[From Luc Moullet’s monograph King Vidor’s The Fountainhead (2009, Yellow Now). See Table of Contents]

The Excess That Transcends


Vidor’s craft here is based on excess, an excess that is to be found in the nature of the actions as well as in the characters, which are extremely complex or extremely linear. All this is redoubled by the excesses of an ultra-fast pacing and of techniques used to the fullest extent on every front. Vidor doesn’t deal in half-measures. It’s a series of contradictory phrases that crash into each other, of pointed tips, jagged edges and uninterrupted electric shocks. Here is a clever, knowledgeable, hyper-professional film, but also one that is abrupt, brutal, coarse, chopped, condensed, convulsive, crazy, delirious, discreet, electrifying, fascinating, frenetic, hysterical, icy, rough, scathing, shredded, surreal, torrid, hectic. A barbaric object, a meteorite. The emotion it generates gives you goosebumps. A runaway horse. Pomposity looms large in the end, but is transcended by its very excess.

Vidor employs EVERY classical device—the perfect film for film schools. It’s Duvivier, Delannoy, plus genius. And finally, it’s this shameless accumulation of old effects (there are even superimpositions, blur effects and an abundance of transparencies) that makes it extremely modern. Vidor doesn’t linger on effects like so many others. They are quick, very obvious, and they blow us away. A comparison may be possible with the Fuller of Verboten!, Forty Guns, and Shock Corridor, with a lot more money, or even with Aldrich.

What is strange is that the film combines the Baroque and the flamboyant Gothic, while it’s meant to praise the architect Roark, whose art is quite the opposite, with its search for simplicity and purity, associated with the modernity of America. Roark—and Frank Lloyd Wright even more so—rejects fuss, European influences, Greek art, the Victorian or Tudor style, whereas here we find German expressionism, with the complicity of an Austrian musician and a Russian screenwriter.

We can sense Vidor’s frustration with his previous clients who had deceived him, taken advantage of him. And here he is pulling out all the stops, as they say.

But at the same time, The Fountainhead cuts across a whole tradition of classic American cinema.

It’s highly reminiscent of Frank Capra’s films, with the struggle of an asocial, marginal or lone man against the whole system and its prejudices, as seen in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. These last two films, moreover, starred Gary Cooper.

The commercial failure of The Fountainhead in the USA can be explained to some extent by the fact that this formula, which had worked well until 1940, seemed outdated after the war. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) resulted in a small loss. And Gary Cooper as the Good Samaritan in Good Sam (McCarey, 1948) wasn’t a success at all.

As with Capra, it seems like a lost cause for the lone man, but the almost miraculous ending allows him to amend the situation. A critique of the society doesn’t keep the great American principles from standing up for the cause of the good in the end. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946) denounces the unscrupulous opportunism of bankers too, but rest assured, everything turns out well.

We find here one of the figures of style dear to Capra, the montage sequence where, after a string of quick shots of newspaper cuttings, we witness the violent reactions of the crowd in the street.

Another direct link with American films of the great tradition is the choice of the biopic, the life story of an important man, real or imagined, which we find in Citizen Kane (1940), Sergeant York (Hawks, 1941), Wood’s The Pride of the Yankees (1942) and The Stratton Story (1949), the two Al Jolson biopics etc. Gary Cooper was, besides, the specialist of the genre.

There is also the principle of rise and fall, greatness and decadence, which mark the itinerary of Gail Wynand, Henry Cameron, and also Howard Roark, who comes close to being jailed, although he finally triumphs. All of them having started from nothing, of course. The pervasive myth of the self-made man, very common in American cinema.


