Briefly Noted Books, Movies, and More

We the Living lives, a lesson from the newspaper business, Cory Doctorow's Makers, and exposing Mexican injustice


We the Living Lives

In 1942 Goffredo Alessandrini directed an unauthorized Italian film version of Ayn Rand's first novel, We the Living. Set during the Russian Revolution, the story has an uncompromising anti-communist message, but its characters are far more subtle, messy, and soapy than Rand's later avatars of Objectivism.

After the war, the movie—actually two movies, Noi Vivi and Addio Kira—was trapped in legal limbo, as Rand had never given permission for its creation or distribution. But in 1986, Rand having blessed the work before her 1982 death, the two parts were assembled into a single film true to the original novel.

We the Living is now available on DVD for the first time, thanks to Duncan Scott Productions. The picture, featuring the love triangle of independent Kira, bad boy Leo, and surprisingly sympathetic Communist Party official Andrei, captures a fleeting moment when the young Rand was still in thrall to Nietzsche and in mourning for her own Leo, left behind in her flight from Russia.—Katherine Mangu-Ward

I Love Local Commercials!

A Cuban gynecologist turned used car salesman snaps a rubber glove against his wrist before announcing that he's about to "liberate this Chevy Impala" from a lot in High Point, North Carolina. A salesman pitching repossessed manufactured homes in Alabama concedes his houses "are used" and "sometimes they have stains." "We cover that up," he promises, then dryly recalls the time "my wife's boyfriend broke my jaw with a fence post." 

It's all part of the charm of ilovelocalcommercials.com, a viral marketing campaign for MicroBilt, a company that sells information technology to small businesses. After selecting a project from their mountain of requests, the campaign's creative team flies out to shoot quirky, wry, brutally honest commercials for tight-budgeted businesses, most of them operating in the grittier niches of the economy. The resulting ads (all viewable on the website) are refreshing, sometimes hilarious celebrations of the wide range of needs and wants met by commerce and marketing.—Radley Balko

The Newspaper Apotheosized

In December a one-shot broadsheet "daily" called the San Francisco Panorama hit the streets. The paper was crammed with material guaranteed to make daily newspaper nostalgics swoon: a lavish comics section featuring the hippest cartoonists, a slick magazine section, more than 100 pages of book reviews, and long, serious investigative reporting on matters local, national, and international. The "newspaper" was in fact the newest issue of the playful and chameleonic literary journal McSweeney's.

The McSweeney's crew, spearheaded by the novelist/screenwriter Dave Eggers, live to execute and defend crazily elaborate efforts of print-based love. So they probably didn't intend the most obvious social lesson that Panorama suggests: that this sort of high-minded, carefully curated collection of material, planned for many months and starring big-name writers dedicated to the McSweeney's cause, would be an impossible business proposition as a daily.—Brian Doherty

Give It Away Now

The science fiction writer Cory Doctorow co-edits Boing Boing, one of the most popular blogs on the Internet. Each of the appealing characters in Makers (Tor), his new novel about a post-scarcity economy set in a near-future wasteland of strip mall shantytowns and Russian weight loss clinics, is a slice of Doctorow himself, from Suzanne, the journalist turned (wildly profitable) blogger, to Perry, the fanboy magnet, always-on-the-road guru, and keeper of an open source Wunderkammer housed in an abandoned Wal-Mart.

The book's eponymous "makers" are struggling to find new ways to make things rather than money, and Doctorow has followed the ideological line implicit in this novel to its logical conclusion: His publisher is offering the entire book for free, in 81 installments released Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at tor.com.—Katherine Mangu-Ward

Exposing Mexican Injustice

Antonio Zuñiga, a street vendor in Mexico City, spent three years in a Mexican prison for a murder he didn't commit. He'd still be one of the many Mexicans—probably thousands—rotting away in that country's notoriously dingy prisons were it not for the Australian filmmaker Geoffrey Smith and a married pair of attorneys, Roberto Hernandez and Layda Negrete, who turned Zuñiga's story into Presumed Guilty, a documentary winning raves on the festival circuit.—Radley Balko