on November 3, 2003
I just finished looking at "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life" and I must say I am so happy to have found this DVD. It is an insightful portrayal of Ayn. The interviews with Ayn and her discussing her philosophy of objectivism, are priceless. What a wonderful way to learn about her. Also the story has so many scenes of old New York that are so exciting. All I can say is if you want to know about Ms Rand, buy this DVD. You will not be sorry.
on September 7, 2002
This was a pleasant surprise. I'm somewhat familiar with Rand, and found it to be informative without getting too involved or morose. It seems the circle of philosopers, students and naysayers miss the object of the film entirely. It is merely a study of Rand, highlighting certain outstanding aspects of her life and work. It is formatted to draw in those who have a passing interest to get a better understanding of this complex woman. The film lets the viewer better understand the unpopular views she held, that continue to ruffle feathers, especially in todays crippling politically correct environment. Her frank views of altruism and collectivism seem to be a "revelation" of sorts given the events surrounding 9/11. Those views expose the underlying truths about our enemies and ourselves. I'll let the viewer decide whom is engaging in what behavior. The most unappealing critiques on this film seem to be from Charismatic Christians and overtly hoity self-proclaimed philosophers/experts. It was insightful and a must see for anyone, especially Americans in these perious times.
on August 29, 2002
Sharon Gless's narration for this video was a bit too sugary for my sensitive United Kingdom ears. That aside, I thought the programme was interesting and well organised, with the strange omission of anything to do with her funeral and subsequent burial alongside her beloved Frank. Frank is given quite a lot of screen time to flesh out his background - barely covered in any other material that I have seen - and comes across in a much more favourable light than usual. I get the impression that the Big-Brains who have written articles about Ayn Rand resented the fact that Ayn loved Frank.
The contrast between Ayn Rand relaxing in her Californian, Neutra designed house, and the images of the Russia she left behind, less than 20 years earlier, was somewhat dramatic: such a style of living only attainable by those in the higher echelons of government, and not at all possible for an ordinary person, as she was in the US. This was further amplified by: her testimony at the Senate hearings where she pointed out that unless one had lived under a regime such as she had emigrated from, her testimony would seem to be rather fantastical to an average American, etc; her private train carriage - like Dagny Taggart's - for her final, New Orleans lecture trip; and how her sister, Nora - a set designer in Russia - had fared.
The interviews with Leonard Peikoff were good to watch, as were those of others who knew her.
Unfortunately this video is a US release only, in the NTSC format. This isn't a problem for playback in the UK, since most VCRs, nowadays, will play both PAL and NTSC. But shelling out another ($$$) for import duty is a bit of a bummer.
on July 17, 2002
This is definitely worth viewing for its detailed account of her early days and for the great clips of her on TV interviews. I originally read Atlas Shrugged in 1988 and I had never seen her on tape or even heard her voice, except a clip off the internet of her saying: "Check your premises." So for that I was rather pleased with this movie. But of course it's biggest flaw is that for a Objectivist there is nothing remotely controversial in this movie about her character or behavior. Nathaniel Brandon is glossed over and quickly dismissed. I'm not suggesting the movie should have been taudy in that regard, but it surely could have made more clear how long he was with her and how much he meant to her. And it could have at least mentioned her irrational behavior following all of that. But then I was surprised Leonard Peikoff even acknowledged the affair.
No mention is made either of how hard it was for Frank O'Connor to leave California and move to New York, nor is any mention made of his increased drinking. Reality might have been of utmost importance to Ayn Rand, but then the mind has a way of seeing the reality one only wants to see, and she was no different. And these filmmakers didn't want to upset Leonard Peikoff and the rest of her Objectivist heirs.
Still if you're interested in Any Rand, I highly recommend Sense of Life. She was a remarkable human being, and God bless her.
on August 17, 2001
I saw The Fountainhead (which she wrote with complete script control) long before I'd heard of Ayn Rand. Then I discovered that someone took this nonsense seriously... well, that's disturbing. I mean she's gotta be a kook, right?