Not everything works perfectly in The Fountainhead. One may be surprised that this handsome man, played by Gary Cooper, the darling of American cinema, has crossed the age of forty without, apparently, having had any affair (except for a supposed one-night stand with Dominique). Male actors, as we know, are popular until over sixty. The film had to take advantage of this. And the Hays Code made sure that the main characters didn’t go through a string of fleeting affairs before finding the great love depicted by the film, all the more so as Roark remains very chaste in the novel. Screenwriters generally worked their way around this by making their elderly protagonists inconsolable widowers. But this isn’t always possible. Or else, as is the case here, they played on what is not said, the silence of the script, a dubious silence. I’m always amazed to see the handsome Amedeo Nazzari, in Matarazzo’s films, reach the age of forty without having a romantic past. It’s true that the Victorian novel often practised the same thing, especially Thackeray’s work. But the fact that you don’t see the characters in the books makes it more acceptable. We can certainly imagine that Roark, a secular saint, a cultural saint, devoted himself entirely to his art, and was not interested in women, or that he could imagine no other partner than Dominique. But come on, it’s a little hard to swallow.

This is why not specifying the time frame of the film turns out to be advantageous. The viewer can assume that everything takes place over two or three years, and it becomes much more believable, and that there was a desire not to make the actors look older in make-up. But if you think about it just a little bit, there are at least ten or fifteen years between the beginning and the end, and the tactic of covering up the duration doesn’t really hold up.

One might also suppose that there is something miraculous about this story, and that great artists like Roark are indestructible, immortal and never grow old. But Peter Keating and Ellsworth Toohey never age either. And everyone wears costumes that reflect one single era.

There is something else. The novel and the screenplay are so complex that the filmmaker loses his grip a little. For example, Toohey is trying to prove that Roark designed Cortlandt in order to bring him down. Roark himself is trying to keep this reality from being discovered. He tells Dominique, after she has diverted Cortlandt’s night watchman: “If you let it be known what we mean to each other, it’ll be a confession that I designed Cortlandt.” But he is caught at the scene of the explosion, with dynamite in hand. If he hadn’t designed Cortlandt, his gesture could be seen as an act of jealousy towards a colleague, or contempt towards a construction made by a competitor that he finds ugly. That would be much more serious than dynamiting his own work that has been sabotaged. The proof for this is that he will be acquitted.

It has been said that the message of the film is overrated, or too naive, too banal.

Admittedly, the defence of the creator’s right, if it could pass for original in the America of 1948, and even more so in Hollywood, is not very innovative today. It borders on commonplace, on boy-scoutism. And the explosion, finally, brings an appreciable touch of originality.

But there is no reason to focus on the message of the film. The question of whether Cortlandt should be blown up is a matter for drawing-room discussion, and we must not stop there. Great cinematographic works don’t derive their value from their message. It should be noted that the film that is considered the best of American cinema, Citizen Kane, ends with a long-awaited and ultimately disappointing message: what matters most to a tycoon at the moment of his death is his childhood. A truth perhaps, but a banality that is laughable fifty years after Freud. In a film, everything is in the way something is done, not elsewhere. The message can only be a springboard. It should not be a goal.

In The Fountainhead, questionable little things don’t bother. It goes so fast that one hardly has time to notice them. And then, it has to be said, it’s not a realistic film. Because people are in everyday clothes, one shouldn’t believe that everything has to be realistic. Its aesthetic is close to that of a comic strip, a cartoon (this will be even more apparent in the next Vidor, Beyond the Forest, but not in a very productive way). A cartoon with actors. In fact, this film is a fairy tale (like It’s a Wonderful Life): how can one imagine for a single moment that, in the temple of capitalism, a court of law could rule in favour of a dynamiter, that there could be such a series of blatant coincidences in the encounters, oppositions and about-faces? The domain of The Fountainhead is that of the imagination. Even in France, a country less under the grip of capitalism, when Godard wanted to forcibly expel an agent of the producer who wanted to deny him access to his Moritone from his editing room, he was condemned. Roark’s final victory makes us happy. Vidor’s lyricism wins the day. But we know that this is not reality. And one could reproach The Fountainhead of naive optimism (art and life are not so rosy; besides they often end in death). Great films are generally more sceptical. But it took many years, many struggles to get to this point in The Fountainhead

Applying criteria based on plausibility, concurrence with reality, to Vidor’s film is as absurd in the final analysis as speculating on the realism of Snow White, the forest of Macbeth or the Herculean strength of Jean Valjean when he lifts the cart. We are dealing here with the Ginormous, a genre that has nothing to envy the others for.

