The Fountainhead | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

The Fountainhead 

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Stanley Tigerman has picked King Vidor's 1949 version of Ayn Rand's novel as the first in a series of four films selected by four local architects. By some accounts Frank Lloyd Wright's writings helped inspire the book, whose lead character, Howard Roark, is a visionary architect who brooks no compromises and ultimately blows up one of his buildings when its design is altered. But Rand's architect is utterly unlike Wright, who on reading the novel's early chapters wrote that Roark could "never lick the contracting partnership," and later deflected an offer to design the movie's sets by demanding his usual commission--10 percent of the total budget; one irony is that many of Roark's buildings are in styles Wright hated. The film, with a screenplay by Rand, is alternately serious and silly. Its "serious" parts (espousing Rand's "objectivist" philosophy) are often sillier than the dated love story. But Vidor's camera manages to find gold amid the dross. The city skyline--seen through the windshield of an ambulance, out of a large office window, or from an ascending construction elevator at the film's end--is endowed with a peculiar power, akin to the landscapes in war movies or westerns: it becomes the battleground against which individual struggles are played out. The film's stylized set design, point-of-view shots, film noir lighting, and off-balance compositions create an intensely subjective atmosphere; the camera isolates characters at key moments, making the viewer feel that the action is propelled solely by the power of their personal wills. Roark is squarely in the tradition of classic Hollywood heroes, from Thomas Dunson in Red River to Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly, who operate almost purely on instinct. Tigerman will lead a discussion at the screening. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Thursday, November 2, 6:00; 443-3737.

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