Then along comes "Sense Of Life", which explains it all.
Remember, Pro-Rand are happy to espouse her benevolent Super-Man theories, and Anti-Rand relish calling her fascist. Ironically neither are really true.
See "..Sense Of Life"
I always thought her writing was juvenile (an ancestor of todays TV Soaps), and her politics naive. I had no idea how right I was.
See "..Sense Of Life"
Bottom line: Ayn Rand's "philosophy" is a little girl fantasizing about lantern jawed silent serial heroes (all of them in America) from her village in Russia. Look at Gary Cooper; look at her husband; look at the charlatan intellecual she had her affair with. They ALL LOOK THE SAME.
See "..Sense Of Life"
If you've seen The Fountainhead, she's Dominique, and her husband is Ray Massey. But her real life Cooper turns out to be a bum. Yeah -- that's A Sense Of Life, Ayn! Don't forget the Architect or Architects (albeit self-proclaimed, Frank Lloyd Wright) took a few steps back from her material, too.
See "..Sense Of Life"
And yet I have to respect the woman. She fought for everything she had. She *earned* everything.
See this film. Love her or hate her, you'll thank her for the documentary. And it's not like anyone of VOTING AGE (except perhaps for George Bush Jnr) takes her seriously.
on April 1, 2001
The three stars that I gave this DVD, a gift from a special friend, an ardent student of Miss Rand and Objectivism, does not mean that I did not enjoy this documentary tremendously. I am not the most ardent fan of Miss Rand although I greatly admire the one book of hers that I read, "The Fountainhead," for its astounding literary merits. I have started reading "Atlas Shrugged," considered her masterpiece, even better than "The Fountainhead." Indeed, I am vaguely uneasy about the "cult" of personality that developed around her, and because the documentary did not address this issue, which has fascinated me, I am giving the documentary three stars only--the HBO movie with Helen Mirren, "The Passions of Ayn Rand" was more revealing about her followers, the impact of Objectivism on its followers, and how inter-connected Rand became with some of her admirers. In other words, I do not know that much more about Miss Rand because of this documentary, but I did enjoy watching it first because it was given to me by a dear friend who admires Miss Rand, and secondly because I realized how strong one person's will can be as Rand's will was so strong that it propelled her out of one world so vastly different from the one that she ended up in. Of course I am talking about Russia as her original world and America as her new world. However, I vaguely felt that there were many pieces about her life like the Center for the Advancement of Objectivism (and any impact it may have had on today's intelligensia), which should have been addressed in the documentary. I would also have liked the documentary to reveal more about her notorious and later bitter relationship with Nathaniel Branden, with whom she carried on a love affair for many years with the consent of her loving and loyal husband Frank O'Connor, a topic that the documentary almost dodged. I also would have liked to know more about Rand's more joyful relationships with people like Leonard Peikoff, her intellectual and legal heir, and Alan Greenspan, the current Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, the U.S.'s central bank. But for anyone new to Rand who wants the quick and dirty (the DVD is 144 minutes however) on the chronology of her extraordinary life, this is a pleasant and well put together narrative.
I did find extremely fascinating though, sort of as an after thought of the DVD, the whole parallelism I saw with Rand's life from when she was born in 1905 to when she died in 1983, with that of the struggle of America as it became the emergent leader of the free world at the end of the 20th Century. The America that Rand loved and abandoned Russia for, and which she extolled for its egoism and value of the individual will, became the triumphant "winner" in the great experiment of free market and democracy versus altruism (that of sacrificing individualism for the good of the masses), collectivism and communism. It is sad that Rand was not alive in 1989, just six years after her death, to see the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rand would have enjoyed seeing that which she said should happen: that rationalism of man should win out over the irrationalism of man, and that rationalism is choosing that which is good for the individual, and that to her, America represented the greatest achievement of the rational man and triumph of individualism.
