Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Note about the New Atlas Shrugged Project

Breaking from my usual regimen of politics- and Islam-bashing – and interrupting work on a column on immigrants and ignorance – I surrendered to the imperative of penning a note about the proposed new film project of Atlas Shrugged. The diversion is prompted by the announcement on November 1st in the New York Times, “Producer of ‘The Godfather’ Lands Rights to ‘Atlas Shrugged’ Novel,” that Albert Ruddy will try his hand at producing a TV version of the novel.

 It was not so much the article as it was the ominous statements contained in it by Ruddy that bothered me to distraction.

Albert S. Ruddy, whose credits include “The Godfather,” plans to make a six- to eight-hour TV version of “Atlas Shrugged…. It took a while — more than 40 years, actually.

But…Ruddy, a movie and television producer who does not like to quit, has landed rights to make his passion project: a screen version of “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s Objectivist bible.

Note the gratuitous reference to the novel as the “Objectivist bible.”  The New York Times, like other mainstream publications that purport to be the bellwethers of culture, has never been kind, fair, or objective about anything Rand has ever written.  The two most notorious reviews of Atlas, when it debuted in 1957, were by Granville Hicks, a Marxist, in the New York Times, and by Whittaker Chambers, a conservative, in the National Review. That is apropos: a Communist and a Conservative teamed together to excoriate a true but hated and feared radical.

At first, on seeing Ruddy’s photograph and deceived by the straight headline of MIchael Cieply’s article, a zinger of hope rose up in me. After all, Ruddy, unlike John Aglialoro, who attempted to film the novel, was a seasoned producer with about half a century of experience over Agliaboro.

Ruddy bought the rights to the novel from Aglialoro, telling him, “You shot the book, not the movie,” Mr. Ruddy remembers telling Mr. Aglialoro, in explaining why he should let Mr. Ruddy try again.

In truth, Aglialoro did not “shoot the book.”

 His three abortions of Atlas bore as little resemblance to the novel as Russell Crowe’s Noah is a credible representation of Noah and the Biblical Flood. The Bible, the Torah, and the Koran are all basically works of fiction, as well, and Hollywood has always played fast and loose with their highly improbable men and events, their impossible metaphysics, and their astrological cosmology.

Statement No. 1 of Ruddy’s that is highly dubious in its connotations and groundless in the assertion:

Mr. Ruddy, whose canon includes films as varied as “The Godfather” and “The Cannonball Run,” almost had a deal back in the early 1970s, when he wooed Ms. Rand personally while sitting on a small couch in New York.

But Ms. Rand, who had left the Soviet Union in the 1920s and feared the Russians might acquire Paramount Pictures to subvert the project, wanted script approval; Mr. Ruddy, as adamant as she was, declined. “Then I’ll put in my will, the one person who can’t get it is you,” Mr. Ruddy recalls being told by Ms. Rand, who died in 1982.

A person who was close to Rand in those years has a different account of the meeting.

First, either Al Ruddy's memory or his honesty is defective. Ayn Rand told me the gist of it herself, a year or two after it happened, and others relayed the same account: Ruddy agreed 100% to her terms, which of course meant total script control, she warned him that Hollywood would put up a fight, he asserted to her that that would not be a problem for him, then he went back to Hollywood . . . and no one ever heard from him again.

As to the miniseries he will make, it promises to be worse than Aglialoro's movie. It will drastically change the philosophic message, and bids fair to end up, believe it or not, as being, by implication, anti-businessman. The… "updating" he seems to have in mind involves the heroes not just "withdrawing their sanction" and refusing to produce for the looters, but actively sabotaging things.

“Personally wooed Ms. Rand” is a link to a New York Times article from 2007, “Ayn Rand No Longer Has Script Approval,” which details Ruddy’s and others’ earlier efforts to film the novel for the big screen. That article also seemed to celebrate the chance of disregarding Rand’s concern that both the script and the movie would be unrecognizable by the time Hollywood put the story through the wringer. Did Rand actually tell Ruddy that her will would specify that he would not be allowed to film the over the script approval issue? That’s as much an unsubstantiated claim as Ruddy and Rand discussing the project in a love seat.

Rand expressing her concerns to Ruddy that the Soviets might acquire Paramount pictures and squelch any production of Atlas is likewise apocryphal and unsubstantiated. Like many other things ascribed to Rand, it was included to make her look silly and paranoid.

Mr. Ruddy, who is working up an outline for a writer or writers yet to be named, sees his rendition as a love story, built squarely around its commanding female protagonist, Dagny Taggart. (Angelina Jolie was in line for an earlier, never-made version.)

The main thing, Mr. Ruddy said, is to honor Ms. Rand’s insistence on making a film for the future. That means redrawing its capitalists and creators, who go on strike against creeping collectivism, as figures more familiar than the railroad heiress and industrial titans who figured in a book that was first published in 1957.

John Aglialoro “redrew” all of novel’s characters that he chose to portray. They were unrecognizable. But, what does Ruddy mean when he states that Rand insisted on “making a film for the future”? Did he or the article’s author mean “of the future”?

I once saw a university production of Othello, set in South Africa, in which most the principal characters, dressed in combat khaki, delivered their lines, their dialogue, and soliloquies using cell phones. (I walked out after Act One, as did half the audience.)  Now, that was “for the future,” and the characters were “familiar.” It was a “relevant” production of an old play, geared to appeal to the young, the feckless, and the ignorant.

“When you look at guys like Jeff Bezos, he’s not only doing Amazon, he wants to colonize Mars,” Mr. Ruddy said. He spoke by telephone last week of his plan for a mini-series in which an Internet blackout led by Bezos-like figures might shut down cellphones, banks and almost everything else.

The novel is about the role of the mind in man’s existence, and what happens when men withdraw their minds and the fruits of their minds from the world. It is not about the men of the mind committing jihad against society or a nation by sabotaging the system. In just that one statement, Ruddy reveals he has less of a grasp of the novel than did Aglialoro.

As for concerns about faithful Rand fans objecting to any liberties he might take with the book, Mr. Ruddy said he had none. “If you can reimagine the Old Testament and the New Testament,” he said, “why can’t I reimagine Ayn Rand?”

Well, Mr. Ruddy, no one is stopping you. The Old and New Testaments have been “reimagined” countless times in Hollywood, so that’s nothing new. If he winds up “reimagining” Atlas Shrugged so that it’s “relevant,” he will have lost me. In fact, he will have made an enemy of me. A “faithful” making of the novel into film isn’t his concern. He’s got to make a “with it” Atlas Shrugged, just as Aglialoro’s was “with it,” complete with cell phones.

All one can say about Mr. Ruddy is that he has succumbed to the myopia of the times.  Mr. Ruddy is eighty-five years old, proving that old age isn’t necessarily a mark of wisdom.  

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