The Fountainhead is a series of great scenes and bravura sequences. Let’s see some of them, following the chronology of the film.

The Ambulance

The old architect is ill. Roark accompanies him in the ambulance where he dies. We have here, all at once, the siren of the ambulance, the melancholy and accusing speech of the ruined old man, the cross motif on the window, the skyscrapers under which the vehicle passes, recalling the professional drama experienced by the dying man, not to mention Max Steiner’s pleonastic music—an accumulation of major elements, whereas in the book, the scene was set within the four walls of an ordinary room.

When I saw it fifty years ago, I was impressed by the scene also because I felt that everyone in our contemporary world would one day find themselves in a similar ambulance. I experienced it in 2003, when I was run over by a motorcyclist. And that day, I thought a lot about Vidor’s film. After his hip fracture in 1973, even he admitted that it happened exactly like in his film, as he told John Baxter.

The Statuette

It’s a very, very brief sequence, but one that strikes us with astonishment, partly because of its brevity. Dominique, whom we see for the first time, looks with respect and passion at this small statuette, which she holds in her hands. We must be grateful to Patricia Neal for having been able to express, without any words, her love for the statuette in a matter of two seconds. This is the first time she appears in an important film, and we understand instantly that a great actress is born. And immediately, in a fantastic contradiction, she throws the object out of the window, seemingly from the tenth floor or even higher. There is a double noise accompanying the fall, one imagined by Steiner and the real noise, as I have already indicated. Dominique doesn’t even wonder if the statuette could have injured or killed someone. So many major elements in such little time, affirmed by Dominique’s statement. She wants to be free, to give up everything she loves…

The Quarry

It’s one of the two most famous segments of the film.

It’s twelve minutes long while it occupies twenty pages in the book: twelve percent of the film, three percent of the book. It’s evident that the scene fascinated Vidor, who had to reduce the novel as much as possible. The visual element of this segment was obviously more expressive than the long speeches of the other scenes.

Here, Vidor plays a lot on the surfaces, especially vertical ones, of this quarry, located near Fresno, two hundred kilometres north of Hollywood. It’s a natural site, but eroded by man, that can be compared to the buildings in the rest of the film.

The segment shows men at work on this site, but in fact, everything here is erotic.

It’s based on Dominique’s sexual attraction to Roark. An immediate, irresistible, somewhat improbable attraction: before she has him come home, Dominique is never within six metres of Roark. But everything falls in place in a matter of two seconds. This implausibility becomes an advantage because it amazes the viewer.

Psychologically, Dominique is frail. But to compensate for this handicap, she reverses roles. She plays the superwoman. She apes the domineering male. She simulates coldness, hardness, as hard as this marble, this granite that her family owns. During her first appearance, she was already seen at a height. Here she is again at the top of the quarry, her legs spread apart, nervously fiddling her whip, since this time she has come on horseback. The horse, of course, plays its traditional role as a sexual substitute, just like the motorbike today. Roark stands just below. Several shots show him using his drilling machine on the stone wall in a way that evokes penetration (or masturbation), especially in shots where there is just the two of them in the frame, plus the drilling machine.

The exact meaning of the drilling machine in the book is open to debate. It’s there, but only anecdotally. It would appear that its symbolic value was not envisaged by Ayn Rand. The novel evokes a completely different meaning: “She thought—hopefully—that the vibrations of the drill hurt him, hurt his body, everything inside his body.”[1]

In the novel, Roark is shirtless. In the film, he keeps his shirt on. It’s probably the fear of censorship; otherwise it would have been a bit too much. Everything remains on a symbolic level. The two protagonists don’t touch each other. The Hays Code has nothing to reproach the film. But the image cries out powerfully—with the bare forearm extended by the drilling machine—and no one can mistake it for something else, all the more so because the dialogue plays a lot on sexual innuendo. A kind of naive, staggering, blinding, almost Aeschylean purity.

