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Watch the full episode. See more American Masters.
Recording it now
Video preview here
I just saw the full film on the big screen at the New York Film Festival. It played with a restored version of Kazan’s AMERICA AMERICA. The “star” was present, as well as Scorsese’s co-director.
I made some comments about it on another MUBI (ugh!) thread and don’t want to repeat myself here.
Amazing film, Scorsese proposes the interesting, if radical, theory that Elia Kazan was a director up until his testimony before HUAC; and that after this, he became a personal filmmaker…
Thought provoking, but I buy it…
@ Frank P. — How did America, America play to the NYFF crowd? I just taught this title a few weeks ago in a class I’m doing, also ironically named ‘American Masters.’
Nobody in the class had ever seen it, and while it is quite long and could use a small trim, it is still lingering with all my budding filmmakers and everybody is still discussing it. Tonight we screened Minnelli’s Some Came Running and I have a feeling it’s going to have the same effect.
There are two titles screaming for a Criterion DVD treatment.
@christopher sepesy: AMERICA AMERICA received polite applause from an exhausted NYFF audience. When the lights came back on, however, the crowd went wild because Stathis Giallelis, the film’s star, was on stage with Scorsese’s co-director.
I think that the film received a better-than-expected reaction from a crowd that would normally have condemned ANYTHING Kazan did because of his HUAC testimony because (1) AMERICA AMERICA had been set up by the LETTERS TO ELIA short, (2) the short had dealt with the HUAC period and portrayed Kazan as a survivor, (3) the print was a magnificent restoration and beautiful to watch, and (4) the crowd was self-selected as those willing to sit though a 3-hour movie by Kazan.
I hadn’t realized that the film was shot by Haskell Wexler, one of the biggest lefties in Hollywood.
Incidentally, I agree with you that 15-20 minutes could have been cut. It takes Stavros 2.5 hours to get to America. One or two fewer adventures along the way would have made for a more effective film, imo.
Great to hear that Stathis Giallelis is still with us. His co-star Gregroy Rozakis died of AIDS in 1989.
I saw the film when it came out. Most impressive and supremely personal. When the anti-hero syas “Don’t trust me,” Kazan was speaking from the heart.
Life would be so much easier if Kazan had been a hack like Dymytrck.
I saw AMERICA, AMERICA at NYU several years ago. I had thought the film was about a Turkish immigrant’s journey to America and his experiences once he got here. It’s not. He’s in Turkey for 99% of the film. I kept WAITING for him to get to America. And he finally does—in an awkward shot in a studio set—at the very end. What the hell was the point? I found it an excruciating experience.
Stick to A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN.
As for his HUAC testimony: I’ve had shifting views on this over the years. The fact is, he was in the Commie Party briefly in the ‘30s. He didn’t like it. They gave him a hard time, just as they gave any true artist, individualist and free thinker a hard time. 20 years later, as he’s achieving extraordinary success as a Hollywood director, his brief membership comes back to bite him in the ass. He had no obligation to these people. He didn’t even like them. HUAC played a very bad game, but so did the Commies. Which was the worst evil? I would say the Commies. Kazan went on to make ON THE WATERFRONT, EAST OF EDEN, A FACE IN THE CROWD and WILD RIVER. Yes some actors and writers were blacklisted. But make no mistake about it: HUAC had all these names already and they were asking people to name them just to prove they were “loyal” and shouldn’t be blacklisted. And the blacklisted ones’ fate was already established because they wouldn’t name names. It was a terrible thing to put all these people through. But if I was put in that position, what would I do? Depends on what I had to lose. I got nothing to lose now, so it’s a moot point.
David E. makes a very good point above: “Life would be so much easier if Kazan had been a hack like Dmytryk.”
Dmytryk also “named names,” maybe of people already named or confessed (like Kazan), but that was AFTER he had served some time in jail for refusing to cooperate, as one of the Hollywood Ten. Kazan’s FILMS are so much richer than Dmytryk’s that it complicates the matter. At the time, though, the “party line” was that one did not cooperate with the witch hunt, even if the exercise was relatively meaningless.
