Elia Kazan’s own words begin the saga of young Stavros (Stathis Giallelis), who leaves his war-torn homeland behind to begin a new life. With his family’s meager fortune and his father’s blessing, Stavros encounters both allies and adversaries on a dramatic trek. He ultimately achieves his dream through sheer determination and will, thereby earning his nickname: America America. Saluting the masses who sailed toward Miss Liberty’s shining torch, Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire) uses little-known talents here rather than stars. The results impress: Academy Award® nominations (1963) for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay, an Oscar® for Gene Callahan’s vivid Art Direction, Golden Globes to Kazan (Best Director) and Giallelis (Most Promising Newcomer) and nomination to the National Film Registry for permanent preservation. Both epic and intimate, it’s powerful moviemaking.
Elia Kazan's America America
, a three-hour epic feature starring Stathis Giallelis as Kazan's uncle Stavros Topouzoglou, is a complete departure from Kazan's other classics, such as East of Eden
and A Streetcar Named Desire
. In all three, though, Kazan discovered and championed young heroic male protagonists, James Dean and Marlon Brando in the latter two. As one of the founders of the Actor's Studio and Method Acting, Kazan apparently coached Giallelis throughout this biographical project that tells the story of Kazan's Greek uncle, struggling under the Turkish thumb in Armenia, who works throughout his youth to emigrate to America. America America
, as a story about political repression and culture clash, is magnificent enough, since its long length lends the film the wide angle that novels encompass. But add to this a stunningly heartfelt portrayal of Stavros by the youthful Giallelis, in which close-ups of his dark eyes and furrowed brow continuously add pathos to the drama, and one gets a most chilling portrait of the desperation and determination indicative of the many people who came through Ellis Island at the end of the 19th century. Beginning in the 1890s, this film opens on Stavros's rural family in Anatolia, toiling in the beautiful countryside as his father struggles to appease Turkish politicians. From the outset, the film exudes tension, as the friends of the Greeks, the neighboring Armenians, are targeted by the Turks during violent attempts at cultural sublimation. Stavros, as the sympathetic character, is established as an open-minded boy who cannot separate mistreatment of others from himself. Thus the story moves along, as he seeks opportunity in Constantinople, falls in love with the lovely daughter (Linda Marsh) of a wealthy merchant, then with a Greek-American (Joanna Frank) who further fuels his American dream. The rich subtlety of the acting throughout is what makes this film astonishingly real. There is never a moment, even when long, rolling landscape shots punctuate the human dramas, that digresses from Stavros's psychological desires. Additionally, critic Foster Hirsch's commentary on this edition fleshes out the film's evolution. Because of the depth of character throughout, Elia Kazan's America America
speaks not only as tribute to Kazan's willful uncle, but also to anyone whose family history bears the marks of migration, foreignness, and the suffering that triumph is made of. --Trinie Dalton