"This is an entertaining and very thorough, though one-sided, look at the life of Ayn Rand, one of the most controversial philosophers of recent times. The fact that many in academia would not deign to call her a "philosopher" at all is due more to ideological bias and her uncompromising nature than to any defect in her thinking or writing. Ayn Rand was a Russian immigrant who loved the idea of America from an early age. In America, and in New York City in particular, she saw the highest culmination of man's achievement. In her view, only a completely free capitalist economic system allows human beings to express their true nature and reach their full potential. This philosophy was later adapted by the modern libertarian movement (which Rand herself quickly disassociated herself from for various personal and ideological reasons). This documentary does a very good job at showing Rand's life in a way she herself would have appreciated (she died some twenty years before the film was made). This, of course, can be considered a defect. There is scarcely one dissenting voice in the film, with the exception of Phil Donahue, who interviewed Rand several times. Leonard Peikoff, called Ayn Rand's "intellectual heir," does not seem to disagree one iota with anything his teacher ever said. The paradox about Ayn Rand and the movement she started, called Objectivism, is that despite its strict adherence to reason and individualism, it had some definite cultlike characteristics. Followers imitated Rand down to the smallest mannerism; for example, it was virtually mandatory to smoke cigarettes as Rand considered this a powerful symbol of man conquering fire (this detail is not in the film). Rand's dogmatism inevitably comes through in the film, but it is mainly presented as the virtue of one who refuses to comprise, like Howard Roark, John Galt and the other heroes of her novels. There was definitely a less noble aspect to her personality, which is not dealt with in the documentary. Her affair with Nathaniel Branden is briefly, and rather clumsily alluded to. Nathaniel Branden, his wife Barbara (both who have written books about Ayn Rand) had a complex relationship with Ayn Rand (and her husband Frank O'Connor, who seems to have mainly taken a back seat in the events of her life). The film implies that the unpleasant ending of Rand's relationship with Branden was due to some shortcoming on his part. There are, of course, other versions of this story. One fact, again not mentioned in the film, is that Rand and her closest followers denounced Branden (who is himself the author of several influential books on psychology) very viciously, treating him very much like someone who has abandoned a cult. It may very well be, however, that Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life is a better film for focusing on the positive traits of its subject's life. After all, many brilliant artists and intellectuals have been difficult personalities in their everyday lives. Ayn Rand's arrogance, dogmatism and intolerance of dissent does not explain or justify the contempt with which she has been treated by the mainstream media and academic establishment. It seems that she was a spokesperson for an idea that will never be intellectually respectable -that the individual, not God, society or the state is of primary importance. I would highly recommend this film to anyone interested in the life of this extraordinary woman. Those not familiar with her may want to read her novels, especially The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged first."
The eternal individualist
Alejandra Vernon | Long Beach, California | 12/05/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A sweeping, brilliant documentary, this is the best biographical film I have ever seen, with a fascinating subject in Ayn Rand, whose life was as if it had been carved out of one of her epic books, and who lived in a span of time that was historical, with the Russian Revolution, 2 world wars, the Viet Nam era of unrest and ugly rebellion in America, and into the '80s, when she passed on in her seventy-seventh year. Much like Rand's books, which can be read and re-read, always finding more to think about, this documentary can be repeatedly viewed, and one will always find something missed and something more to learn, because it is so packed with information and extraordinary footage.
The still photographs and archival film footage is astonishing in its quantity and quality, and as explained by filmmaker Michael Paxton in the 2nd Disc interview, were painstakingly chosen and added to the film; it is an endless collage of her life, narrated with extreme skill by Sharon Gless, whose pleasing voice is perfect for this long (143 minute) film. Disc 2 has some excellent, insightful interviews, and an exquisitely b&w filmed version of Rand's play "Ideal", starring Janne Peters as screen goddess Kay Gonda. Total running time for Disc 2 is 118 minutes, making this DVD package not only intellectually and visually stimulating, but also giving the viewer a lot for their purchase price.
