“Elia Kazan (1909-‐2003) was a defining figure in the development and rejuvenation of American cinematic expression as well as in shaping a modern perception of acting both in theatre and for film in general. In the 1930s Kazan’s career at the Group Theater and the Workers’ Laboratory Theater was decidedly influential in his career in the cinema, first with 20th Century Fox and later as a highly sought-‐after independent director.
His time in the theater established his collaboration with the great writers, such as John Steinbeck and Tennessee Williams, and allowed him to emerge as an actors’ director predominantly, who was able to extract famous performances from younger actors, such as Marlon Brando and James Dean, as well as from veterans such as Vivien Leigh, Montgomery Clift and Kirk Douglas. Kazan’s career was tainted by his testimony against his colleagues during the McCarthy Era in 1952. The extent to which a guilty conscience can be traced in certain pivotal films of his such as “On the Waterfront” (1954) or “The Arrangement” (1969) has been widely discussed. However, nobody doubts the power of Kazan’s great creations with his strong critique of media politics in “A Face in the Crowd” (1957) or his memorable adaptations of the Tennessee Williams’ plays “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) and “Baby Doll” (1956).
Kazan, born to Greek parents who had emigrated from Constantinople (translator’s note now Istanbul, Turkey) to America, always kept a critical view of the contradictions of American society. These are depicted in “East of Eden” (1955), “Splendor in the Grass” (1961) and “Wild River” (1960). Lastly, his handling of the subject of immigration and the oppression of Armenians and Greeks shown for the first time to a worldwide audience with unparalleled courage in “America America” remains significant.
This retrospective by the Greek Film Archive aims at reassessing, from the Greek side, the crucial contribution of this filmmaker to the reinvention of the cinematic language, as Martin Scorsese has already attempted to do in his documentary “A Letter To Elia” (co-‐directed by Kent Jones, 2010), which is also included in this tribute”. Lastly, shooting “America, America” in 1964 served as a great apprenticeship for Greek technicians and directors.
Notably, Nikos Koundouros became close friends with Elia Kazan and incorporated many of the teachings of the great master. In 1978 Koundouros shot the emblematic “1922”, an overwhelming account of the defeat of the Greek Army and the destruction of Smyrna. A younger director, Pantelis Voulgaris, also became close friends with Elia Kazan. I believe that the distillation of this relationship is reflected in the bitter elegy on immigration that is Voulgaris’ 2004 film “Brides”. We are delighted to include these two films in the tribute and to listen to the two directors speak about their meeting and friendship with Kazan”
General Secretary of the Board of Directors, Greek Film Archive
Professor, University of Athens