It’s hard today to recognize the extreme erotic audacity of The Fountainhead. In 1948, in American cinema, it was an astounding provocation, something electric and very vulgar—an unvarnished, limpid, ginormous provocation. The erotic atmosphere is emphasized by Dominique’s wanderings in her home, gripped by desire as Ruby Gentry would later be, when she waits for the man of her life after a long separation, under throbbing music. She lets off steam by breaking the marble of her fireplace, a pretext for getting Roark to her house. A short, even more daring superimposition shows that she is dreaming of Roark and his drilling machine. The sexual atmosphere had already been set in motion in the first images of the segment, where the white of daylight and the sound of the explosion invade Dominique’s home.

Roark sees through Dominique’s provocation immediately and responds to it with slightly ironic glances and ambiguous lines. Then the chisel he drives through the marble slab says it all: a new sexual allegory.

After Roark is replaced by a short, fat Italian to whom he delegated the repairs, Dominique rides fast on the road to the quarry and whips Roark on the cheek, prompting him to say something ambiguous.

Everything is clear. Roark barges into Dominique’s home and seemingly forces her. But she lets herself go now and then. She has something of Lady Chatterley in her. She is attracted to this physical labourer, but as a rich heiress, she is ashamed. She doesn’t know he is an architect. She is afraid of being too dependent on him. During their struggle, Roark enters the darkness, just like Charlton Heston in a similar sequence in Ruby Gentry. This is an old code for sexual intercourse, a code that has fallen into disuse: a viewer in 2009 may be mistaken and believe that nothing is happening.

We then see Roark in his room with a forearm injury. There is no evidence to support this injury. In fact, it’s that Dominique has bitten Roark during their nocturnal jousting, described in a scene in the novel, but deleted in the découpage of 20 June 1948 owing to censorship: “She let her teeth sink into his hand and felt blood on the tip of her tongue.”[2]

I think Vidor, irritated by the Censors’ veto, said to himself: “It doesn’t matter. I’m still filming the shot with Cooper wounded in the arm. The audience will guess what happened.” But perhaps I’m wrong…

Today, when we can show everything, this sexual allegory seems outdated. But the end of censorship hasn’t brought much to erotic cinema. The surprises of metaphor are still more striking than bare anatomy.

The Boat

It’s a seemingly innocuous sequence: Gail Wynand’s pleasure boat is anchored in front of Manhattan, seen through a transparency. This is the first outdoor sequence in the New York section of the film.

It’s interesting because, at a moment when you don’t expect it, Dominique comes to tell Wynand, out of the blue, that she agrees to marry him, just a few seconds after the start of the scene.

This sequence is dramatized by the presence of buildings in the background and by the sonic effervescence of the scene’s beginning: the siren of the boat, the engine noise, the waves cracking at full speed.

But what is most striking is the abruptness of this engagement. Similarly, Wynand offers Keating the contract for a new building if he breaks off his engagement with Dominique. He also proposes to Dominique very quickly, in the middle of a scene.

In Ruby Gentry, Massey-Wynand’s surrogate, Jim Gentry, aka Karl Malden, proposes to Ruby in a matter of seconds as well, and she immediately accepts, without the slightest kiss or the slightest romance between them.