I find Ayn Rand's ideas some of the most interesting of this or any other era, and as a Christian I don't agree with some of her tenets, but find they challenge and sharpen my thoughts, and believe her to be one of the brightest and most unique literary lights the world has known. This documentary is a must for those interested in reading her works, to fully appreciate the person behind them, or for those of us who are life-long readers, it is a joy to watch this overview of a well-lived life...and a masterful union of subject and filmmaker. "
It deserved an Academy Award, not just a nomination
Jean-Francois Virey | 59500 DOUAI France | 02/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ayn Rand may be the person about whom the most stupid things have been written, except for the whole class of people about whom only stupid things can be written. Numerous commentators have improvized themselves experts on her thought and proceeded to demolish it in what they were probably convinced was a very clever way. Numerous others, while proclaiming to be her genuine admirers, have tried to make her a virtual monster by blowing some aspects of her life and personality out of proportion, and projecting on her all sorts of morbid fantasies.*Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life*, on the other hand, maybe the most perceptive concise presentation of Rand's life and works ever made (and as no full-length treatment is available as yet, this is high praise indeed.)First, it is a first-rate documentary, rivalling with Ken Burns's widely acclaimed works. It is perfect in its structure, roughly following Ayn Rand's life and seamlessly integrating the more philosophical discussions with the biographical material. It is rich in period detail and source materials, from manuscripts and photos to period films, extracts from movie adaptations or theatrical productions of Rand's works, and highlights from her few TV appearances. And it abounds in perceptive interviews with individuals who knew Rand personally and who, for the most part, devoted their careers to studying her philosophy: mostly PhD's like John Ridpath, Harry Binswanger, Michael Berliner or, last but not least, Leonard Peikoff.But if Ken Burns had done a documentary on Rand, he would certainly have gotten the ideas wrong, as when he tried to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson's theory of individual rights in his biography of the Founding Father, and the whole sense of life of the work would have been totally off, with actors reading lines from Rand's writings in melancholy tones, as if they were about to drown themselves.So what Michael Paxton has accomplished is a miracle: he has combined the know-how of a Ken Burns with a flawless understanding of Objectivism and of Rand herself. All the fundamentals of her philosophy are presented, and I could not spot a single misrepresentation of them. All the stages of Rand's life are included, down to the small details which a less consciencious biographer might have missed, but which reveal so much about what she was as a person, such as her fondness for what she called her "tiddlywink music"-light-hearted popular music of the early twentieth century.The documentary even made me cry twice: when the actress impersonating Kay Gonda, in a short extract from Rand's 1934 play *Ideal*, said: "I can't forget the man on the rock" (whom we should all thank Rand for reminding us of); and when Rand testified for the HUAC and described the conditions she had experienced in Soviet Russia under Lenin. I had just watched a documentary on the 200,000 abandoned orphans who live off the streets in North Korea, and the whole families imprisoned and brutalized in concentration camps by the Communist government, and as Rand's words connected with the images I had seen, I understood what she was fighting against with what Leonard Peikoff called the concreteness of a truck speeding towards me.*Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life* also reveals surprising facets of Rand's life and personality. An atheist, she met her future husband on the set of De Mille's *The King of Kings*, where she worked as an extra, chanting hosannas to Jesus; and she "felt a benevolent inevitability that they would meet again". An arch-egoist, she admonished herself in her diary: "No thought whatever about yourself, only about your work." And an admirer of America's wealth and glamour, she found Los Angeles "overcrowded, vulgar, cheap and sad."*Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life* is perhaps the best place to start for anyone who wants to know more about this "American born on Russian soil" who may well have been the greatest woman who ever lived. For further biographical information, this film can be supplemented by David Harriman's edition of Rand's Journals, and Michael Berliner's edition of her Letters."
A must for Rand admirers
B. W. Fairbanks | Lakewood, OH United States | 11/29/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For her legion of readers, Ayn Rand's legendary novels, "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged," have been life changing experiences. Her heroes, Howard Roark and John Galt, are rugged individualists oblivious to the world's judgments, and Rand's gift for story telling would have been enough to secure her position as one of the 20th century's greatest authors. But Rand's novels offered something more: a philosophy she called "objectivism" that wasn't too far removed from the philosophies upon which the United States was founded, but which, nonetheless, proved controversial, often mistaken for selfishness. As a result of the controversy, Rand's standing in the world of literature suffered as her notoriety as a philosopher grew.Michael Paxton's Oscar nominated documentary isn't likely to alter anyone's opinion of this brilliant, strong-willed woman, nor is it likely to provide the faithful with any revelations that haven't already been made available elsewhere. The film follows Rand's unhappy girlhood in Russia to her immigration to the U.S., her relationships, both platonic and otherwise, with film director Cecil B. DeMille, husband Frank O' Connor, and psychologist Nathaniel Brandon. A generous helping of vintage film clips show Rand explaining and/or defending her concepts to the likes of Mike Wallace, Phil Donahue, and Tom Snyder, but there's little in-depth examination of her beliefs, making the film a love letter from a fan for the benefit of an audience already familiar with and devoted to her work. On that level, it is a success. For the uninitiated, it may fall short and prove enlightening only after having read the novels."
A Biography of an Immigrant and Heroine
B. W. Fairbanks | 05/23/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ayn Rand is a very controversial figure, although her legacy was honored by her image on an American First Class Postage stamp. This video goes behind the heroic fiction she authored lacking a deep presentation of her philosophy of selfishness, what she later called, "Objectivism." It follows her life from modest beginnings in Russia, to how she met her husband, and all through the milestones and battles she encountered. Many have seen Miss Rand's work as trucculent or unrealistic, while others have completely changed their thinking entirely. The interviews and film footage humanize the woman that previously only existed to others as a leader of a philosophical/morality movement. What kind of music did she like, and why? What made her write with such passion and profoundly clarity? Why did she answer questions posed to her by first explaining the fallacy of reasoning that led to assumptions to ask the question? Miss Rand is truly a heroic woman with much to say on the subject. The video demonstrates that she may have been headstrong, but she never violated her principles of living for her self. The subtitle, "A Sense of Life" is a concept that Ayn Rand uses to describe a person's metaphysical view of man's role in the universe. In simpler terms, it is how man sees others around him and how he reacts to events that occur to him. His sense of life makes him cynical or trusting, brooding or joyous. "A Sense Of Life" depicts a gay (in the classic sense, joyous and optimistic) and serious student of philosophy, passionately devoted to articulating the right answers."