Why Conservatives Can’t Land a Box-Office Hit

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The strangest possible reminder that conservative John Aglialoro is continuing his quixotic quest to produce an Atlas Shrugged film trilogy? Learning that Grover Norquist has just filmed a cameo as a street wino in Atlas Shrugged: Part 2 – Either-Or, a sequel that manages to have an even more unwieldy name than its 2011 predecessor, Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 (if only the word “squeakquel” wasn’t already taken).

At least the Norquist cameo promises a few seconds of oddball entertainment. If only the same could be said for the film’s predecessor. Though I see bad movies all the time, I’ve had a particular fascination with Atlas Shrugged: Part I since its release in April of last year. There’s so much to analyze, from its original, failed attempt to stoke the Tea Party fires with a tax-day release date to fact that its original DVD case was pulled from stores after angering fans by making a very un-Randian reference to “self-sacrifice.” (What I wouldn’t give for the Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 equivalent of Hearts of Darkness, in which a documentarian chronicled every behind-the-scenes misstep during the Atlas Shrugged’s bizarre production and promotional blitz).

But the sequel fascinates me even more, because its very existence represents everything the filmmakers of Atlas Shrugged: Part I were railing against: the failure of individuals to bow to the will of the free market, which, it must be noted, resoundingly rejected the first film. There is a “teaser trailer” for Atlas Shrugged: Part 2 – Either-Or. But it’s one of the dumbest teasers I’ve ever seen:

Newscasters. A clip of Rand from 1959, railing about “welfare states” and “destruction all around you.” It doesn’t even feature the name of the movie; just the Roman numeral columns of the number II, as if the first film was such a massive hit that we’ll all recognize its sequel on sight.

But more than anything, the Atlas Shrugged: Part 2 – Either-Or trailer confirms something I’ve suspected for a long time: conservative filmmakers have no idea how to market a movie. With both politics and pretensions aside, let’s acknowledge the real reason most people go to movies: to be entertained. And by comparison, let’s review the most successful liberal movie of all-time: Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, which won the Palme D’Or and grossed $120 million on a $6 million budget. I have many problems with Michael Moore’s gotcha-documentarian tactics, but there’s no denying his skill as a filmmaker. If you haven’t seen it since 2003, watch Fahrenheit 9/11’s theatrical trailer again:

The jaunty music, the stunt journalism, the wacky George Bush clips, the seductive promise of “the year’s most controversial film.” It doesn’t bill itself as a liberal screed; it bills itself as comedy. And it worked.

I was actually one of the few Americans who paid to see Atlas Shrugged: Part I in theaters, owing to both a misplaced sense of film-critic duty and my own perverse curiosity. I expected to disagree with the film’s objectivist politics (and was not disappointed). But I didn’t expect it to be so toothless, so poorly produced, and so ineffective at preaching to its own choir. Conservative or liberal, movies can be political and still succeed – but they also have to remember be movies.