One more thing: Rand said that the self should not exist before work. I take this to heart as I learned how disciplined she was about her writing. As an aspiring writer, I have to realize that the self should not exist, that comes later. First comes work. There can only be work. Work, work, work, she said, which means, write, write, write to me as it was to her. This, I take as a lesson, from the documentary.
on February 18, 2001
Ayn Rand may be the person about whom the most stupid things have been written, except for the whole class of people about whom only stupid things can be written. Numerous commentators have improvized themselves experts on her thought and proceeded to demolish it in what they were probably convinced was a very clever way. Numerous others, while proclaiming to be her genuine admirers, have tried to make her a virtual monster by blowing some aspects of her life and personality out of proportion, and projecting on her all sorts of morbid fantasies.
*Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life*, on the other hand, maybe the most perceptive concise presentation of Rand's life and works ever made (and as no full-length treatment is available as yet, this is high praise indeed.)
First, it is a first-rate documentary, rivalling with Ken Burns's widely acclaimed works. It is perfect in its structure, roughly following Ayn Rand's life and seamlessly integrating the more philosophical discussions with the biographical material. It is rich in period detail and source materials, from manuscripts and photos to period films, extracts from movie adaptations or theatrical productions of Rand's works, and highlights from her few TV appearances. And it abounds in perceptive interviews with individuals who knew Rand personally and who, for the most part, devoted their careers to studying her philosophy: mostly PhD's like John Ridpath, Harry Binswanger, Michael Berliner or, last but not least, Leonard Peikoff.
But if Ken Burns had done a documentary on Rand, he would certainly have gotten the ideas wrong, as when he tried to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson's theory of individual rights in his biography of the Founding Father, and the whole sense of life of the work would have been totally off, with actors reading lines from Rand's writings in melancholy tones, as if they were about to drown themselves.
So what Michael Paxton has accomplished is a miracle: he has combined the know-how of a Ken Burns with a flawless understanding of Objectivism and of Rand herself. All the fundamentals of her philosophy are presented, and I could not spot a single misrepresentation of them. All the stages of Rand's life are included, down to the small details which a less consciencious biographer might have missed, but which reveal so much about what she was as a person, such as her fondness for what she called her "tiddlywink music"-light-hearted popular music of the early twentieth century.
The documentary even made me cry twice: when the actress impersonating Kay Gonda, in a short extract from Rand's 1934 play *Ideal*, said: "I can't forget the man on the rock" (whom we should all thank Rand for reminding us of); and when Rand testified for the HUAC and described the conditions she had experienced in Soviet Russia under Lenin. I had just watched a documentary on the 200,000 abandoned orphans who live off the streets in North Korea, and the whole families imprisoned and brutalized in concentration camps by the Communist government, and as Rand's words connected with the images I had seen, I understood what she was fighting against with what Leonard Peikoff called the concreteness of a truck speeding towards me.
*Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life* also reveals surprising facets of Rand's life and personality. An atheist, she met her future husband on the set of De Mille's *The King of Kings*, where she worked as an extra, chanting hosannas to Jesus; and she "felt a benevolent inevitability that they would meet again". An arch-egoist, she admonished herself in her diary: "No thought whatever about yourself, only about your work." And an admirer of America's wealth and glamour, she found Los Angeles "overcrowded, vulgar, cheap and sad."
*Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life* is perhaps the best place to start for anyone who wants to know more about this "American born on Russian soil" who may well have been the greatest woman who ever lived. For further biographical information, this film can be supplemented by David Harriman's edition of Rand's Journals, and Michael Berliner's edition of her Letters.
on January 18, 2001
I saw this movie when it was playing in Washington D.C. a few years ago. I took some friends who had no prior knowledge of what Objectivism is about. We did not know what to expect going into the movie, so we went with no expectations (good or bad). I was pleased with the movie for what it was...a movie about the Woman behind the Philosophy. I have read several of Ayn Rand's works...fiction and non-fiction and I really did not need to see a movie about Objectivism for I am familiar with it's premise and concepts. In this regard, the movie was a pleasant surprise. The movie gave insight into Ayn Rand's personality and passion, not her Philosophy.