I had asked Vidor about this: “I think that in general, everyone knows very quickly what their feelings and intentions are. […] Barriers are quickly crossed between human beings. […] There is no room for hesitation. Quickly say yes or no, that could be the motto of lovers.” Similarly, referring to films by Truffaut and Schlesinger, he said: “The theme is wrong: the man who meets a woman, and all the difficulties that prevent their coming together. In life, these difficulties don’t exist: it’s sometimes very difficult and takes very long to find the girl you love, but once you’ve found her, the rest doesn’t take long: it happens quickly.” Alas, in France, everything is not so simple…

The maritime scenes in The Fountainhead and Ruby Gentry have a lot in common. They serve as a hinge, as does a similar scene in Conquering the Woman (1922). After this scene, the films take a different direction. They respectively feature the heroine and the second fiddle, the rich and rather ugly man, the captain of the improvised ship with his slightly ridiculous cap. The sea is a flat place, where everything is judged, everything is unravelled, far from the interference of land.

The Tree

Unaware of it, Wynand has the family home built by the man his wife dreams of, a home that will be desperately impregnated, day and night, by the presence of the man of her life: a perfect atmosphere for melodrama.

And in the neighbouring meadow, there’s a tree that splits into two trunks that form opposing diagonals. Within the three sections of the resulting frame are Dominique, her husband Gail and the man of her dreams, Roark: a shot emblematic of the situation of the characters in the film, which has great symbolic and poetic value.

There is something odd about this sequence: we see Gail Wynand sitting by the tree, with a river flowing behind him and an ultramodern house behind Dominique. A few seconds later, he leaves, walking in a completely different setting, with a large meadow, without a river or a house, while the tree is still there, in the foreground. It’s a strange change of axis, making for a continuity error. What is the reason for this?

Recall that the tree by the river is one of Vidor’s favourite motifs (cf. Bardelys the Magnificent, Solomon and Sheba).

The Trial

It’s one of American cinema’s favourite settings since Forfaiture (1915), The Whispering Chorus (1918), Manslaughter (1923) and Reap the Wild Wind (1941), all directed by DeMille, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Capra, 1936), the two adaptations of An American Tragedy, by Sternberg and Stevens, Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case and many others. Hollywood cinema had the necessary means to show a courtroom and the many extras in the audience and the jury.

The trial in The Fountainhead, announced several sequences before, is rather quick, but decisive. It consists solely of Roark’s self-defence, a profession of faith.

Some observers insist that it posed a great challenge for Cooper, who, allergic to speeches, had trouble retaining a long text. They report that he practiced at home with a tape recorder, a very common practice today.

This sequence brings a new element to the film, revolving around Cooper’s laconism in the face of the volubility of others; a silent man who begins to speak. So we see a completely different face of our hero’s. And it works very well. The sentences have a terse quality. Cooper chants them, detaching each sentence segment, like a kind a maxim.

The sequence was hardly appreciated by the critics, who had already resented the long profession of faith in The Great Dictator.

The performance aspect of the sequence remains limited. The scene lasts five minutes and thirty-three seconds, and the speech in the novel has been reduced by sixty percent. Even when Ayn Rand’s dialogue features in the découpage, there are small deviations from it throughout the film, in contradiction with the intransigence of the novelist’s contract. It must have been agreed upon over the phone. Only one line was cut against Rand’s wishes, as is clear from her letter to Vidor of 11 October 1948.

Ayn Rand’s repetitive logorrhoea thus becomes something powerful here.

By the way, it couldn’t have been all that difficult for Cooper. The final cut shortens the sequence a lot. Roark’s voice can often be heard on cutaway shots to Wynand, Toohey and Keating, when the words indirectly accuse them. There are also shots of the audience and Dominique. The voice-over parts were probably filmed with Cooper in the picture. We may assume that, for the actor’s comfort, there were about a dozen shots on the set, later cut into twenty-six small pieces in all, with different framings. Nothing superhuman about it.

Cooper must have liked this kind of work, already inaugurated in Mr. Deeds, since trials will be of great importance to two of his future films, The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell (Preminger, 1955) and The Wreck of the Mary Deare (Anderson, 1959).