Also, if we’re down on the “Commies,” as Vic Pardo suggests above, then we should probably also abjure the films of Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Vertov, Miklós Jancsó, Ousmane Sembene, Godard, most of the post-revolutionary Cuban filmmakers, and many others.
-Which was the worst evil? I would say the Commies.-
Nonsense. Remember we are talking now about American communist and socialist parties and a few other left-wing organizations, not the Soviet Union or any other foreign regime (and even the USSR proved not quite as dangerous as advertised, right?). These groups actually played an important role in the American labor movement and spoke out against a variety of social injustices, among other positive functions. These groups that people in NY and Hollywood were involved in were not bomb-tossing Galleanists. Fearmongers like McCarthy and Cohn were (and are) the greater evil.
I agree that McCarthy and Cohn were a great evil. But probably for different reasons. I believe their tawdry efforts discredited anti-communism and did great damage to the LIBERAL anti-communist movement. In the ’60s and 70s, when I was growing up, the Commies and radicals of earlier eras were lionized by the American Left and antipathy towards communist dictatorships in the USSR and Red China was not as great as it should have been. And I, sadly, was a (small) part of all that. As a result, we have what we have now, a massively corrupt crumbling society armed with nukes, i.e. Russia, and a rising Red China that gets what it wants without any regard for ethics, international law or human rights. And we can thank Godard and Bertolucci in part for that!
Matt, at the risk of being didactic, I feel obligated, in 2010, to note that those American communist “organizations” were run by Soviet operatives.
We know this because the former Soviets have explained the entire affair ad nauseum, and the supporting documents for all of that can be stacked stories high.
The communist bullies enforcing matters in Hollywood and elsewhere were every bit as evil and ruthless as McCarthy and Cohn, but their deeds and machinations were not played out in a broad,
well-publicized public forum (for reasons no one here needs to point out.)
As for the USSR not being as dangerous as advertised, who knew that in the early 1950s?
That’s apart from the plain fact that, for those languishing in gulags, or those shot in the back for crossing the wall in Berlin, and for those millions starved, and for those Europeans who were deprived of the simplest liberties we take for granted, the communists were quite MORE dangerous than advertised.
Also, life is quite easy, actually, regarding Kazan’s films. We watch them, become thrilled by his mastery and moved by his craft, then we add another notch to out belts as pertains to an aesthetic and cultural experience worth treasuring. It’s a piece of cake, really. Watch ON THE WATERFRONT, PANIC IN THE STREETS, or WILD RIVER and you’ll see what I mean.
Still, there’s much hand-wringing and self-righteous posturing where Kazan’s history is concerned, and I guess we have to file all that under “Why the Left Can’t Have Nice Things.”
Coming back to the DOCUMENTARY, I thought it was beautiful, Scorsese really gets choked up at the end and you could feel his admiration pouring out from the screen.I only wish they would of focused a little more on Splendor in the Grass, I mean there you have Warren Beatty & Natalie Wood! Other than that it was fantastic. I enjoyed learning about Kazan’s formation of the Actor’s Studio, according to Pacino “He brought Stratstberg in”. Kazan’s contribution to movie making can really never be grasped because one would have to take into account all of the GREAT ACTORS that came from the Actors Studio which had it not been for Kazan, we might have never gotten Al Pacino,Mickey Rourke,John Cazale,Chis Walken,James Dean, Paul Newman,Monty Clift, Joanne Woodward,Jane Fonda, Andy Garcia,Karl Madden,Ellen Burstyn,Gene Hackman,Burt Young,Bruno Kirby,Rody Steiger,Steve McQueen,Harvey Kietal, Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell, Martian Landau, Dustin Hoffman,Maureen Stapleton, Anne Bancroft, Sean Penn,Rip Torn,and Alec Baldwin, I havent mentioned everyone but all of these people and the subsequent careers are owned to Kazan. We will never know why Kazan gave names but that is not the fucking point, we dont know what pressure the U.S government put on him. The government certainly leaned hard. I love Kazan’s movies and he changed the landscape in more ways than one.
Rudy: Agree about Scorsese’s admiration on full display.
I was even more struck by his lengthy and unrestrained memories of how Waterfront and East of Eden impacted him when he was just 12 years old.
I don’t think I have ever heard any major filmmaker share such personal observations.
It was almost uncomfortable in places.
