Completed in 1967 and despised by the public from the day they opened, there was close to a mass celebration when they were finally torn down in 1997 to make way for the generally well-liked Federation Square complex.
And you can make of that what you will.