As Elia Kazan walks to the microphone to receive his Honorary Oscar, about two-thirds of the room stands to clap. Warren Beatty is fighting back tears. The other third, motionless, still watches.
And so it was with Kazan's films. The director's politics, though divisive, never overshadowed his gift. His films were not so divisive; A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront and East of Eden came as close as any other filmmaker's works to defining American film in the 1950s.
In The New Yorker's review of "The Elia Kazan Collection," the new boxed set of Kazan's works, friend and enemy alike are quoted referring to the Turkish immigrant as a "Father." For Beatty, whose stardom Kazan precipitated, as well as for Marlon Brando and James Dean, this description is especially accurate. We learn about Kazan's relationship with his own father, and it soon becomes clear that the story of the director informs the stories, not just of his own works, but also those of the American film industry he influenced. Moviegoers today are all, to one degree or another, his grandchildren, and we owe it to him to sit and listen to his tall tales. The New Yorker abides:
At work, Kazan became the receptive, supportive, intimate, authoritative father he'd never had. "I've never seen a director who became as deeply and emotionally involved in a scene," Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography, "Songs My Mother Taught Me." "Kazan was the best actors' director by far of any I've worked for. [He] got into a part with me and virtually acted it with me."
He believed that, for an interpretation to be owned by an actor, the actor had to find it in himself. "He would send one actor to listen to a particular piece of jazz, another to a certain novel, another to see a psychiatrist, another he would simply kiss," [playwright Arthur] Miller recalled. Kazan's trick was to make the actors feel as though his ideas were actually their own revelations.
(Read more at The New Yorker)
Below, the trailer for Kazan's "last real hit," Splendor in the Grass: