For Reel


A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
January 16, 2017, 8:55 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Elia Kazan
3 Stars
a-streetcar-named-desireAlthough the rationality of method acting is that it brings both performer and audience closer to “truth”, it would be an error to mistake the grit, sweat, and raw power of A Streetcar Named Desire as aspiring for any semblance of realism. Director Elia Kazan’s theatricalities are often the entry-point into his best work. Here, despite Marlon Brando’s performance, it is the claustrophobic sensationalizing of the setting that defines the tone of the piece—it is a world of such essential unreality that it transcends the grounded issues of class envy and primal sexuality. Kazan’s artistic contradictions (striving for both style and authenticity) is the excuse for the wide array of performances in the film. If Vivien Leigh’s performance as Blanche is justifiably different than her co-stars from a narrative perspective, her theatricality creates a disconnect when matched with Kim Hunter’s understated, quiet performance as Stella. As a result of competing interests, the film is emotionally incomprehensible throughout, whereas the similarly manic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? renders the domestic theatrical in a convincing way because there is more unity in each of the project’s elements. Regardless, Streetcar can not be overlooked if only because of the unusual mood it establishes in the Kowalski home, and on the level of sheer camp there is enjoyment to be had in ways sexuality and toxicity are hardly discernible.



On the Waterfront (1954)
May 8, 2016, 10:09 pm
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Director: Elia Kazan
4 Stars
On the WaterfrontCritics have argued whether or not the parallels one can make between the subtext of On the Waterfront and Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg’s participation in the House Un-American Activities Committee trials is a worthwhile endeavor to invest in. Should one humor the idea that the film does indeed carry this self-serving ideology, it is clear that the coincidences are both in great numbers and often-times very explicit, including many monologues about whether “snitching” is the morally just thing to do. And yet, whether or not Kazan and Schulberg’s actions are defensible, this lens of viewing On the Waterfront only enriches the film all the further—it’s a fascinating, sometimes desperate piece of vindication, both serving as a sort of apology and a justification. Beyond this admittedly irresistible reading, however, the picture still works as a particularly rich drama due to the intelligent script and appropriate cast. Marlon Brando’s “contender” scene is justifiably the classic (Rod Steiger’s participation in the scene is actually more devastating), but another remarkable feat of acting occurs when Brando reacts to his deceased pigeons. There is no sense of rage or surprise in his actions—Brando simply performs heartbreak as best as he can, which is to say as good as anyone ever has. Additionally, it must be said that Brando’s performance is not only aided by his remarkable sense of immediacy, but in the use of props. Much is made of the scene in which he plays with Eva Marie Saint’s gloves, however his interaction with both the hook (which comes to serve as a sort of symbol of revolution) and the aforementioned pigeons serve to inform the character and his place within the world.



Splendor in the Grass (1961)
April 30, 2011, 8:02 pm
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Director: Elia Kazan

One of the crowning achievements of Natalie Wood’s career, she plays a lower-class teen-aged girl in the wake of the Great Depression. Her boyfriend, played by Warren Beatty, comes from a wealthy family whose father suggests he find a woman more willing to cater to his sexual needs. The film’s final act is familiar of many melodramas – a depressing encounter that unromantically demonstrates a love that should have been – however, because the relationship had primarily been developed in regards to the physical rather than the emotional or spiritual, it doesn’t quite earn the tears it wants to bring us.



A Face in the Crowd (1957)
April 3, 2011, 2:28 pm
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Director: Elia Kazan

Fifty four years since its release, Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd has not only remained relevant, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Schulberg and Kazan had successfully predicted much of what television would do to the American political consciousness. Characters like Glenn Beck (whom Keith Olbermann dubbed “Lonesome Rhodes Beck”) continue to exemplify the interaction between propagandistic media and politics. Kazan, always known as an actor’s director, brought tremendous performances out of the bitter Walter Matthau, the allegiant Patricia Neal, and most memorably, an astonishing turn by comedian Andy Griffith, who delivers one of the screen’s most enduring characters. While much has been said about Griffith (and deservedly so), Neal serves as a surrogate for the audience, whose loyalty to Rhodes is constantly challenged by Matthau, the closest thing there is to a moral compass in the film. Despite the want to demonize Lonesome Rhodes, Kazan never settled for distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys, and for that reason many of his characters have continued to leave lasting impressions.