The Elia Kazan Collection, featuring 15 films and Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones's A Letter to Elia, is clearly the release of the week. "Gathering every feature Kazan made between 1945 and 1963," writes Sam Adams in the Los Angeles Times, "including five not previously released on DVD, in a handsome two-volume set that also includes an illustrated coffee-table book, the collection fills some major gaps in his body of work, especially toward its end. Considering the familiarity of Kazan's best-known films — [On the Waterfront], East of Eden, A Streetcar Named Desire and A Face in the Crowd, for starters — it's hard to imagine one of his greatest could have been almost forgotten. But a single viewing of 1960's Wild River confirms that. With its vivid colors and engrossing CinemaScope compositions, Wild River is visually enthralling in a manner more characteristic of contemporaries like Nicholas Ray and Vincente Minnelli than Kazan."
"The French critic Serge Daney once observed that Kazan's real contribution to the cinema wasn't so much the individual movies he made as the new generation of stars he created," notes Dave Kehr in his review for the New York Times. "Beginning perhaps with Montgomery Clift (whom Kazan directed in the Broadway premiere of Thornton Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth in 1942), Kazan presided over a group of performers who changed the nature of American acting. Marlon Brando, James Dean, Warren Beatty, Carroll Baker, Julie Harris, Rip Torn, Eli Wallach, Martin Balsam, Lee Remick, Eva Marie Saint, Andy Griffith and countless others found their artistic identities under Kazan's direction, which embraced the psychological complexity of Method acting while backing away from its bombast. For many the Method has come to mean bulging eyes, throbbing veins and bellowing rage. But Kazan's direction was more frequently distinguished by the shyness and uncertainty he revealed in his performers, who often seem to be turning away from the audience and into themselves."
At his own site, Dave Kehr draws some interesting parallels between Kazan and Ingmar Bergman. For example, "both were celebrated theater directors who made their movie debuts around the same time, building their style around a distinctive, stylized direction of actors that somehow passed for psychological realism in the postwar context; both liked to traffic in big themes (social and political for Kazan, philosophical and religious for Bergman) but found their most sure connection with audiences in their intimate treatment of the thrills and traumas of adolescent sexuality.... As superb as some of their individual films may be, both in the end seemed to be accidental filmmakers, for whom movies were a secondary form of expression while the true heart of their work lied elsewhere — not in the orchestration of sounds and images but in the theatrical alliance of language and gesture."
For New York, Martin Scorsese comments on some of the best performances in Kazan's films.
Out on DVD and Blu-ray today from Criterion is Lars von Trier's Antichrist, "another provocation that is at once beautiful and perverse, personal and cynical, and filled with his sour vision of the emotional small-mindedness (small-heartedness?) of the human animal," as Sean Axmaker sees it. Ian Christie for Criterion: "Even more than the desperate, ill-used protagonists of Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, Medea seems to prepare the way for [Charlotte] Gainsbourg in Antichrist.... Like Kierkegaard, von Trier has always thrived on assaulting 'good taste' and conventional pieties, and here he has mobilized the resources of horror cinema to delve into the long history of 'monstrous femininity' and misogyny — not to reassure us that it's all in the past, or easily curable by therapeutic platitudes, but to make us feel the true horror of facing our buried fears and conflicts." More from Vadim Rizov (GreenCine Daily).
"John Cazale appeared in exactly five motion pictures before he died of cancer at 42," writes Jason Bailey at DVD Talk. "But the five films he made were among the best films of Hollywood's richest decade. If you could only appear in five movies, you could do a lot worse than The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. His entire filmography was nominated for Best Picture. But Cazale himself never was. He tended to play the quiet role, the supporting character, the guy on the edge of the frame, while the showy roles were the ones that got the awards. But perhaps the most cogent argument put forth by the new documentary I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale is that, in his quiet skill and sometimes scary intensity, Cazale elevated the actors around him, putting them on alert to do their best work. The stats certainly back it up: his co-stars in those five films received a collective total of 14 acting nominations. Cazale was, in the truest sense, a brilliant 'supporting actor.'" For the Wall Street Journal, Steven Kurutz talks with Brett Ratner, the producer of the doc. More from Matt Singer (IFC).
Boom Britain: Documenting the Nation's Life on Film is, as the British Film Institute itself puts it, a "landmark project that will transform our understanding of British documentary cinema post-1945 encompassing a season at BFI Southbank," Shadows of Progress, running through December 30, "a 4-disc DVD boxset, a new book, a Mediatheque collection and a touring programme of extraordinary films."
DVD roundups. Sean Axmaker, Mark Kermode (Observer), Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, Noel Murray (LAT), Stephen Saito (IFC) and Slant.
In other news. Tonight in Berlin, Kino Satellite, a new series curated by Pamela Cohn and Andrew Grant, presents a selection of films by Ken Jacobs, introduced by Cargo co-editor Ekkehard Knörer.