That’s how I talk about movies with people I’m close to.
At various times, but certainly most consistently during my childhood, numerous motion pictures caused me to re-assess things (often much more so than real events did ).
They impelled me to attempt to cross the emotional and intellectual gulfs that yawned between me and the adults in my life.
They sometimes showed me new possibilities, real and imagined.
They filled me with awe, whether it was based in fear of what transpired or admiration for a character.
It was deeply satisfying to hear Scorsese share comparable feelings.
I wanna also say I am not too educated on the Hollywood aspect of the McCarthy hearings. I would like to know who was on the blacklist, who fled the US of A as a result of this retarded bullshit. The actors,actresses, and directors who where all summoned and so fourth.Who participated, who didn’t.
Rudy: You can find most of the basic information you request on the following site:
It lists the Hollywood Ten + HUNDREDS of others who were blacklisted or on the RED CHANNELS list.
It’s a start.
-those American communist “organizations” were run by Soviet operatives.-
And? “Run” is a grossly inaccurate description, but, fine. Do you mean to suggest that any connection to the USSR establishes a valid “threat?”, that the blacklisting of Jules Dassin, Dalton Trumbo, Abraham Polonsky, and others was justified on this basis? The governments of North Korea and North Vietnam/the Viet Kong had verifiable contact with communist regimes in China and the USSR? Did that make them a genuine threat to the US? Does that, in turn justify the US military actions there?
Hollywood was not targeted because filmmakers were a threat to national security, Hollywood was targeted because there were right wing goons in power who were unable to understand art and therefore felt threatened by it.
-That’s apart from the plain fact that . . .-
A complex issue with a simple solution: one needs to hold two opposing views.
Kazan was a rat who did great things for cinema.
^ right, seperate Kazan/Kazan’s films
What was interesting to me in the doc was Kazan’s assertion that it was only the films he made after he gave testimony that were “personal” ie bad experience, guilt, remorse, anger, etc. resulting from the experience made him a better director.
Same approach for Leni Riefenstahl….
It seems to me that one reason why Kazan and the other informers are seen as more evil than the American “commies” is that the while the latter may have betrayed their “country,” an abstract ideal, the former betrayed their friends, real living beings.
Yes, it was personal to them and to us.
Ratting someone out is the opposite of brotherhood.
“Great to hear that Stathis Giallelis is still with us.”
Have you seen more films with him participating or you’re just saying it because he’s played in an “American” film?
“What the hell was the point? I found it an excruciating experience.”
Only a person who says commies are “evil” would find the magnum opus of Kazan an “excruciating experience”, perhaps Vic Pardo can also explain us this?
“and a rising Red China that gets what it wants without any regard for ethics, international law or human rights.”
I see….so artistic fragrance is also part of a fucking conspiracy against your fucking country Vic Pardo? Relax you right-wingers, your times will come…
“As a result, we have what we have now, a massively corrupt crumbling society armed with nukes, i.e. Russia”
You mean capitalist Russia that was raped by friendly American businessmen after the fall of the Soviet Union? The effect privitisation and ‘free market’ policies had on Russia in the 90s was indescribably bad.
Sounds a bit like American supported Israel to me, but why bring logic to the table when it’s commie bashing time!
Ah, the unreconstructed Left thrives here. Lester Cole and John Howard Lawson (and V.J. Jerome, for that matter) are cheering you on from whatever section of the afterlife they’re in.
thank you vic pardo for derailing an informative thread with the introduction of ill-considered and unreconstructed right wing politics, is it any surprise you received opposing augments from the other end of the political spectrum!(by which i really mean the mainstream)
So, since I defended Kazan while the “opposing augments” defended two of the most brutal totalitarian societies in history, Russia and Red China, I’m accused of derailing the thread. Got it.
(Oh, and just to update you, one doesn’t have to be right-wing to oppose totalitarian societies.)
i obviously meant “opposing arguments” not augments! but back to what ,for example, welshy said, the chicago boys were involved in the "liberal economic " reforms that led to the implosion of the russian economic system out of which the ruthless oligarchs arose( through their expropriation of shares at exploitative prices!) and the support for north Korea and certain african states by china does have a parallel in americas support for Israel.