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“Wordplay,” “The Fountainhead”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Wordplay,” IFC Films]

There are far too few avenues in the pop-cult arena for the glorification of higher brain functions — almost by definition, the flexing of intellect and education makes the masses feel like a lower life form in a way that watching “American Idol” doesn’t, even if the high-minded exercise in question is meaningless tosh. So, when a doc like 2003’s “Spellbound” or Patrick Creadon’s “Wordplay” appears on the horizon, a certain percentage of literate Americans go to it like desert animals to an oasis spring.

It’d be easy to dismiss Creadon’s homage to crossword puzzlers, craftsmen and publishers as a full-on brown-nosing for The New York Times — it’s a movie about fandom, and if you’re not a fan, it could easily seem to be much ado about a lot of masturbatory nothing. But if you are, and you harbor an ardor for the engaged mind at play in the fields of language, culture and memory, then this is all you. Creadon sweetens the pot by interviewing virtually every celebrity that’s ever been known to prefer the tougher, end-of-the-week Times puzzles to the easier early ones, including Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Mike Mussina, Bob Dole, Ken Burns, et al. Since there’s not much to talk about, Creadon has them solve on camera, a spectacle that in itself can make you feel as stupid as a grouper.

Times puzzle editor Will Shortz and his freelance cronies properly take center stage, and while they manufacture the networks of numbered clues and dish out dollops of historical trivia about when and how the habit/hobby got started, the movie builds up to the 28th Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. (The clue-empty space-ticking clock action is arranged with digital graphics, making DVD backups profitable.) The cast of reference-section puzzle geeks may take their competition too seriously, but Creadon doesn’t, and it’s a sweet thing to see the members of this uncelebrated, unglamorous mob taste stardom thanks exclusively to what’s between their ears. The DVD comes with commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes — and five specially designed DVD-ROM puzzles.

Talk about big brain: it’s a wonder that America ever made a bestselling author out of Nietzschean philosopher/mega-novelist Ayn Rand, but we did, and Hollywood even stepped up and adapted her elitist, demagogic masterpiece “The Fountainhead” into a movie back in 1949. It’s more than just a respectful filmization of a popular message-tome that still speaks to readers who see themselves as victims of society’s monobrow — it is itself an act of Übermensch modernism.

Restless director King Vidor tells the tale about a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque architect (Gary Cooper) battling the world for the right to his own integrity, and raps out, in thick paragraphs of dialogue, Rand’s caught-somewhere-between-capitalism-and-socialism “objectivist” doctrine. But he’s also managed to make the only true Futurist film in American cinema, with a distinctive cement-and-bleached-beam veneer and a maniacally didactic narrative style. Little effort is made to persuade us that these are real characters, not just walking, ranting points of view, and in fact the film seems to have been made in an alternate universe where architecture is the country’s most imperative public concern, architects are thought literally heretical if they experiment, and hordes of citizens riot if a newspaper supports (on its front page) an untraditional building.

As with all utopia-building, and with most anything Rand stamped her sensibility on, this film is sweeping, hopeful nonsense; the final image of Cooper’s Howard Roarke standing atop the world’s tallest structure, hands on hips, is a poster for a revolution that never happened. There’s a crazy, innocent beauty in that. Predictably, mass audiences in the postwar 40s didn’t know what to make of this humdinger, but its rep has ballooned over the decades, and it has been one of the most eagerly awaited DVD titles malingering in the Hollywood vault. Supplements include a new making-of documentary.

“Wordplay” (IFC Films/Genius Products) and “The Fountainhead” (Warner Home Video) are both available on DVD on November 7th.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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