Friday, May 14, 2010

Tangents of Celluloid

I'm not quite sure I get blogging. What are the rules, guidelines, if any? Or is it just common practice to write short, quick observations on the day's events and/or get right to the this-film-is-good/this-film-is-terrible point, and/or include so many inside jokes or web slang that only close friends can understand you? I feel like this blog has started falling into that instant gratification/depth-less fad lately. At one point it was becoming more important to me to chalk up another post rather than put some actual effort into it. I suppose, at the time, that was enough for me, what with work, and friends, and events, and other booked time, but the reason I started this blog was to expel the thoughts and philosophies and contemplations that film has always evoked in me, and to even understand why film brings such things to the surface-- i.e., the reasons I love cinema. I need to think. I need to contemplate, and consider, and question. I need to dig.

I make no promises or guarantees to myself about how long this clarity will last because everything changes--moods, truths, etc. Not even the original source of this blog will remain in every post, but at least it's clutched tight between my fingers right now--the reasons I love cinema. I love cinema because it allows me to see the connections. To lie down to bed one night and suddenly think of Elia Kazan (I'm sure weirder things have popped into your head) who makes me remember a confusing Oscars ceremony in 1999, that then channels my brain to HUAC and naming names, then leads me on an inner monologue about a person's true self in relation to crisis, which summons forth Kazan's 1950's counterpart, Arthur Miller, which then ends in an internal philosophical rant on what it is to fully understand oneself, and, incidentally, myself. All of this from Elia Kazan.

Isn't cinema wonderful?


* Elia Kazan has always attracted me; specifically the controversy that continues to surround him posthumously--he's a perfect example of a topic the art world has never really agreed on the answer to: can you separate the artist from his or her art? (Roman Polanski is another one who comes to mind, as well as Raymond Carver, who's talent is now being questioned with the recent evidence that it was, in fact, his editor who was largely responsible for his style. I can't help but also think of little Marla Olmstead, whose exceptional paintings inspired the documentary My Kid Could Paint That (2007) and whose reputation was threatened by the shocking rumor that her father was the actual artist.) What does it matter who created the art, especially after it has already been called art? Can an artist's unfavorable actions do irreparable damage to his or her creations, no matter how exceptional those creations are? Or are we as viewers wrong in taking those actions into consideration? Should the art be left alone? Film is a tricky area because most of the films we are exposed to are not abstract in the sense that a painting can be abstract; we think of film as narrative, as a story with a beginning and an end that usually offers a clear-cut message. I think this makes it much more difficult to separate a film from its director (who, although part of a team of creators, has always been recognized as the overseeing auteur).

* In 1999 my passion for classic cinema was just starting to bud. Names like Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, and Greta Garbo were becoming regular references and favorites, but I hadn't quite expanded to release dates, directors, etc. Understandably, I neither recognized the name nor the face of the little old man who created such a stir at the Academy Awards that year--Elia Kazan was the recipient of the 1999 lifetime achievement award, and the mixture of enthusiastic applause, boos and hisses, and rigid faces when he accepted his award sparked my curiosity instantly. (Wikipedia claims that Meryl Streep, Kathy Bates, and Warren Beatty were among those who stood and applauded, Ed Harris and Nick Nolte sat perfectly still, and Steven Spielberg and Jim Carrey clapped politely while remaining seated.)

* Kazan directed two of the greatest films I've ever seen [On the Waterfront (1954), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)] two of my personal favorites [A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), East of Eden (1955)] and a slew of other great films [namely, the underrated A Face in the Crowd (1957)]. Despite the fact that he offered up 8 names to the monstrous House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 (including John Garfield who Kazan worked with on the ironically titled Gentleman's Agreement (1948) and who was eventually blacklisted) these will always be great films. Still, I can't help but wonder what was going through Kazan's head when he agreed to turn on friends and co-workers.

* Usually I think of decisions like this as stemming from fear, (Kazan's former friend and blacklisted director Jules Dassin himself stated that Kazan was terrified of being separated from his work) and this forces me to think that who a person is, what their true character and essence are, lies in who they are in a crisis; who they are when backed up against a wall. This scares me. Because how do we know then who we really are until we're put in this kind of position? I can believe that I would "do the right thing" when facing a crisis or threat, that courage would overpower fear, but how do I really know? I want to believe it, but I have no guarantee.

* After Kazan's unfortunate run-in with HUAC, he directed On the Waterfront--an answer to his critics in which a heroic dockworker informs against a corrupt union boss. Former friend Arthur Miller, on the other hand, wrote The Crucible, which compared and exposed HUAC for what it really was-- a witch hunt. After Kazan's testimony he and Miller did not speak for 10 years. [Pictured: Kazan & Miller on the set of Death of a Salesman in 1949.]

I will always agree that Kazan was beautifully talented. I don't know if it's easy or hard to judge him, but I think I feel more pity for him than anything. If Dassin's belief was correct, if Kazan was really so terrified of losing his ability to make movies, if he needed cinema so desperately that he would sacrifice friends and colleagues. . . what torture that must have been. And how awful to have to prioritize and indulge in one fear over another for the sake of maintaining passion and creation.

These are the detours film leads me down when I'm not looking. Oh, I love cinema.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just a splendid post.