Those wishing to find out what Objectivism is really about should read MORE of her works than just Anthem. Anthem, as is the case with many writers, is a sophmoric entry into the world of literature. I also read Anthem and found it to be a fabulous story...very inspiring and highly motivating. Paying close attention to the message in Anthem, one finds that Logan's Run, THX-1138, and many other movies are fashioned after the concepts and premise found in this book.
One reviewer was unable to fully appreciate this documentary for what it was and made snide remarks regarding this movie as well as attacking Ayn Rand, the Woman. Please do not limit yourself to this misinformed viewer's opinion. This person needs to read her works to fully appreciate what her Philisophy is all about as this movie does not delve into that subject matter enough.
Please see this movie for what it is...This is a story about the Woman behind the Philosophy.
p.s. My friends also enjoyed the movie.
on December 12, 2000
The other night a friend of mine asked me to watch an Ayn Rand video with her. I remember reading "Anthem" when I was 17 (I know it's not one of her "greatest" pieces of fiction, but a friend gave it to me for free. How's that for capitalism? I hesitate to call her writing literature in the sense that Thomas Mann writes literature, but at least I've read something by her - I'd read something else if it was only properly edited). Like any youth I was engrossed with the principle of the individual versus the collective. Who isn't at that age? Plus I vaguely remember being a fan of Rush's 2112 (thankfully I have grown out of that period of pretentious prog-rock).
So we threw the video into the player and watched, and watched, and watched.
I kept waiting for some brilliant insight into Miss Rand's philosophical belief system. It never arrived. What we received was a two hour snore-de-force biography about Ayn's love for cinema and Hollywood, and how she wouldn't let Hollywood tame or edit her ramblings, I mean scripts. Does anybody really need to hear a six minute speech about the self?
She was enthralled with spectacle. In Hollywood she saw her ideal, not man. There's a point in the video when the death of Marilyn Monroe is discussed in glorious philosophical nonsense. Quite laughable, but I think it sums up what Ayn bequeathed to the 20th Century: another dead pop icon that will some day be regurgitated as in image on the front of a t-shirt with a meaningless slogan on the back and marketed to teenagers for mere consumption.
Ultimately I didn't learn anything that I hadn't already figured out about Ayn's philosophy on my own. I believe in me. How is that groundbreaking philosophy? Who doesn't believe in their own person?
Stop worshipping the cult of Ayn and the objectivist rhetoric, start worshipping life, and be honest with your own being.
on November 29, 2000
For her legion of readers, Ayn Rand's legendary novels, "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged," have been life changing experiences. Her heroes, Howard Roark and John Galt, are rugged individualists oblivious to the world's judgments, and Rand's gift for story telling would have been enough to secure her position as one of the 20th century's greatest authors. But Rand's novels offered something more: a philosophy she called "objectivism" that wasn't too far removed from the philosophies upon which the United States was founded, but which, nonetheless, proved controversial, often mistaken for selfishness. As a result of the controversy, Rand's standing in the world of literature suffered as her notoriety as a philosopher grew.
Michael Paxton's Oscar nominated documentary isn't likely to alter anyone's opinion of this brilliant, strong-willed woman, nor is it likely to provide the faithful with any revelations that haven't already been made available elsewhere. The film follows Rand's unhappy girlhood in Russia to her immigration to the U.S., her relationships, both platonic and otherwise, with film director Cecil B. DeMille, husband Frank O' Connor, and psychologist Nathaniel Brandon. A generous helping of vintage film clips show Rand explaining and/or defending her concepts to the likes of Mike Wallace, Phil Donahue, and Tom Snyder, but there's little in-depth examination of her beliefs, making the film a love letter from a fan for the benefit of an audience already familiar with and devoted to her work. On that level, it is a success. For the uninitiated, it may fall short and prove enlightening only after having read the novels.