It's odd that Ayn Rand, the scourge of many a college literature major, would suddenly become the darling of the ultra-right wing Tea Party movement. Oh sure, she believes in full blown laissez-faire capitalism and the ultimate freedom of the individual, but her surreal supremacist viewpoint (evolution has nothing on her 'survival of the fittest' philosophy) and deadly literary tomes (have any of the baggers even read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead?) lack the legitimate makings of a socio-political figurehead. Instead, she's like an intellectualized Russian Émigré Bible, built to be interpreted (and misinterpreted) by those without the context of who she really is and where she came from. Hoping to remedy the mystery of her past, E One has put together a collection of her most famous interviews (Mike Wallace in the '50s, Phil Donahue in the '70s) and meshed them to a narrative in which the author herself describes her upbringing, her fascinations, and her desire to find an ultimate man or hero amongst the meaningless human rabble. While not an eye opener for those who know her work, it might be a brain buster for those who've turned her into an (incomplete) icon.
Divided into "chaptersr" and beginning with her birth, Ayn Rand: In Her Own Words is a decent portrait of a far more complicated individual. Since we are getting her version of the "facts" through interviews, the 'horse's mouth' remains intact. Her perspective, however, is skewed, since many of these Q&As came after she had been declared an important thinker. She adores her father and belittles her mother. She makes her time in Tinseltown seem like a walk in the Depression era park (why? Because she was GREAT at what she did...) and argues for her books as major important pieces of - dare one say - art. All the while, she is probed by Wallace and Donahue, providing polished answers to obviously anticipated inquiries. Along the way, we learn of her husband, hear nothing about a lover she supposedly took (which formed the basis of the Helen Mirren cable TV movie The Passion of Ayn Rand) and watch as she waltzes around Objectivism as the primary position she advocates. In the end, we get nearly 20 minutes of incomprehensible contradiction, Rand finally faulted for being unable to use her philosophy as the basis for a sound overall principle.
Rand has a reputation among professors as a beginner's level philosopher. Her ideas - complete freedom, super-man idealized, no government interference...EVER!, and no strings attached economic opportunism - are often melded to misguided application ("this means I can hole up in my house with a mess of guns and sell crack and Uncle Sam can't do a damn thing about it, right?") and simplified insistence. Among those who teach and judge debate technique, she's as logically lethal as mentioning Hitler or name dropping Dr. Martin Luther King. The truth is, Rand is a direct byproduct of her past, a world where she was a snotty underage sophisticate among a competitive family that felt the same, a child of privilege perched inside two horrifically oppressive regimes. Her concepts come in direct correlation to her living under czarist, and then communist, rule and many of her bigger conceits derive from fantasies she had after reading illustrated turn of the century boy's adventure tales (no joke - and you though Scientology was weird...). While she champions the rational mind and a lack of altruism, she also mixes her inspirational metaphors and bogs down in the density of her own varying visions.
Perhaps this is why the first two thirds of Ayn Rand: In Her Own Words is so interesting. Whether she is talking about her childhood, describing her time in Hollywood, or her eventual success as an author, we are riveted by how Rand views herself and her history. Again, she has her spiel down pat, and she's not about to let a young gun like Mike Wallace or an old hat like Phil Donahue dissuade her. Of course, her own thoughts occasionally deceive her, especially toward the end when her core concepts are challenged and forced into circumstantial holes. Besides, there is much more to this woman that what is offered here. Some revile her as a fascist more dangerous than the various regimes (Lenin, Stalin, Third Reich) she argued against. Indeed, she proposes no welfare state whatsoever, people (and more importantly, their offspring) allowed to fend for themselves...and fall by the social wayside if they can't. She loves industry and business, celebrates the corporation and a clear lack of any regulation whatsoever. Of course, one could argue that this application leads us to 2008 and the worldwide global financial meltdown. Rand would probably say "good!"
Rand is also never challenged on her biggest flaw - her writing. Her novels have a meticulous, manufactured nature, never skewing from her carefully prepared notes and outlines. She has a point to make with every character, a mission in leading the narrative in certain directions. Sure, they can be wildly entertaining, but she's like the Arthur Hailey of vacant scholarship. Her books are loaded with melodrama, sex, dramatic coincidence, stereotypes, formulas, and in the end, hackneyed humanism. She really does believe that, given the opportunity without infringement, people will perform admirably. Morality doesn't enter into it, since these completely free individuals will turn around and make sure that life is fair so that their playing field is the same. What? Clearly the woman lived nearly 50 years ago. Today, none of that applies. Of course, Rand could argue that this is the direct result of the limits imposed by society and the government, but such a position seems skewed. When it deals with her life, Ayn Rand: In Her Own Words, is excellent. When it moves beyond, it's basically bunk.
E One Entertainment does a nice job with this full frame disc, the 1.33:1 aspect ratio containing lots of mixed media elements (stock footage, still photos, movie clips) that look excellent. The lack of scope is not a big problem, since most of what Rand is talking about (and in) come from the old school analog days. The colors are a tad faded and some of the material is marred by age issues, but for the most part, this is a good looking DVD.
While the Dolby Digital mix does clear up some of the source material's flaws, you can't really hide the thinness of 1950s TV sound. Similarly, the '70s stuff is okay, but not sonically Earth shattering. Various stock sounds are added in and the musical score seems lifted from several different sources. Still, Rand's comments are loud and clear, and that's all that really matters here.
We end up with about six more minutes of material among the disc's added content. There's a bit about her childhood parties, more on Fountainhead character Howard Roark, a look back at meeting Alan Greenspan, and something called "Comments on Culture Today" which seems odd when you consider Rand died almost 30 years ago (1982). Granted, some of what she says is prophetic. More times than not, its engaging falderal.
If you struggle to understand the basics of Rawl's Theory of Justice, if the notion of Cogito Ergo Sum throws you completely off, then Ayn Rand's "be yourself, all others be damned" attitude is going to wholly win you over. She's a small Russian revolutionary in your mind, a woman to be praised instead of picked apart for her "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" happenstance. For that contingency, In Her Own Words will be a Highly Recommended journey into a whole new dogma. For everyone else, this will be an easily Recommended remedial course. If you really want to know what Ayn Rand stands for, head over to Barnes and Noble (or fire up your Kindle) and read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. If you still think she's a sage after that, you can gladly give this 70 minute overview an informed free will thumbs up.