Freddy's Take: I stumbled on to Kazan through watching "On The Waterfront". I always try to learn some things about the movies I watch and when I saw that the director had also done famous films such as "East of Eden" and "A Street Car Named Desire" (Stella!!!! Hey, Stella!!!!), I figured I should look into his work more closely. My intention was to have us watch movies from a younger filmmaker, but Kazan intrigued me and I changed my mind. I bought the "Elia Kazan Collection" that was compiled by Martin Scorsese and watched several documentaries. It was quickly apparent that this guy was already one of my favorite filmmakers after seeing the aforementioned movies along with "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn", "Baby Doll", and "Gentleman's Agreement". Over the course of three weeks I watched 10 Kazan films. The guy was a master filmmaker! Each film delivered on the promise of the last one. I can honestly say that his films attack subject manner that is timeless and are still very relevant today. Themes of labor/class strife, racial inequality, media saturation in our culture, mental illness, and sexism. Any movie lover would be doing themselves a favor to look into his work.
I had so many great films to choose from but I went with "On The Waterfront", " East of Eden", and the terrifically underrated "A Face In The Crowd". "OTW" featured Marlon Brandon, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger, as well as the awesome Lee Cobb (12 Angry Men, The Exorcist). The quality of the acting along with the story leaves no doubt as to why this is considered one of the greatest movies of all-time. This was Kazan's answer (explanation?) to his involvement in naming people that may have had ties to communism back during the "red scare", disguised as a film about the mob ran shipping yards in New Jersey. Brando is pretty awesome and the backseat scene with him and Steiger is a piece of classic cinema. "You was my brother. Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit".
Next up was "East of Eden", starring James Dean. I had seen all of Dean's films (Rebel Without A Cause, Giant) previous to this and while I thought he was solid, I understood what the fuss was after catching "East of Eden" a second time. Dean's performance is raw and real. I couldn't imagine another actor in the role of "Cal". The story is pretty much that of Cain and Abel from Genesis in the the Bible. Betrayal, jealousy, the want for acceptance, and misplaced ambition are all themes and though that's a lot to put on the plate of one movie, Kazan weaves it all into a powerful and touching film. This film elevated my interest in Kazan and Dean.
The third film should have been easy, right? "A Street Car Named Desire" seemed like an easy choice, but having watched "On The Waterfront", I felt like we got a sense of how Kazan was great with an almost "play" like script, so I decided to move off the beaten path and choose a film that was not reviewed very well upon its' release but has gained momentum as a classic years after it's release; "A Face In The Crowd". It stars Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal and is a sharp look at how the media (radio, then television) can shape the way people feel about the world around them, lead people to buy products, and how it can even influence the way the general public views a politician. This topic was decades ahead of its' time and it's probably more relevant today than when it was released. Griffith gives a fantastic, over the top performance and Patricia Neal is given plenty of script to work with to develop her strong and savvy character, which was kind of a rarity for women in 1950's era Hollywood.
The films were the catalyst for a little more conversation than we sometimes get into, so it made me happy to know that even if Chris and Tanner weren't crazy about the films, there were aspects that caught their attention and triggered a want to express feelings about the film. James Dean seemed, in particular, to be a standout in our discussions. I was pleased with the day and look forward to the next get together!
On The Waterfront
East of Eden
A Face In The Crowd
Elia Kazan discusses working with Marlon Brando and James Dean.