21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Director's Director On Stage and Screen
It can be argued that Elia Kazan is the greatest director of all time for his landmark successes both on Broadway ("Death of a Salesmen" and "A Streetcar Named Desire) and in Hollywood ("East of Eden" and "On the Waterfront"). Over a 17 year span covering 1946-1963, he was nominated for 7 Tony Awards (winning thrice) and 7 Oscar nominations (winning twice). Even more...
Published on November 25, 2005 by C. Hutton
8 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Richard Schickel Story
Schickel adds nothing to the telling of Elia Kazan's story that wasn't already written up better by Kazan himself in his huge memoir A LIFE, except for constant interjections of Schickel's own opinions on everything under the sun. He (Schickel) thought that Juliette Binoche was great in THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING. he (Schickel) disapproved of the Oscars handed...
Published on June 4, 2006 by Kevin Killian
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Director's Director On Stage and Screen,
Richard Schickel, film critic for Time magazine, had the difficult task of picking and choosing which ascepts of Mr. Kazan's life to focus, which stories to tell and which stories to omit. This biography easily could have been double its 500+ pages. Mr. Schickel covers his immigrant childhood and college days rather quickly (a pity when one realizes that the overriding theme of many of his plays and movies was being an outsider, like his immigrant family). His interest is in Mr. Kazan's craft and he does credit to his artistic creations. He covers Mr. Kazan's controversial testimony of naming names during the McCarthy era of the 1950's and the equally controversial Honorary Oscar awarded to him in 1999. For a film buff, "Elia Kazan: A Biography" would make a great gift.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Defining Moment, a Black Cloud and a Legacy Obscured,
Stepping back though, Schickel recognizes Kazan for the major creative force he was, well worthy of the praise heaped upon him during his lifetime. The journalist delves into how Kazan helped mold promising young actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean into legends and establish the careers of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, all doing their best work under his aegis. Kazan's best work is a slate of unsurpassable movies and plays - the stage versions of Miller's "All My Sons" and "Death of a Salesman", the stage and film versions of Williams's "A Streetcar Named Desire" and transcendent films that were either socially conscious (anti-Semitism in "Gentleman's Agreement", racism in "Pinky", labor unions in "On the Waterfront") or expansions of literary works (Steinbeck's "East of Eden", William Inge's "Splendor in the Grass"). He was able to elicit memorable performances from diverse performers ranging from Tallulah Bankhead (Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth") to Andy Griffith ("A Face in the Crowd") to Natalie Wood ("Splendor in the Grass"). This is where Schickel writes lucidly about Kazan's emphasis on the essential rightness of his aesthetic, which seamlessly led characters' psychological events into personal behavior.
Yet, for all his accomplishments, Kazan is defined most by what he said that day and destroying the careers of those he named, including actor John Garfield who died of a heart attack the year after the testimony. Within personal and historical context, Schickel makes Kazan's thinking seem reasonable given his subject's brief membership in the Communist Party during his youth when Kazan worked with a radical theater troupe in the 1930s. As a committed liberal, Kazan felt betrayed by the atrocities of Stalin and his followers' ideological rigidity. With his liberal beliefs fortified by such memories, he cooperated with the HUAC's anti-Communist efforts in order to thwart Communists leading a liberal-biased agenda in Hollywood. Kazan stood by his decision even though it destroyed friendships with colleagues like Miller and Lillian Hellman. He regretted the decision later, but much of Hollywood remained unforgiving as symbolized by the 1999 Academy Awards ceremony where at least one-quarter of the star-studded audience refused to applaud Kazan's lifetime achievement Oscar. It was a sad sight but one that according to Schickel's thorough analysis, marks accurately the public and private halves of the man.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So Much and Not Enough at the same time!,
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed Critic's Analysis,
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But first, this book gives a complete chronological analysis of his career. From his low level involvement with "The Group", a self-contained theater group with strong communist influences, to his first movie directorial debut. Kazan started as an undistinguished worker and grew to an "actor's director". This is overlaid with his involvement as a Communist and early disenchantment. Later, he is called before the committee after his great success and names former stage communists with whom he worked. The initial negative input dies down and he goes on to some of his best work including the classic, "On the Waterfront".
This book will have great appeal for movie and stage historians as it really is it is an in-depth analysis. But the main appeal to me was understanding the hysteria of the Red scare and why 50 years later it would elicit such a negative response. This book demonstrates the artists coming out of the depression influence when faith in capitalism weakened. The growth of fascism heightened the "sales pitch" to this new theory of a great life for all, communism. But, as was later proven, communism had weaknesses also causing many Americans to experiment with a form of government that was cruel and a rival of America.
It's impossible to determine how difficult it was for Kazan to name names. While he lost some friends, his career continued very successfully for some time before it faltered as it does for most in show business after a good run. But 50 years later an honor becomes a media event as modern day left-leaning actors chose to make this an issue. Interestingly, some actors such as Robert Di Nero, Martin Scorcese and Warren Beatty supported and honored Kazan. They had worked with him early in their career. I don't fault Nolte/Harris. In the prism of today's world, it's easy to ostracize a snitch. But the issue is much more complex than that. Our world was in turmoil. Decisions were made. Lives were changed on both sides. Kazan became an opponent of Communism but chose to focus on his career. Not naming names of known communists would have probably ruined his career.