The Revolver Alone in the Frame

A shot shows us Wynand who has just signed a contract with Roark. He opens his desk drawer, takes out a revolver. His face disappears. All we see is the revolver, which leaves the frame. We hear a gunshot: Wynand has committed suicide. The revolver, still in Wynand’s hand, falls near the contract. The blast of gunpowder flips the pages of the contract—a flourish that also means that a page of history has just turned.

Another performance, where everything is conveyed in a matter of seconds, without any editing effect.

It’s a shot that seems to have its roots in the last scene of Spellbound (Hitchcock, 1945), which depicts the suicide of the “villain” with the revolver alone in the frame, but without showing the actor. At the beginning of the shot, we notice that Dr. Murchinson’s revolver is aimed at Ingrid Bergman. But what’s the use? The man understands that he is screwed anyway. He then changes the angle of fire. The revolver now turns towards the viewer, i.e., towards Dr. Murchinson, since it’s obviously a subjective shot…

This is not the only time there has been a Hitchcock-Vidor connection. Vidor tried, in vain, to make a Hitchcock picture in Lightning Strikes Twice (1950). In The Fountainhead, the skyscrapers models are very similar to those of Rope, made by Hitchcock for the same Warner six months earlier, a film whose concept Vidor adopts: an action that unfolds in a room on a high floor with a large bay window opening onto the spectacle of buildings. But here Vidor proves to be less inventive than his model, his buildings are less lively, since the lights in the rooms seen in the distance never go on and off. Nevertheless, probably excited by Robert Burks’ work on The Fountainhead, Hitchcock hired him on twelve of his own films. With Warner’s help, there was also a relay of actors: Ruth Roman in Beyond the Forest (1949), then in Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock, 1950), Richard Todd in Stage Fright (Hitchcock, 1949), then in Lightning Strikes Twice, Karl Malden in I Confess (Hitchcock, 1952), then three months later in Ruby Gentry. The set designer on The Fountainhead, Edward Carrère, was also the set designer on Dial M for Murder (Hitchcock, 1953). And James Mason’s final home in North by Northwest may have been designed by Howard Roark. The two men, darlings of producer Selznick, were the two superstars of effects-based cinema.

The Service Lift

This last sequence, the second classic scene of the film along with the one at the quarry at the beginning, is also a tribute to American cinema of the past.

The plot is quite simple: Dominique, who now calls herself Mrs. Roark, takes the service lift to join her architect husband at the top of the building he is building.

It’s a banal scene on paper, but which acquires an exceptional dimension thanks to Vidor’s craft. The scene is more or less identical to the one in the novel, which ends like this: “Dominique rose above the spires of churches. Then there was only the ocean and the sky and the figure of Howard Roark.”[3]

What is most astonishing is that the same scene already appeared in the silent version of The Ten Commandments (1923), which Ayn Rand was surely familiar with. In fact, it was DeMille who helped her make her Hollywood debut. Towards the middle of that film, Mary Leigh (Leatrice Joy) takes the service lift to join her friend Johnny McTavish (Richard Dix) at the top of the building he is building. There are six shots:

  • Long shot of her in the service lift that keeps going up until the end of the scene.
  • Tighter shot of her.
  • Shot of her looking up at Johnny. They wave at each other.
  • View of the city from the service lift.
  • Shot of him looking down on her.
  • Shot of him reaching out his hand to Mary to help her out of the lift.

The shots DeMille filmed are found in totality here too, except for the one where the man is waving at the woman coming up: that would have made him lose his prestige. But they are cut into thirteen pieces:[4]

  • Long shot of Dominique entering the service lift, which goes up until the end of the film.
  • Frontal mid-shot of her, as she turns her head a little.
  • Shot of her, still on the move, and the city in the background.
  • View of the city in the background.
  • Mid-shot of her turning her head.
  • View of the city in the background.
  • Frontal shot of her.
  • View of the city in the background.
  • Frontal shot of her.
  • Frontal close-up of her, with the city in the background.
  • Frontal shot of her as she starts to look up.
  • Dominique’s POV shot: she looks up and Roark raises his arm (low-angle shot).
  • Shot of her looking up.
  • Low-angle shot at the top of the building: she approaches Roark looking down towards her.

