Thursday, December 2, 2010

Libertarians II Movie Review: Love Letters 91

We need to go to the movies as the blog continues. There's a movie we need to see and understand in order to understand the libertarians. This movie is central to much of the libertarian movement. And there's some hard work on your part unless you have taken my mentoring class. By the time I get done with an urban coyotes class, the attendees trust my ability as a critic. If you're just reading this as a result of surfing, you may not be aware of nor fully trust my skill at analyzing art, especially fiction, very especially plot. I've studied it all my life. I studied English literature under two Rhodes scholars as a teenager and got an English degree at a young age. But, if you don't know me, there's no reason you should place a lot of skill in my talent as a critic.

To understand the libertarians, we must understand their value system. The Christian right has a faith that needs understanding. As we will see later, the liberals have an unstated civil religion that must be understood to comprehend them, even though they generally are ignorant of some of the central elements of their own civil religion. But libertarians aren't like that. Libertarians base their lives on values rather than on faith.

And their primary value is limerence. That is the mental state of on-going romantic love.

To understand them, we must leave the pews of an evangelical church and move to different aisles and different seats amid the genuine, modern American temple: the movie theatre. Mere presence in the building is not enough; We need to see the most romantic motion picture ever released.

At the end of the second world war, the definitive motion picture about romantic love was released – Love Letters with Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones. I can't say enough good things about this movie, but I'm going to try. This was a movie of miraculous preparation. Certain elements were exquisitely fitted together like a Faberge Easter egg. Let's look at some of them.

The soundtrack composer and the screenwriter had both spent time in eastern Europe during the first world war. The composer was the legendary Victor Young. Born in Chicago in 1900, his mother died in childhood and his father deserted him. The boy's Polish grandparents sent him to Warsaw to study music. The war came along and the young American musician was interned, first by the Russians and then by the Germans. The experience of release from prison is something Young never forgot. You can feel the iron gate swinging open and the blue skies shining brightly in his music. You can hear it in Stella by Starlight, in the theme from The Medic, and in the conclusion of Around the World in 80 Days. But you sense that prison door opening most assuredly in the theme song for Love Letters.

The screenwriter is a refugee from St. Petersburg, Russia, educated as a teenager and college student by the Soviets, whom she dearly hated all her life for their approach and ideas. She escaped to the west and was in Hollywood writing plays and appearing in crowd scenes by the mid-twenties. Two years before Love Letters, she finished a novel which was a great success. So she was able to take an obscure novel by Chris Massie and turn it into the gripping screenplay for Love Letters, a variant of Cyrano de Bergerac with some mysterious characters and a murder mystery thrown in to create a continuously twisting plot. But the center of the movie was the dialog and quotations from the letters:

"I think of you, my dearest, as a distant promise of beauty untouched by the world -- a promise to be reached in spite of the terror and ugliness around me. If I never see you again, my last thought will be that I had fought for you and lost – but I had fought." So reads a letter penned by a British officer on the Italian front in the movie. The screenplay was written by Ayn Rand, perhaps her finest achievement. The words are written by one officer and given to another so that the second officer, a cad and womanizer, can impress his girlfriend with his sincerity and gentility. And that's just the opening scene.

This is some of the classic Ayn Rand dialog that supercharged the Chris Massie novel:

"We commit unspeakable crimes, we kill each other, we go to war, we blast our cities to rubble, we blast all sense out of our brains. And yet, always there before our eyes is that vision of beauty--a beauty we've never seen, but which makes everything we do see, unbearable."

"When a man's been hurt pretty badly, and all open wounds inside, if he can say 'mine'--about anything at all--the wounds are healing."

"Thank you for seeing life, not as a burden or a punishment, but as a dream of beauty which we have made real."

Much of this dialog is spoken by Joseph Cotton, who comes to the role having just written an Alfred Hitchcock screenplay, Journey Into Fear, and then acted in it. Cotton's voice would later become the narrator for Wolper's Hollywood and the Stars television program. This represents perfect casting. Many of these scenes have Victor Young's romantic, but never cloying, theme in the background while the dialog is spoken or the letters quoted.

Jennifer Jones came to this role having won an Academy Award for Best Actress in The Song of Bernadette and then performing in Since You Went Away. She receives excellent direction in Love Letters from William Dieterle. She doesn't act much, she reacts to what's happening around her, or else she doesn't move at all because she is so depressed. Her responses to the sparkling dialog are enough to make her character lovable.

It's a great romantic movie, possibly the best. The right director is in charge of the right actors with a brilliant screenplay and a splendid romantic soundtrack. Because the setting of the plot is the end of a war, achieving freedom and finding love happen to the main characters at the same time.

It's an insignificant plot coincidence that will be repeated by Rand in her last and most impactful work, where she also equates freedom with simultaneous limerence. That will be discussed in the next blog post.

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