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'The Fountainhead': Magnificent Confusion

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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I wish that I were reviewing one of the half-dozen movies certain to be made when this pox upon our house is no more. But until that glorious return to normality has us resuming all the simple joys of life we take for granted, like going to the movies, I'll be retro-reviewing and thereby sharing with you the films that I've come to treasure over the years, most of which can probably be retrieved from one of the movie streaming services. It is my fondest hope that I've barely put a dent into this trove when they let the likes of me back into the Bijou.

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"I wish I had never seen your building. It's the things that we admire or want that enslave us, I'm not easy to bring into submission."
 
Huh?
 
Thus spake Patricia Neal's feverishly and wonderfully portrayed Dominique Francon, second string architecture critic at The Banner, the newspaper around which all forms of loose-limbed philosophy are conjectured in Ayn Rand's notably controversial "The Fountainhead" (1949). It is to laugh, it is to take seriously, a feature-length rant about individualism, idealism, obligation to society, or not, and just about any thought under the sun that director King Vidor can shovel onto the screen from the screenplay Rand adapted from her novel.
 
I don't know what's more flummoxing: reading about Rand's literary impetus or watching this chief example of her convoluted mastery of head-scratching, grandiloquent contradiction. And yet, though this important author all but tells us to pay her no mind, that everything she posits is made of equal parts nonsense and severity, spun by a mad scientist's centrifuge into a cocktail of delirious confusion, I suspect there is some rhyme or reason in the illogicality.
 
It's so outrageously nuts. So much so, in fact, that my friend Bill and I used to make it an annual event to view it for the purpose of cackling and never ceasing to be amazed by the sheer audacity of its hyperkinetic exercise in uncertainty. I hope for a revival of that pilgrimage to the summit of theatricalism after the plague lifts.
 
You see, while there is a class of movie that is so bad that it is great fun to watch, "The Fountainhead," starring Gary Cooper as iconoclastic architect Howard Roark, targeted for martyrdom by evil architecture critic Ellsworth M. Toohey, is so paradoxical it's magnetizing.
 
Disbelief becomes entertaining. I've rummaged around newspapers for quite some time, and have never known someone from the critics' section to regularly hang out in the publisher's office and influence the paper's editorial stance.
 
Yet it is from the office of publisher Gail Wynand (Raymond Massey), where he is a regular fixture, that snarky Mr. Toohey weaves his malevolent web. Regrettably, perhaps it's because we've had a front row seat to the administration of spiteful, unmitigated villainy these last few years, that Toohey is "The Fountainhead's" least baffling character. He is jealous of true talent and wants to bring down Roark, much in the same way that Trump is obsessed with President Obama's aptitude and knack for the office he has muddled beyond disaster.
 
Following that analogy, I guess I should wash my hands for 20 seconds before moving on to the love story that intertwines with the series of pompous diatribes and noble soliloquys that serve as the plot. There is a resolve and despair in Dominique's passion for the brilliant, handsome and ruggedly irreverent Howard Roark that makes you wonder if she's going to kiss him to death or fling herself off a cliff just for the heck of it. And what's even crazier, either scenario would probably be just fine with the big guy. The main thing is that he gets to design buildings as he sees fit, with no compromise to any person or thing. He is the shining, daring counterpart to the sheep herding Wynand.
 
All of which, in what is an unleashing of contravening mind games from every crevice of the script, is why the publisher ultimately befriends the nonconformist golden boy. The ensuing relationship is the signature nub of this grand symphony in perplexing inconsistency, and might be the last straw for viewers who don't care that Neal and Cooper's sizzling chemistry practically legitimizes the over-the-top melodramatics.
 
And, applying the axiom that love conquers all, the histrionics about purpose and responsibility are no match for the steamy love scenes, bursting with all manner of unabashed suggestiveness. Roark's sweat-drenched manning of a jackhammer whilst a dayworker in a quarry as Dominique looks on is an overdose of embarrassment. But it's great.
 
Along the path of this no holds barred excess, Roark, via self-righteous orations you just don't hear in everyday conversation, and rarely in films for that matter, examples his ethos as a microcosm of the Founding Fathers' intentions. As egotistical as he is determined, Roark exclaims: "I am an architect. I know what is to come by the principle on which it (America) is built. We are approaching a world in which I cannot permit myself to live. My ideas are my property."
 
Yet while decidedly anti-collectivist in one breath, opposite and equal declarations concerning the greater good, especially when proffered as the justifying consequence of individualism, stoke the contradictory free-for-all's fire. If ever a movie chased its tail, was the filmic equivalent of Einstein's theory of relativity or needed to see a shrink, this is it. Still, whether by subliminal suggestion or a function of our optimism, there is the inkling that deep within its indiscernibility, "The Fountainhead" runneth over with some great truth.
 
"The Fountainhead," a Warner Bros. release directed by King Vidor, stars Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal and Raymond Massey. Running time: 114 minutes

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Tropical Storm Bringing Heavy Rain to Berkshires

A tropical storm heading north up the Atlantic coast could bring more rain to the Berkshires over the weekend. 
 
Dubbed "Fay," the storm began as a tropical depression off the coast of North Carolina midweek and formed late Thursday. 
 
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