Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Robb Shrugs, Discobulus Punts

With the release of part 1 of the new "Atlas Shrugged" movie, I've been cringing as each new trailer, excerpt or production detail comes out, and one of the kindest things I could say about it is that if Dagny was Lillian and Rearden was Paul Larkin and Lillian was Francisco and Rearden's brother Phillip was Al Capone and the producers worked for Barnum and Bailey -- it might make sense. 

Not everyone feels that way, and I could point to many who are excited and others who are merely phlegmatic, but a common theme among even those who dislike it mildly is that it could have been worse, and "heck, at least it will provide good P.R. for the book, get people reading Rand." 

Or not.

I've heard it enough that I am compelled to respond.  Here is where I think that analysis goes wrong:  under this approach, "Atlas Shrugged, the Travesty" is acceptable and a positive influence in the culture if it basically adheres to the book, and to the philosophy, and the characters follow the same action, with the same convictions.

But imagine the same standard for a sculpture, let's say.  Call it, "Discobulus", the famous work of ancient Greece.  Instead of a perfectly balanced, graceful man exuding thoughtful power in motion, imagine an incompetent artist trying to "interpret" this to his "honest" best -- I'm talking of a person of no or little training in art or human anatomy, trying to render such a theme.  Say it's Joe Sixpack or Peter Keating trying to be a great artist.

What would you get?

Awkward, poorly executed, distorted human form, embarrassing.  Now Peter puts it on display in the Louvre for all to see his "interpretation", and let's say that most people going through the Louvre had never seen the original.  Well, doubtless, you'd find a few people who would say, "that's nice", maybe even a few others with absolutely no knowledge of art till that moment who would say "great!" and they'd look at the sign below that says, "Rendering of Discobulus by Peter Keating".  "Wow, that Keating knows his stuff."  How many would track down the original?

Many others would walk past indifferently, others would walk past in disgust.  How many of those would say, "Boy, I'd sure like to see the original!  Which wing of this museum is it in? Let's go!!"

And how many others would say, "it may not be perfect, but hey, it's great P.R. for the original Greek statue!  It will really introduce a lot of people who never heard of it before!"

If that's not clear enough, now apply this approach to Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto with an amateur musician at the piano -- actually, not even an amateur, but someone who says, "hey, I know I've only been a bodybuilder my whole life, but I bet I can play the piano, too, without too much study!"  Someone who really, really likes the Second Concerto and wants to perform it.  For the world.  To help promote Rachmaninoff's music to the unenlightened.

I don't really have to explain this one, do I?


  1. Statistically, producing a movie based on a book increases book sales in the short term. It even increases them before the film comes out. I can't count the number of times I've heard someone say "Oh I want to read that before I go see the movie."

    Of course I've also thought about reading a book, then seen the movie and decided not to because I concluded the book would not be worth my time based on the film. But generally, it's pretty clear that films increase book sales.

    Further, everyone by default expects the film to differ from the book. They also generally expect the book to be better than the film, which makes them eager to read it if they even somewhat enjoy the film. People also aren't idiots. They know Ayn Rand is not even alive to approve the film. They know the difference between source material and interpretation.

    Looks like it won't matter, though, due to the extremely limited release. Most likely, only those already interested in the book will go through the trouble of finding a theater showing Atlas Shrugged: Part I.


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