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Kazan Revisited

Lisa Dombrowski

Publication Year: 2011

A groundbreaking filmmaker dogged by controversy in both his personal life and career, Elia Kazan was one of the most important directors of postwar American cinema. In landmark motion pictures such as A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, East of Eden, and Splendor in the Grass, Kazan crafted an emotionally raw form of psychological realism. His reputation has rested on his Academy award-winning work with actors, his provocative portrayal of sexual, moral, and generational conflict, and his unpopular decision to name former colleagues as Communists before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. But much of Kazan's influential cinematic legacy remains unexamined. Arriving in the wake of his centenary, Kazan Revisited engages and moves beyond existing debates regarding Kazan's contributions to film, tackling the social, political, industrial, and aesthetic significance of his work from a range of critical perspectives. Featuring essays by established film critics and scholars such as Richard Schickel (Time), Victor Navasky (The Nation), Mark Harris (Entertainment Weekly), Kent Jones (Film Comment), Jonathan Rosenbaum (Essential Cinema, 2004), Jeanine Basinger (The Star Machine, 2007), and Leo Braudy (On the Waterfront, 2008), this book is a must for diehard cinephiles and those new to Kazan alike.


Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: Wesleyan Film


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

This book originated as part of Wesleyan University’s celebration of Elia Kazan’s centennial, including a partial film retrospective and an exhibition of materials from the Kazan Collection held at the Wesleyan Cinema Archives. The Kazan Collection includes correspondence, scripts, notebooks, production documents, photographs, clippings, awards, writings, and other ...

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pp. ix-xiv

We talk about his work. As an actor, director, and writer, Kazan’s groundbreaking contributions to American art and culture span over five decades and continue to permeate our popular consciousness. His participation in the activism of the Group Theatre, promulgation of the Method via the Actors Studio, and acclaimed direction of Broadway milestones such as The Skin of Our Teeth, A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof...

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On Kazan the Man

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pp. 1-11

I first met Elia Kazan in the fall of 1969. He had given his personal and professional papers to Wesleyan University, due to the efforts of Wyman Parker, who was at that time the head of the University’s Olin Library. In return for his gift, Kazan was provided with a working office on campus, a convenience he often took advantage of, since he owned a country home in nearby Newtown, Connecticut. Because he was curious about...

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The Quiet Side of Kazan

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pp. 13-24

Red Scare politics aside, most of the attention paid to Elia Kazan and his films, positive and negative, has been given over to acting and a laundry list of related issues such as hysteria (Splendor in the Grass, 1961), Oedipal entanglements (East of Eden, 1955; The Arrangement,1969), real-life conflicts put to dramatic and cinematic use ( James Dean and Raymond Massey’s mutual antipathy, Lee Remick’s overwhelming of...

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Elia Kazan, Seen from 1973

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pp. 25-36

Rereading this essay thirty-six years after I wrote it for Richard Roud’s two-volume critical collection Cinema: A Critical Dictionary: The Major Filmmakers, I can’t say that many of my positions or preferences regarding Kazan’s work have changed. But in a few cases I’ve been able to amplify some of my original impressions. For my 2007 essay “Southern...

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“The Director, That Miserable Son of a Bitch”: Kazan, Viva Zapata! and the Problem of Authority

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pp. 37-47

Whenever the discussion turns to a particular film director, the whole question of the auteur theory reemerges, with its assumptions—or at least its conjectures—about personal style, aesthetic control, and, most basic of all, the equivalence between authority and value: What makes a Kazan film and what makes it good? What is his signature as a director? After the great pioneering...

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Mr. Kazan Goes to Washington: A Case Study in Misguided Ambivalence

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pp. 49-55

When I first interviewed Elia Kazan way back in 1973 for the book that became Naming Names, I asked him how he felt about his April 1952 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), in which, at the committee’s insistence, he named former Party comrades in the Group Theatre, and thereby avoided being placed on the ubiquitous blacklist that then haunted...

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Man on a Tightrope: Kazan as Liberal Anticommunist

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pp. 56-73

Perhaps abetted by Elia Kazan in his autobiography and comments in interviews, Man on a Tightrope (1953) has been treated by most critics as a straightforward attack on Communism that he was more or less forced to undertake. It may be more productive to see the 1953 film as part of a cluster—including Boomerang! (1947), Panic in the Streets (1950), Viva Zapata! (1952), and On the Waterfront...

