Elia Kazans filmic élan has pretty much been glossed over as a result of his notoriety in naming names to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, which subsequently resulted in the career derailment of many of his fellow cinematic piers. One feels there is still much deep-seated contention however, with the memory Hollywood of stalwarts such as as Nick Nolte and Ed Harris looking disgruntled and refusing to applaud during Kazans honoury Oscar acceptance. With the help of the archivist and researcher Kent Jones, Martin Scorsese attempts to restore some respect for the man who helped realise his love for the cinema and was also instrumental in igniting his own filmmaking career. A Letter to Elia closely analyses Kazans best known works including On the Waterfront, East of Eden, A Street Car Named Desire and (Scorseses personal favourite) America, America, along with more obscure entries like Wild River and A Face in the Crowd reinforcing the fact that, in the directors own words work like this doesnt come out of thin air you have had to have lived it Scorsese traces Kazan's outsider immigrant experience (Kazan, like John Cassavetes was a Greek immigrant who fled to the US) as heavily influencing his filmic output and his theatre director heritage as establishing his distain for traditional Hollywood style filmmaking. Scorsese paints the director as having a deeply personal, meaningful approach which spoke to him on a profound level. He also reasserts Kazan as an actors director and one who was a superb nurturer of acting talent (Dean, Brando, Beatty etc), who hated the claustrophobic confines of studio sets and instead embraced cinéma vérité style shoots in open exterior locations. Its a clear-cut informative approach, which reveals some interesting insights into Scorseses filmic inception but unfortunately by focusing exclusively on lengthy Kazan film footage, it becomes increasingly tiresome and ultimately doesn't encourage further investment in the director's work. Also by only briefing touching on the controversial Kazan history and having Kazan himself as the only other talking head it all becomes a little too one-sided. The realisation as to why Scorsese may be the only filmmaker who still has admiration for the late disgraced director is all too apparent. The key message that is communicated is that you cannot tell your idol how much he means to you - but you can show him. Scorsese wasn't able to tell Kazan how much of an influence he was to him, but be carving a successful career in movies he succeeded in showing him. A Letter to Kazan is an interesting footnote for Scorsese that is full of personal antidotes for (Scorsese) fans, but not one which will necessarily encourage audiences to take a leap of faith and absorb themselves in any Kazan retrospective. Oliver Pfeiffer, our man in Oz attending the Sydney Film Festival. Check out all his reviews HERE.
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Oliver Pfeiffer is a freelance writer who trained at the British Film Institute. He joined OWF in 2007 and now contributes as a Features Writer. Since becoming Obsessed with Film he has interviewed such diverse talents as actors Keanu Reeves, Tobin Bell, Dave Prowse and Naomie Harris, new Hammer Studios Head Simon Oakes and Hollywood filmmakers James Mangold, Scott Derrickson and Uk director Justin Chadwick.
Previously he contributed to dimsum.co.uk and has had other articles published in Empire, Hecklerspray, Se7en Magazine, Pop Matters, The Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle and more recently SciFiNow Magazine and The Guardian. He loves anything directed by Cronenberg, Lynch, Weir, Haneke, Herzog, Kubrick and Hitchcock and always has time for Hammer horror films, Ealing comedies and those twisted Giallo movies.
His blog is: http://sites.google.com/site/oliverpfeiffer102/