Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Elia Kazan: A Fink For Liberty?

His was one of Hollywood's most brilliant careers and his films are among the finest ever made - A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), and A Face in the Crowd (1957), to name just three. Sadly, both Elia Kazan's legacy and his stature as an artist may be permanently tainted...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketDuring testimony he gave before the House Un-American Activities Committee in January 1952, Kazan named names, identifying people he knew to be Communists. Though he was neither the first nor the only person to do so, no serious charges were laid as a result of his testimony, and he didn't in fact name anyone who hadn't been previously named, the damage was done.

Kazan's detractors ever since have been legion; so, now, are his apologists, of which I am one*.

It's become a popular fiction to blame the studio heads for pressuring Kazan to name names, which initially he had refused to do; now, normally I don't need any excuse at all to blame anything at all from hangnails to genocide on a studio head, but I cannot do it in this case. Kazan was a committed socialist all his life, and simply opposed to the tyranny represented by Communism; the only one to blame for pressuring him into testifying is Josef Stalin, whose reign of terror was responsible for the death and/or murder of millions.

Though his career was wounded, Kazan didn't let the attempted assassination by leftie politics slow him down. Quite the contrary: while he continued to make films about issues, films like Splendor in the Grass (1961), America, America (1963), and The Last Tycoon (1976), and direct plays in between (which anyway had been his first love, creatively) he also began writing novels later in life, including one he later made into a film, The Arrangement.

Born this day in 1909, Elia Kazan died in September 2003 - shortly after his 94th birthday - having been acknowledged by the Academy in 1999 for his body of work with a Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to him by no less luminaries than by Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro - even though several notable names present remained seated and refused to clap during Kazan's obligatory standing ovation.

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*My opposition, as always, is to tyranny - whether it be from Stalinism, McCarthyism, or leftie-ism - namely, the tendency amongst progressive types to eat their own, all the while allowing the Right free rein in destroying the world with their lies.
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