Mon, 15 May 2006
Elia Kazan might have broken the Hollywood Blacklist. Instead, when HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) asked him to name names, he sang like a canary. His actions ended many careers, and broke the spirit of many Hollywood players. Kazan never apologized; indeed, his career and life from that moment staged a defense of his decision. "On the Waterfront"--which won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director for Kazan, Best Actor for Brando, and Best Actress for Eva Marie Saint--was his most elaborate, and perhaps eloquent, staging of what he felt to be the righteousness of his actions. The script and visual style are very noir, and the effect is jarring--for noir usually tells the tale of a man who makes a mistake, and is haunted by the consequences. Here, noir is co-opted by a man who wants to believe he can do no wrong. This podcast is brought to you by Clute and Edwards of www.noircast.net. To leave a comment on this episode, or make a donation to the podcast, please visit "Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir" at outofthepast.libsyn.com.
I enjoy this podcast series and recommend it. But when it comes to \"On the Waterfront\" and \"It\'s A Wonderful Life\", I feel that your political and philosophical biases have blinkered your judgments. Perhaps this is because you begin, not unreasonably, with the French and existentialist idea of noir film, that is, and American art form defined by foreigners at the same moment they are reveling in Camus and Sartre. (Didn\'t one of you mention [in the Rififi pod] that the \"reflexive nature of French\" grammar is an obstacle to translating the tough guy ethic? Perhaps, then, the French view is too narrow in general.) Let me come to the point: OTW is not a \"noir message picture\". It is a noir religious picture, as is IAWL. Of course, if you define noir as taking place in a world without God, a la existentialism, then by definition such a thing cannot be. But this is wrong. IAWL is overtly and expressly religious, so the unlikely material salvation at the end of the film is a miracle, and a comment on the noir reality of Pottersville. Noir is reality, and only God can overcome its evil. OTW is even more religious, though not as \"heavy handedly\" :). In the scene where the priest and Terry are in the dive bar and Terry is waiting to shoot John Friendly, the priest considers for a moment and says \"Give me a beer!\" This scene often draws a laugh from modern audiences, who I believe misunderstand it. No Catholic who knows any priests would ever think that one would hesitate to order a beer. The priest has made a deeper decision: he is going to consecrate it. For the priest, this is the culmination of his journey through the film from the safety of the church into the reality of the noir. This is the turning point of the film, the moment when Terry decides to turn state\'s. When he finally begins to redeem himself. No less a miracle than the telegram from Sam Wainwright in IAWL. Also fellows, as a favor to me, could you try to remember that for a lot of Americans, the blacklist was a mere boycott of rich Hollywood stars and professionals who advocated a politics which murdered tens of millions (minimally). It is hard to muster sympathy for those who lost their jobs when so few tears are shed for those who lost their lives. I urge you to consider that that viewpoint -whether you agree or not- is an intellectually viable one, and one which makes some of the criticisms you mention of Mr. Kazan appear altogether trivial.
I think you raise some interesting points in terms of Waterfront. To deal with your last comment first, I do have to say I will humbly disagree with you on the Blacklist and its impact. I was part of the WGA\'s 50 year anniversary event of the Blacklist, and it was very sad to me to see in person so much talent that got wasted when the Blacklist happened. And while we can agree to disagree about the underlying politics and cultural tenor that drove these decisions in Hollywood and Washington DC, the fact remains that film history is the poorer for forcing out some of its greatest talent and the infamy of forcing people to \"name names.\" And the most recent scholarship on the Blacklist, including the great new book, \"Un-American Hollywood,\" continue to demonstrate that the Communist Threat in Hollywood was exaggerated. Imagine what Jules Dassin could have directed in Hollywood, what Polonsky could have offered, what Daniel Mainwaring could have done if not having to write with a front. But even though I can\'t change (and won\'t change) my views on the Blacklist, very few of our film discussions have dealt with it as a central issue, so it\'s not like our series is overly political. We prefer to analyze the films in less political ways, as you know from listening to our other episodes. Also, in terms of your comment on \"noir religious picture,\" I would agree with you. And you make me curious what we said that would contradict that point. We make a point about talking about the religious symbolism of Eva Marie Saint on the rooftops, we talk about Karl Malden\'s accession scene in the boat. I think the film is very religious. We might have gotten off on a tangent that might have sounded as if we didn\'t think that, but I can tell you that I think the film is overly laced with religious symbolism (and I don\'t even usually use the word \'symbolism,\' it just really fits here).
Kazan\'s history as a film director is scarcely less noteworthy. He won two Academy Awards for Best Director, for Gentleman\'s Agreement (1947) and On the Waterfront (1954). He elicited remarkable performances from actors such as Marlon Brando and Oscar winners Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) (the film version of Tennessee Williams\' play), James Dean and Oscar winner Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden (adapted from the John Steinbeck novel), and Andy Griffith in A Face in the Crowd.
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