E1 Entertainment // 2011 // 72 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino // April 30th, 2011
"I hold that if man wants to live on Earth, and to live as a human being, that his highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness..."
There are plenty of ways to learn about Ayn Rand. The influential philosopher, capitalist cheerleader, and longwinded novelist left behind an aggressive amount of materials with which her message can be disseminated. Most of that stuff can be cold, complex, and divisive. Ayn Rand: In Her Own Words takes a different approach, and, as such, is a documentary much more about Rand "the personality" than Rand "the Objectivist."
In Her Own Words is an autobiography by means of copy and paste. The narration is a monologue assembled from interviews of Rand with folks like Mike Wallace, Phil Donahue, and Tom Snyder set to clips of archival footage and photos. Her story is compelling: she's a Russian immigrant who escaped her homeland during the Communist revolution; she worked her way through the Hollywood system as a writer and a film extra; and she went on to publish two of the biggest tomes on individualism in history. Rather than focusing on the intricacies of Objectivism, the film spends most of its time on Rand's life. She's a smart woman with black-and-white convictions and a sharp wit; it's unfortunate, then, that her interviews don't make for a more compelling narrative structure.
Allowing Ayn Rand to speak for herself makes sense. Her philosophy revolves around the self, rationalism, and absolute truths. So why have anyone else speak for her? Because these original interviews weren't meant for this new purpose. She speaks with a Russian accent that, at times, is difficult to comprehend through the lo-fi television broadcasts. She talks about fleeing Russia, learning about America through watching movies, and falling in love with Frank O'Connor; all of it feels fleeting and her personal life is never explored beyond her spin. Even if the directors wanted the documentary to remain 100 percent positive, at only 75 minutes the thing could have benefitted from depth not found in TV interviews.
Once the biographical stuff is out of the way, the documentary shifts towards her fiction. Rand talks about her writing process for The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged -- turns out she didn't just knock 'em out over a long weekend -- and her various real world influences. Even still, because she's speaking in interviews, things are kept light. Her lone screenplay, an adaptation of The Fountainhead, gets a segment but nothing is said of her work post-Shrugged. Only late in the film is anything really said of her philosophy, which mostly consists of ideas that leave Donahue flabbergasted.
Like the documentary itself, the DVD presentation is adequate and simple. The full frame video is unimpressive and the audio quality is dependent on the interviews (which are sometimes decades apart). The disc does come with about ten minutes of deleted scenes which elaborate further on the characters of her novels and her friendship with Alan Greenspan. There's also a booklet that restates a lot of her biography covered in the film. For a documentary clearly being released in response to her current relevance, I would have hoped for something tying her to today's political climate.
In Her Own Words has a novel approach to the biography format, even if the interview-narration isn't totally successful. Rand fans will find little here they didn't already know. If you have no clue who this lady is, or why people are marching around Washington with her name on signs, then this film at least gives you a glimpse at her personality (and little beyond that). For a primer on her philosophy, you'll probably gleam more from listening to Rush's 2112.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 72 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* The Ayn Rand Institute