It’s not often you’re served popcorn and pick ‘n’ mix sweets at a Westminster event, but last night was an exception. For last night saw the launch of my new film society, kindly hosted by Policy Exchange. It’s called the Crossbench Film Society, and most of the idea is captured in the name. Each month, a different politician chooses and introduces a different film for our collective delectation.
The first guest was the Conservatives’ own Sajid Javid – and his selection sure pulled at the old optic nerves. It was King Vidor’s 1949 adaptation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, scripted by Rand herself and starring Gary Cooper as the individualist architect Howard Roark. I’d last watched it years ago, but I remembered how, like most Vidor movies, it told its story in bold, declarative paragraphs. This is a film of big themes, big camerawork and big performances.
Javid explained that this isn’t his favourite movie, but it is the most important to him. He first watched it on television in 1981, aged 12, and even then it struck him as “a film that was articulating what I felt”. From there, he soon read the book, wore out a VHS copy of the film, and brought his enthusiasm for all things Fountainhead with him to university. He even admitted, with a self-deprecating grin, that “I read the courtroom scene to my future wife!”
The Culture Secretary now makes sure to read that scene to himself at least twice a year. You can watch the movie’s version of it here.
But Javid’s introduction wasn’t just nostalgia and Objectivist sweet-nothings. He also sees The Fountainhead as part of an important cultural struggle between individualism and the collective. This struggle was in full swing at the time of the film’s release, with the rise of the Soviet Union. It was there, the Culture Secretary said, when he first saw the movie during the Thatcher years. But he also said that it persists today, notably in how some states treat their artists. There are Howard Roarks in Iran, operating under the threat of incarceration.
The overall impression was that this is a film that matters deeply to the Culture Secretary, which is kind of what I wanted to demonstrate with this society: that films matter. The next screening, on 10th February, is Jon Cruddas presenting Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank (2009).