In summary, this is an exhaustive critical study of his work. Frankly, the study is so exhaustive that that is the weakness. This book will be most appealing to true movie and stage history buffs. Also, those with a curiosity into the Red Scare and 1950s American history such as me will receive great information. Other than that, be forewarned this is a long time consuming educational book.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars MAD MAN. MADDENING DIRECTOR. GOOD READ.,
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Self-Directed,
Richard Schickel attempts to chronicle Kazan's life and fill in the gaps. In some respects, he does a fine job. It is clear that Schickel has an emotional investment in his subject, and often looks at Kazan's nemesis' as his own. He knew Kazan, and it is evident that he admired him greatly. He portrays the raw hunger and fierce drive of Kazan's early years as an actor and director. He explains the immigrant mentality that pushed Kazan to the very apex of his profession.
Schickel also does an excellent service in explaining one the largest mistakes of Kazan's life, when he defended his actions in front of Congress in the New York Times during the Hollywood 10 Communist hearings. This was precipitated by Kazan's first wife, Molly, to which Kazan had a complex relationship with. Kazan attempted to discuss it in his autobiography, and Schickel sharpens it here in this book.
Kazan was a complex man himself. One of his mechanisms to charm and mask his impatience was the "Anatolian Smile", which was explained in the first Chapter, and which he employed his entire life.
The writing gets a little dry at times, but the subject is so important, so vital, and so unique, that, at this time, it must be considered the definitive biography of a 20th Century Icon.
12 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The artist as a court-jester or play lefty for me.,
20Mil.people killed in goulags)It is obvious again reading KAZAN that the soulless HUAC and their revolting red scare should have spared the artists. Since the artists write or film the human condition they are "par la force des choses" LEFTIES. Let us
reconcile Elia Kazan and Abe Polonsky and salute both as great artists, one a realist and the other one a utopist. Knowing how hard it is to write a thought-provoking bio
from my late husband's Samuel Fuller's auto-bio A THIRD FACE, my tale of writing, fighting and filmmaking, I recommend SCHICKEL's KAZAN as a great read not only for filmlovers, but for everyone interested in history and the world we live in.
5.0 out of 5 stars iconic director- big talent-bigger life.,
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent biography of an excellent director: Elia Kaaan,
Studio. He directed many hit shows on Broadway but enjoyed working in the movies more than theatre work.
Kazan had the ability to team up with greats like Arthur Miller (Death of A Salesman, All My Sons, After the Fall-on stage and in the movies) and Tennessee Williams in such film classics as "Streetcar Named Desire." His work with William Inge is also impressive most notably in "Spledor in the Grass." with Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty.
Kazan's greatest discovery was the enigmatic and volatile Marlon Brando who changed film forever following his stellar performances in Streetcar and On the Waterfront. Kazan won two best director Oscars for Gentleman's
Agreement dealing with Anti-Semitism and Watefront. He received several other nominatins and is without question a great American director of midcentury angst, anger and a quest to discover the American dream. His film work displays gritty realism with outstanding acting being notable.
Among his stars were Brando, Beatty, Wood, Malden; Kim Hunter, Vivien Leigh and many others.
Kazan received a controversial Oscar in 1999 for life achievement. He had been a friendly witness to the HUAC committee in the 1950s investigating Communism in the film industry. Kazan had briefly been a member of the Communist party in his radical New York days. Due to his testimony he has been hated, reviled and called a Benedict Arnold by many in the Hollywood Community.
Schickel does a good job in separating fact from fiction in Kazan's testimony to Congress. Kazan later apologized for his actions in his autobiography but some have never forgiven him. Kazan also wrote a few middling novels which have not stood the test of time.
Kazan was married three times. He was a philanderer and serial adulterer. He could be cold and agggresive in his career. I don't think he was a very nice man but admit he was a great film director.
The book has virtually nothing to say about his childhood focusing on his career and radical politics.
Richard Schickel is a distinguished film scholar who is Time magazine's
critic. His book is worth reading for anyone interested in American film;
the McCarthy era or the life of the fascinatingly complex Elia Kazan
8 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Richard Schickel Story,
Provocative? Yes, crazily so. The movies of Kazan you think are great, Schickel finds overrated, and the "little" pictures you always forget, are Schickel's masterpieces--A FACE IN THE CROWD, for example. He compares it to Alexander Mackendrick's THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS in favorable terms, telling us that SWEET SMELL had a script "half-written by Clifford Odets." What do you think that means, "half-written"? He makes it sound worse than it is, but that's his TIME magazine-speak coming to the fore. Richard Schickel can't write a sentence that doesn't sound like a picture caption.
And sure, he can make Elia Kazan sound like a hero for naming names to HUAC in January 1952, but that's just special pleading. "The scapegoats were all eventually welcomed back, often enough as heroes, while the committee's informers are the ones now scapegoated by polite, liberal-minded society." That's a cynical way of thinking about it, but why does Schickel say "often enough" instead of just plain "often" in the sentence above? Is it just plain hasty writing, or could he be even meaner spirited than he seems at first glance?
And why so nasty about Barbara Loden, Kazan's second wife? My God, you'd think she had started World War II he's so unrelenting against her.
The whole book is about Richard Schickel and how he wrote Kazan's acceptance speech and assembled the clip show when the Academy gave him the special award. It's about how Schickel felt when the ceremony turned into an embarrasing dud. It's about how Schickel knew Raymond Massey pretty well and often heard him rage against James Dean. How old is Schickel anyway. He looks pretty good in the jacket photo, only the nose and the combover would betray he's got to be about ten zillion years old.
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Elia Kazan: A Biography by Richard Schickel (Hardcover - November 8, 2005)
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