Monday, September 7, 2009
A Century of Brilliance.
Elia Kazan (1909-2003) would've turned one hundred years old today. Born Elia Kazanjoglous in Istanbul in 1909 to Greek parents, he migrated to the United States where he became one of the greatest, most versatile, theatrical and film directors that ever lived (that slight bias you're detecting must be because he's one of my Holy Trinity of movie directors).
Despite his infamous involvement in the HUAAC name-naming which made him a polarizing figure in Hollywood (yet inspired "On the Waterfront"...) his contributions to the craft are undeniable.
He practically discovered Marlon Brando and James Dean. Both of them received Best Actor Oscar nominations for their very first movies with Elia-which also happened to be their debuts of sorts-and Brando was nominated for every movie he did with him (he led 21 actors and actresses to Oscar nominations and 9 of them won the award).
He also funded the Actors Studio in 1947 which revolutionized the way movie acting was conceived.
His ability to use the Studio System to treat such diverse, and controversial, topics as racism, rape, antisemitism, sexual disorders and homosexuality brought him acclaim and made him a unique voice in Hollywood.
Somehow though his legacy has been a bit muddled not only by that HUAAC mess but also because his subtle directorial efforts are seen by today's audiences more as actors' achievements.
Yes, Brando and Vivien Leigh were extraordinary in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and nobody
can forget Dean in "East of Eden", but their performances would've stayed at a base level if it wasn't for Kazan.
His latter filmography is also a vault of hidden treasures including a definitive Robert de Niro performance in the all-star adaptation of "The Last Tycoon".
But don't take my word for it, go out and watch how with a mere camera Kazan could create enchantment.