restricted access “The Director, That Miserable Son of a Bitch”: Kazan, Viva Zapata! and the Problem of Authority
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leo braudy “The Director, That Miserable Son of a Bitch” Kazan, Viva Zapata! and the Problem of Authority My advice and warning to people starting out in this field is not to surrender authority to anyone. elia kazan A strong man makes a weak people. viva zapata! W henever 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 directors who began their careers in the 1910s and 1920s—D. W. Griffith, John Ford, Fritz Lang, Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, and others—Kazan represents a new generation , fully aware of those who have gone before but intent on making his own way. As Kazan himself said in a 1973 talk at Wesleyan, although the auteur theory was“partly a critic’s plaything,”nevertheless“the director is the true author of the film.”¹ And he spent the rest of his time arguing in great detail the need for the director to have a wealth of knowledge, of dramatic forms, of literature, of the physical forms of theater, of acting, of history, of all physical environments, including city and country, of topography, of war—the list, if not endless, abounds. When Andrew Sarris first brought the auteur theory of François Truffaut and Cahiers du Cinéma to America, there were responses heralding the writer, the actor, the set designer, et al. as equally if not more responsible for the ultimate value of the film. But Kazan by 1973, about ten years after auteurism had hit American shores, was hardly being exclusive. Writers in particular he considered essential, although he also insisted that the director have a hand in the final script, and his annotations of scripts in the 38 leo braudy Wesleyan collection show how constantly he made his opinion known.Any comparison between the final shooting script and what appears on screen in a Kazan film demonstrates his involvement.And his most common comment is“how can I show this without telling it?” The text is what the writer gives him, but, as he says, the subtext is what the director directs, and the more the text can be conveyed by subtext, the happier Kazan seems to be. With that attitude, it’s easy to assume that writers had a tough time with Kazan. Budd Schulberg’s script for On the Waterfront, for example, first published in 1980, twenty-six years after the film appeared, often bears little resemblance to what appears on the screen. Is this competitive? Is it Schulberg getting his own back? But Schulberg always spoke highly of his relation with Kazan, and of course they made A Face in the Crowd (1957) after On the Waterfront (1954) and had yet another project in mind, although it ultimately went nowhere. As Schulberg has said, his experiences in Hollywood soured him on working within the studio system:“I thought I had left filmmaking forever after the war. I hated the way [writers] were treated.”But when they sat down to work on On the Waterfront,“Kazan and I really meshed, so much that we could almost read each other’s mind. . . . [He] was marvelously open to suggestions.”² Brenda Murphy’s book on the collaborations between Kazan and Tennessee Williams makes with even more detail the same point of Kazan’s active collaboration with the writers whose work he was staging. And all of them seemed to come out of the experience with positive feelings. Arthur Miller as well considered Kazan to be the only director he knew who understood the relation between any particular moment in a play and the overall shape of a play.³ We could ask a similar question about Kazan’s other great strength, his work with actors. Anyone he has directed has stories about Kazan’s whispered words before scenes: sometimes fairly straightforward, as when he whispered“Jeffrey”in Eva Marie Saint’s ear before a love scene with Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, to indicate that she should feel toward him as she felt toward her husband, Jeffrey Hayden; sometimes more manipulative , as when he would increase the tension between Anthony Quinn and Brando in Viva Zapata! (1952) by playing on their insecurities as well as their desire...


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