Originally written for Passionforcinema.com. The article has been originally published here.
First things first. People differ over what Fountainhead represents( whether it is right or wrong) and an endless debate is ensued over this fact, I don’t want to get into any of that. I intend to talk only about ‘Fountainhead the movie’.
What was strikingly different from the novel is the depth of characterization. In the novel’s beginning, you could feel for Roark’s frustration when he laughs sitting on the cliff or his indifference to everyone to the extent that he saw no one walking in the street so much so that he could have walked naked beyond concern. That is the relationship (love or loathe) one forms with Howard Roark in the first two pages of the novel. You can feel Roark’s frustration when he is sitting in the dean’s offixe and is being unfailingly persuaded by the dean. The dialogues between the dean and the student are fantastic.( Agreed, they are filmy and a bit impractical, but, so is the whole of premise of the novel, if you may so please). The dean is furious that Howard is unapologetic, the dean can’t believe that the name ‘Stanton’ can’t shake his will, that for the first time he has encountered someone who considers an individual above the institution, that the person who is going to expel the student feels more clueless than the student who is being expelled.
Contrary to the novel, the movie begins quite abruptly with Howard being in the dean’s office and he says that he will have to expel him. For someone, who might have not read the novel would take some seconds to gather, relax what’s happening? There is no conflict of ideas between the Neo and the established, between the unconventional man and the conventional world, no groundwork has been set, you don’t feel Roark’s stubbornness neither do you see Dean’s helplessness. And that was the beauty of the novel I feel. I mean, for a second, f**k all talk about Objectivism and everything, whether you buy it or not is inconsequential. What matters is every character in the novel was beautifully etched, and you could have easily said that I hate/love this character. There is no such feeling in the movie. And that, I feel is the problem of the movie. That it never goes deep into the psyche of the characters and just sets it up on the screen. Probably for the heCk of it. Everything happens in a daze, in a nonsensixal hurried fashion that makes you sit and wonder – what’s up with the pace? And that is my grievance with the film, that it doesn’t do justice to the novel. Now, some people might say they that had they gone into the history or detailing of every character the movie itself would have been too long. Yes. I agree there too, because if you go on to do full justice to the novel the movie could well be more than three hours long which would have been a torture in itself( or may be not. Who know? Gone with the wind, Lagaan, Sholay were all more than 210 minutes long!). Also, the characters in the novel are such that they are difficult to portray on screen. It is practically impossible to take out each and every detail from a book and incorporate that into a movie. I agree. Successful adaptations of the ‘Mystic River’, ‘The Godfather’ bolster this point.
So, my point is ‘The Fountainhead’ shouldn’t have been made into a movie. At least not the way they made it. Gary Cooper fails miserably as the ‘hero’. Or, may be anyone who will play Howard Roark will fail. Because, the image that people have come to associate with Howard Roark is difficult to fathom. Isn’t it difficult to portray someone who didn’t exist? Someone who will not exist?
Gary Cooper lacks conviction while delivering his lines, may be didn’t understand most of it. (he wanted the courtroom speech to be curtailed because he was finding it difficult to memories and understand most of the lines). When Cooper (Roark) refuses the commission for a bank, his ‘No’ is a flat. It lacks the authority. When Howard Roark says ‘No’ I expect it to spit fire on screen, the ‘No’ should spit venom, have the stamp of authority and pummel the man conversing him in such an ignominy that it makes a mockery of anyone who is even thinking of trying to convince Roark . When Henry Cameroon says on his death bed, Do you want to have a similar fate like me, Cooper’s ‘Yes’ is again non- authoritative. May be I’m expecting too much? May be I’m being a bit too judgmental? May be yes, because I almost adored the novel, the power of Rand’s writing blew me and compared to that the movie was pale. The main thing about Rand’s writing is you can either love her or hate her. She doesn’t allow you to tread a middle path, but, after watching the movie my emotions didn’t tilt towards any extreme (which certainly did while reading the novel). I was plain indifferent and disappointed.