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“Independence” and the “Art Film”: Baby Doll and After

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pp. 75-86

In the thirties it was a common view in the Group Theatre in New York that “going Hollywood” and going to Hollywood was to some degree a process of “selling out.” Elia Kazan’s writings are littered with references to the remoteness and artificiality of Los Angeles life compared to that of New York, and to the tendency of Hollywood actors to have a “wax fruit” look. In his most personal film, America America (1963), the director was engaged...

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The Search for Humor and Humanity in Baby Doll and A Face in the Crowd

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pp. 87-101

When we think of his great films, his iconic films, what comes to mind, above all else, is ferocity. Everything, no matter how tame, is in Kazan’s hands imbued with operatic, even dangerous vehemence. Extremity spares no person or theme, and it permeates the director’s oeuvre so completely it has become synonymous with our sense of...

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A Straight Director’s Queer Eye, 1951–1961

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pp. 103-115

Let’s start with a contradiction. On one hand, an admission: Including the phrase “queer cinema” and “Elia Kazan” in the same sentence is a stretch. And on the other, an assertion: Any director who, in the space of a decade, put Marlon Brando, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, and Warren Beatty before his camera, two of them in roles that were among the most sexually iconic of their careers, may have contributed more to the...

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The Other Side of the Story: Elia Kazan as Director of Female Pain

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pp. 116-131

Elia Kazan is best remembered as a director of male actors and teller of male stories—On the Waterfront (1954) being arguably the most famous example. But a second look reveals that there is another side to this story. Throughout his career he directed actresses in stories about women. Three of his films in particular can be reconstituted as examples of female pain if one sets aside the way we ordinarily assess them. Doing so...

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Documentary and Democracy in Boomerang! and Panic in the Streets

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pp. 133-147

If one is searching for some term to describe the insistent yet curiously inchoate body of work produced by Elia Kazan in the 1940s (primarily under the aegis of Darryl Zanuck and Twentieth Century-Fox), “realist” is as good a tag as any. Undertaking his first five efforts as a film director during the last phase of true studio filmmaking, Kazan referred often to his desire in this period to go beyond the back lot. In his book-length interview with...

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Elia Kazan and the Semidocumentary Composing Urban Space

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pp. 148-162

During the production of his 1950 film Panic in the Streets, Elia Kazan spent several weeks agonizing about the title. He considered a variety of options, only to reject them because they sounded like they could be titles for all the “pseudo-documentaries” being produced by “cheap companies.”¹ In one note to Twentieth Century-Fox producer Darryl F. Zanuck, Kazan wrote, “If there is anything staler at...

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Choreographing Emotions: Kazan’s CinemaScope Staging

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pp. 163-179

Elia Kazan’s philosophy of directing was quite simple: the director’s job is to arouse emotion in the viewer by “rendering psychology into behavior, into action.”¹ Most critics and historians have focused primarily on one method through which he achieved this goal: his knowing, manipulative, and inspired work with actors. It is not surprising that Kazan is lauded more as an actor’s director than as a visual stylist. His early years as an actor;...

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Lost River

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pp. 181-188

In the summer of 2005 I received an urgent phone call from a woman producing the supplemental material for a proposed DVD release of Elia Kazan’s Wild River (1960). Could I provide the audio commentary for it? And could I do so within the next two or three days? The studio, Twentieth Century-Fox, was planning to put the film out in February 2006. I was in New York at the moment, without access to my research material, but I had...

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Late Kazan, or The Ambiguities

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pp. 189-200

Elia Kazan remains a difficult icon of auteurist cinema. During the formative years of auteurist criticism, Kazan’s commercially and critically acclaimed major works of the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s—A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), East of Eden (1955), Baby Doll (1956), Splendor in the Grass (1961) among them—offered bold,...

Filmography as Director

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pp. 201-204

Select Bibliography

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pp. 205-207


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pp. 209-210


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pp. 211-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780819570857
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819570840

Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Wesleyan Film