Although Feb. 2 marks her 105th Birthday, novelist Ayn Rand’s surging popularity resembles that of a rising young literary star.
Rand, the controversial author of “The Fountainhead,” died in 1982, but her magnum opus, “Atlas Shrugged,” sold a half million copies in 2009, more than at any time in the 52 years since its publication. Why? Simply put, Rand’s 1957 epic chillingly foretells an America taken over by government bureaucrats coercing private industry and implementing draconian wealth redistribution legislation.
News media and the Internet have been abuzz over the uncanny parallels between Rand’s fictional tale and today’s news headlines.
Hollywood has taken notice.
The movie industry has jumped on the bandwagon. Lionsgate Entertainment has announced that the long-delayed movie version of “Atlas Shrugged” has been reincarnated as a TV mini-series to begin shooting later this year.
Rumors continue that Ted Turner is considering a remake of the 1949 Gary Cooper film, “The Fountainhead.” Film rights to Rand’s novelette, “Anthem,” have been acquired by Hollywood producer, Kerry O’Quinn. But perhaps the most unusual example of the Rand on-screen phenomenon is the recent DVD release of “We the Living,” the long-thought-lost movie version of her first novel.
It was an unauthorized film made during World War II in Italy and, according to the film’s restorer/distributor, Duncan Scott, “It caused such a sensation, and such controversy, government officials ordered it to be burned.”
Rand had recently emigrated from the Soviet Union and was living in the United States during the filming. “With the war on, she didn’t even know her book had been turned into a movie until years later.” Scott added. “We the Living” is widely regarded as Rand’s most heartfelt story. It draws heavily from her personal experiences growing up in St. Petersburg. Rand would later say that the book was “as close to an autobiography as I will ever write.”
Set in Russia during the chaotic years following the Communist Revolution, “We the Living” is a powerful love story focusing on some of Rand’s most complex characters and visualized on an epic scale.
Beautiful, strong-willed Kira is torn between Leo, a counter-revolutionary fugitive, and Andrei, a disillusioned captain of the secret police. Scott, who produced the DVD release, says, “It’s a story of love affairs, deception, betrayals, but really, at it’s core — the underlying theme — is the struggle to live your own life.”
As 35-minute documentary that comes with a bonus disc, the DVD details the astonishing story behind the film’s production and near-disappearance: Fascist authorities overseeing Italian filmmaking at the time considered the plight of the characters as uncomfortably close to home. But since the storyline portrays Russia, Italy’s wartime enemy, in a villainous light filming was approved anyway.
Shot at the famed Cinecitta studios in Rome, “We the Living” features a luminous performance by Italian screen legend, Alida Valli (“The Third Man,” “Senso”) and an important early-career dramatic role for Rossano Brazzi.
When the film (the original Italian title was “Noi Vivi”) debuted in Rome it caused a sensation, “not unlike that created by ‘Gone With the Wind’ a few years earlier” says Scott. “The Italian public got swept up in the story and really related to the struggles the characters endured in the film. The film became a symbol of the public’s disapproval of the Mussolini regime.”
Not surprisingly, the movie was soon banned by the authorities. All prints and negatives of the production were ordered destroyed. “’We the Living’ would have been lost forever but one of the producers secretly hid the original negatives and sent in the negative of some other film to be burned!”
Almost three decades later, Ayn Rand’s lawyers, Henry Mark Holzer and Erika Holzer, learned about the now-forgotten film and took it upon themselves to track down its whereabouts.
They brought the original negatives to the U.S. for restoration. Despite not having been involved in the original production Rand was very pleased with the film overall. The film required some re-editing which Rand personally mapped out.
Scott, who worked on the editing with Rand says, “The process focused on removing blatant propaganda scenes that had been inserted into the story at the insistence of fascist authorities during the original production. Rand also felt the film should be more compact. The new DVD release includes both the restored film and, for the first time, all the deleted scenes on a bonus disc.
It was released in U.S. theaters for the first time in 1988, ultimately playing in over 75 cities worldwide. Unfortunately, Rand never saw the restored version of the film. She died in 1982. Nor did she get to hear the praise of critics. Wrote New York Newsday, “Nothing stirs the soul quite so much as buried treasure. ‘We the Living’ . . . qualifies in every respect as film treasure dazzling performances. Director Alessandrini brilliantly blends glamour, romance, politics, intrigue and danger.”
Classic films rarely make it to DVD. Less than 4 percent according to figures from the Turner Classic Movies website. And with interest in the controversial author at an all time high, it offers us a powerfully moving glimpse into the life and ideas of Ayn Rand.
The “We the Living” two-disc Special Edition DVD is available at www.wethelivingmovie.com. The Web site also features clips from the movie, still photos, screen credits, reviews and additional production background.
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