The general horizontality of the film finally gives way to verticality, the key figure of transcendence, a verticality no longer suggested with static shots, as in the previous scenes, but experienced intensely since the viewer and the heroine take pleasure in this ascent. Dominique makes this clear, although there is no dramatic stake in this sequence, in complete contrast to what preceded it. She is in pure contemplation of the world around her, elevated and fulfilled by her amorous urge. We breathe at last.

In DeMille’s film, the sequence is anecdotal. It could very well have been deleted during editing. It’s nineteen seconds long. In the book, it’s less than a page long. But in Vidor’s film, it lasts one minute twenty-eight: a final and sudden outburst that contrasts with Vidor’s desire to shorten everything. A new dynamic: sprawling after sprinting, vertical after horizontal, silence after logorrhoea, open air after studio, nirvana after conflict, existential after dramaturgical. A new film begins…

The power of the sequence revolves around several motifs. We are surprised by the sign announcing “the tallest building in the world,” then by the announcement of Dominique’s marriage, then by the ultraquick (and implausible) departure of Dominique in the service lift, which goes up as soon as she gets in. The emotion that grips us in the face of these multiple shocking elements is accentuated by the triumphalist music of Max Steiner, heard many times before, and by the redoubling of the shots. We sense that she is happy to see the spectacle of the world—a world that, adversity defeated, she finally dominates—and to savour a golden future. It becomes something interminable, interminable like the preceding years of struggle and also like the years of happiness and triumph they will experience, especially since their faces don’t seem to change with time. One wonders when this ascent will stop. It’s a veritable ascent to heaven. It’s so long that it looks like an experimental film, in the vein of Michael Snow or Jacques Rozier. In a dramatic logic, nothing justifies this fragmentation, this sprawl. It’s pure lyricism. For Jean-François Rauger, “it’s a gigantic erection that the lift ride evokes.”[5]

At the end, the camera, placed in the service lift, gets closer to Roark, who is small at the beginning, but comes to occupy almost the whole frame, without moving, his trousers floating in the wind, his legs well apart, like a Superman who has finally been able to conquer the world and tame Dominique by giving her back to herself.

This macho delirium—which responds inversely to the scene at the quarry, where Dominique stands over Roark with her legs apart—is so aggressive that it becomes dreamlike, an art object independent even of its meaning (obsolete and unfashionable today, with the rise of feminism). The Fountainhead is a film with a thesis, but what counts is not the thesis, but the power with which it’s delivered to us, asserted, and which transcends meaning. A world that is abstract, as is the attitude towards architecture, the love story, the structure of the work and the timeless discourse.

One wonders how Vidor could dare employ effects like this. His audacity, his perseverance in facing potential ridicule, moves us, transports us, suspends our critical sense. Vidor’s power shines through because there are negative elements in his film—machismo, implausibility, caricature, pomposity—and because his genius manages to annihilate this negativity, which finally becomes a springboard for what the work accomplishes.

At the same time, the interminable dovetails with the irremediable: after this shot, it’s impossible to add even one image to the film.

Such an apotheosis falls perfectly in line with the work of Vidor, who can be defined as the champion of endings, which are always thundering, exalted, lyrical: the boat chase in Love Never Dies, the death of Lillian Gish in La Bohème, the opening of the canal in Our Daily Bread, the escape from Russian tanks in Comrade X, the duel to death of the lovers in Duel in the Sun or the tragic walk through the swamp in Ruby Gentry.


[1] Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (1st ed. 1943), Signet, 2003, p. 206.

[2] ibid., p. 216.

[3] ibid., p. 694.

[4] Translator’s note: the count is actually fourteen.

[5] Program brochure of the Cinémathèque française, January 2007, p. 10.