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‘Selfish Cinema’: Guest Speaker Lisa Downing (University of Birmingham)
27th March 2017 @ 15:30 - 17:30
“Selfish Cinema: Questions of Gender and Control in Adaptations of Ayn Rand for the Screen”, Professor Lisa Downing (University of Birmingham)
Date and Time: Monday 27 March 2017, 15:30-17:30
Venue: MR rooms, University of Exeter
This paper examines onscreen representations of the work and legacy of influential, pro-capitalist writer and philosopher Ayn Rand, infamous for her theory of selfishness as a virtue. It explores two films: King Vidor’s The Fountainhead (1949), based on Rand’s 1943 novel, for which she was screen writer, and Chris Menaul’s The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999), an adaptation of Barbara Branden’s biography of Rand, starring Helen Mirren. The Fountainhead tells the story of Rand’s ideal heroic man, Howard Roark (Gary Cooper), an individualistic architect whose single-minded desire is to design and execute his vision of what a building should be: formally, functionally, and aesthetically. In her collaboration with Vidor, Rand demanded – and obtained – a degree of control over the film that was almost unprecedented for a writer in Hollywood at the time, made all the more extraordinary by the fact that she was a woman in a very male-dominated industry. In the film, Roark functions as Rand’s onscreen representative and his literal, architectural edifices convey in physical form the audacity of Rand’s philosophical one. The Passion of Ayn Rand, by contrast, paints an intimate portrait of Rand’s personal life and details the emotional control and manipulation she exerted over her husband, lover, friends and followers. In Menaul’s film, stripped of a heroic (male) onscreen representative or alter ego, the Randian character as a female selfish subject is rendered both vulnerable and monstrous in ways that I argue are specifically gendered. More broadly, then, the two filmic examples enable me to explore the gender politics firstly of film adaptation and biopic representation, and secondly of the philosophy of selfishness.