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The Dramatic Story of Making “The Fountainhead” Movie

The movie adaptation of The Fountainhead was first released in theaters in July 1949, and it featured two of the era’s biggest stars, Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. But the making of that film was itself a dramatic story.

It’s a story of “how Ayn Rand sold the screen rights to The Fountainhead — without selling out.” That’s how Shoshana Milgram, a scholar who has studied Rand’s life and writings in depth, has described it. To learn about the making-of story, I turned to Dr. Milgram, a professor at Virginia Tech, whose knowledge of Rand’s intellectual and literary development is truly encyclopedic.

During our conversation, Dr. Milgram shared a wealth of fascinating details about Rand’s role in adapting her novel to the screen. Warner Bros. Studios hired Rand to write the script. Although the scope of a two-hour movie required a considerable delimitation of the story, Rand was intent on ensuring that the film would convey some of the distinctive thematic aspects of the book.

During filming and then in editing, there were further challenges that Rand had to navigate gingerly. For example, there was the attempt to substantially alter the meaning of a climactic courtroom speech that Rand viewed as critical to the theme. (Rand wrote about that conflict in a previously unpublished letter, now available on ARI’s site.)

Finally, we also talked about Rand’s delimited purpose in selling the film rights and her evaluation of the finished product. Near the end, Dr. Milgram shares her own thoughts about the film and a 2017 Dutch-language stage adaptation of The Fountainhead by the director Ivo van Hove.

The interview assumes some knowledge of the basic plot of The Fountainhead novel — though we tried to fill in some context and avoid plot spoilers for those who’ve not yet read the book.

Remember DVDs? Along with the feature film, these sometimes included a short behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the film. My interview with Dr. Milgram offers something like that kind of background for The Fountainhead adaptation.

A Conversation with Graeme Wood: What ISIS Really Wants

The Islamic State, or ISIS, was a grotesque enigma when it burst on the scene in 2014. After conquering vast tracts of Iraq and Syria, ISIS became notorious for beheadings and crucifixions, and for reinstating the practice of slavery. But to what end? What did ISIS really want? It soon became clear that our political and military leaders lacked anything like real understanding of the ISIS phenomenon.

Graeme Wood, a staff writer at The Atlantic, set out to answer a few simple, yet crucial questions: What is the Islamic State? Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The resulting article, “What ISIS Really Wants,” went viral. By one reckoning, it received more than a million pageviews the day it went online. It became one of the most-read digital articles of 2015, garnering nearly 100 million minutes of reading time.

Wood’s article was remarkable for debunking a common perception of ISIS as essentially a collection of psychopaths who had hijacked Islam for their own decidedly secular ends. His research led to a different conclusion: ISIS is in fact deeply Islamic. Its ends and means are bound up in sincerely held religious belief.

Building on that article, Wood wrote The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State, and recently I caught up with him to discuss his writings on jihadists. We explored the findings of his research, some of the opposing views, or counter-arguments, regarding what’s essential to the Islamic State, and the unwillingness of some scholars to take seriously the religious character of ISIS. Among other topics, we touched on the issue of “Islamophobia” and how it impedes discussion of jihadist ideas (an issue that came up in the attempt to shut down a panel discussion on Islamism that Wood and I took part in at University of Rochester).

A key takeaway from this conversation is that our intellectual and political leaders vastly under-appreciate, if not ignore, the role of ideas in animating the jihadist phenomenon.

Why Ayn Rand Opposed “Extremism”

What is “extremism”? Seems obvious, many people would say: just look at the actions of a white supremacist who shoots up a mosque or synagogue. Or a jihadist’s suicide attack. There are many other vicious acts that we commonly label as “extremism,” which one dictionary defines as “the holding of extreme political or religious views.”

But this term is nowhere near as clear as it seems.

