Director Elia Kazan talks about his films

Kazan on Kazan
By Michel Ciment
Cinema One Series #26
Secker & Warburg Limited Publishing, 1973, 199 pages

I felt the need for some light reading material recently so I purchased a used copy of this book from Amazon. “Kazan on Kazan” may have been the first book I ever read about director, Elia Kazan, after having borrowed a copy from our local library way back in the 80s or early-90s. I enjoyed re-reading Kazan’s personal insights into his nineteen films. This is a short book, but there are many others available that cover the director and his films in far greater detail.

I’ve previously mentioned that I became interested in Kazan back when I was a young teen after watching the very unconventional ending of his 1961 film, “Splendor in the Grass.” Over the years, I became very familiar with all of Kazan’s work and even reviewed his nineteen films here at WordPress over the course of 2017 (see here). I haven’t I posted anything about Kazan since then because I needed a break following that marathon.

Kazan (1909-2003) was a remarkable fellow. At the high point of his career in the mid-1950s, he was considered America’s finest director, both in Hollywood and on Broadway. He revolutionized film and the theater by popularizing Konstantin Stanislavski’s method of training actors (i.e., “The Method”) and brought a level of realism to his productions that was unlike anything seen in America at the time.

Kazan quit the American Communist party in 1936, but remained a Marxist and atheist the remainder of his life. However, he would earn the unceasing ire of the American Left for his friendly testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. Kazan had been brought up in the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, but ultimately rejected the ritualism and legalism of institutional religion.

Why do I continue to value Kazan’s films? There was no such thing as the “good guys” versus the “bad guys” in Kazan’s later movies. The most notable characteristic of Kazan’s later work was the ambivalence of the main characters. They were motivated by both “good” and “bad” ideals, unlike the other American films of the time, which always portrayed the main character as a stereotypical “good guy.” Kazan’s characters were deeply flawed and that mirrored the reality that I knew. The director had fantastic insights into humankind and American society and wasn’t afraid to rub his audience’s noses in it, even as his films drew smaller and smaller box office.

So, Kazan stated the problem correctly; people are flawed, people are sinners. However, as an atheist, he could offer no solutions to man’s dilemma. He had no Gospel, no Good News to present to his audience.

“Kazan on Kazan” is strictly for Kazan aficionados.

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5 thoughts on “Director Elia Kazan talks about his films

  1. I was immediately draw to the photo from America, America – a film we’ve seen many times. In part, Kazan captures the plight of Armenians & Greeks in Turkey. (BTW, Turkish President Erdogan announced his ominous ambition to resurrect the Ottoman Empire.)
    Thanks Tom for another fine post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lisa Beth! America America is such an interesting film. It’s something very unexpected out of Hollywood, but Kazan still had (barely) enough pull at the time to push it through. He talks in this book about the hard time he had getting one of the Hollywood studios to distribute it. I was pretty much unaware of the persecution of the Armenians and Greeks in Turkey prior to learning about Kazan and watching America America. Interesting about Erdogan promising to resurrect the Ottoman Empire. It seems politicians around the world are appealing to constituents by promising a return to the “glory days.” He is going to have major problems. I see Turkey has accumulated massive debt after an enthusiastic spending spree and the bills are now coming due.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a bit slower to comment and read WordPress since I’m on vacation. I appreciated the reviews of all the movies of His you posted last year. I’m glad that you did it. I am blown away at how atheist film makers can see an essential dimension of the human experience and yet sadly have no solution because of their atheistic faith. I felt the same with Stanley Kurbrick and the director of Apocalypse now. Thank you for this review

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the support! As you know, I started out as a Christian in a fundamentalist environment, where pretty much all secular art/entertainment was demonized (except for action/martial arts movies). Kazan’s unvarnished portrayals of individual and societal “shortcomings” hit a chord with me for whatever reason and it wasn’t a big leap from there to “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So perhaps Kazan’s films were among the many things used by the Lord to draw me to Him.

      Liked by 1 person

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