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Saturday, December 5, 2015

AMERICA AMERICA (1963)

Elia Kazan made three more films over the next decade and a half*, but effectively closed his career on this highly personal, knowingly flawed film, touched with greatness even in its stumbles. Working off his own script & narrating in the first-person, ‘Gadge’ (the nickname Kazan loathed & lived with) tells his family origin story. How his hardheaded young uncle, a Greek living under oppression in Turkey, marched his way thru a series of unintentional adventures to get on a boat to America, America. At times, Kazan has some characters, especially the women who enter the story, over-explain what’s motivating our inarticulate protagonist, and you need tolerance for the post-production dubbed synch-sound (too many of the voice actors sound straight off a Russian shtetl, ANATOLIAN ON THE HOOF?). But the flaws matter less and less as the film gains in strength, even the weaker sections come loaded with marvelous ‘caught’ moments of location (phenomenal lensing from Haskell Wexler) and character. And the pacing is masterful (Dede Allen edited), a three-hour film that seems to last half its running time. How nice if BABY DOLL/’56, WILD RIVER/’60 and this film got the attention Kazan’s trio with Brando gets. But don’t hold your breath.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *After time off to write a big bestseller, Kazan filmed it, miserably. Then (as a favor to his son on his only feature film script?), a largely uncongenial independent film before being dragged back for an all-star stillborn fiasco that unspools as if they’d filmed the deal-memo.

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