Consider other views that are “extreme” (outermost, farthest from the center, calling for drastic steps). For example, when Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, it was an “extreme” political view to be against monarchy and for individual liberty. At the time of slavery, it was an “extreme” view to be an uncompromising advocate for abolition. And, whereas racism and Islamic totalitarianism are vicious, clearly it is morally right to be for liberty and abolition. But all of these examples — given how the term is commonly used — could be labeled “extremism.”

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Why Rand Was Right to Testify Against Hollywood Communism

In 1947, during what some call the “McCarthy Era,” Ayn Rand was asked to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on the influence of Communism in Hollywood. She appeared as a “friendly witness.”

The standard verdict on these hearings, and on Rand’s participation, is unequivocal condemnation: The hearings were an inquisition that destroyed the careers of “blacklisted” filmmakers, ruined lives, and trampled the First Amendment. And the “friendly witnesses,” such as Rand, who testified voluntarily, were guilty of abetting an anti-Communist witch hunt.

The only problem with this standard assessment is that it’s totally wrong.

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Photo by Sasha • Stories on Unsplash

The Vice of Nationalism

Nationalism is clawing its way back. At a rally last October, Donald Trump galvanized the audience by declaring himself a proud nationalist. Europe, too, is witnessing the growing influence of political parties advocating nationalism. Even as nationalism has entered the political mainstream, it remains intellectually disreputable.

But Yoram Hazony, a political scholar, wants to redeem nationalism and rehabilitate its reputation. His book The Virtue of Nationalism is bound to resonate with a swath of intellectuals and voters, here and in Europe, who thrill when Trump and other politicians hammer on nationalist themes. Hazony presents a conception of nationalism with soft edges, one that is supposedly compatible with some measure of liberty. And therein lies part of the book’s danger. It is calm, erudite, and theory-heavy. The book attempts to provide a serious, intellectual case for embracing nationalism.

Read on.

 

 

Photo by Dawid Małecki on Unsplash

An Individualist Perspective on the Middle East

In three recent interviews, I examined the importance of adopting an individualist, rather than tribal or collectivized, perspective in evaluating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and understanding the Middle East. But the focus of each interview was different.

On The Reed Hour podcast, I had a lively conversation with Lawrence Reed, outgoing president of the Foundation for Economic Education, about my book What Justice Demands: America and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. I also appeared on the Ross Kaminsky Show, airing on KHOW and iHeartRadio.com. In both of these interviews, I talked quite a bit about recent policy concerning the conflict.

Some weeks before that, I was interviewed by Paul Taske for the Immigration and Human Rights Law Review, a journal that “seeks to promote awareness, knowledge and discussion on current matters of law and policy in the fields of immigration and human rights as well as their intersection.” Taske steered our discussion toward issues related to international law and Palestinian grievances.

Here’s my conversation on The Reed Hour (my segment starts at the 11:34 mark).

This is my segment from the Ross Kaminsky Show, and here’s “On the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Conversation with Elan Journo,” an edited transcript of the Taske interview on the blog of the Immigration and Human Rights Law Review.

What Justice Demands is available in hardcover, Kindle, and audiobook.

 

[Cross-posted from New Ideal.]

Photo by Lena Bell on Unsplash

What Would A Palestinian State Actually Look Like?

The Trump administration is poised to announce a “Deal of the Century” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hints and leaks suggest that the proposal would stop short of endorsing the goal of a sovereign Palestinian state. That prospect has pushed some into mourning.

The Trump plan, writes distinguished American diplomat William Burns, will likely be “a eulogy for the two-state solution.” The administration is about to “bury the only viable plan” for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The goal of a Palestinian state is commonly seen as an obvious good – and the fact that it has yet to be realized, a mark of shame for Israel and the United States. But, whatever the actual terms and merits of President Donald Trump’s proposal, we need to question the diplomatic article of faith that Palestinian statehood is necessary for peace.

If you care about justice and the rights of individuals – of Palestinians and Israelis – here is a crucial question seldom asked. What would such a Palestinian state actually look like?

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