By Colin Martin
Elia Kazan is one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema, and yet his name is controversial in Hollywood. This is made clear when Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro nervously presented an honorary Oscar to Kazan in 1999. The crowd did not immediately erupt into a standing ovation. On the contrary, some sat, others clapped halfheartedly, and a few expressed utter contempt. This reception can be traced to Kazan’s turning in eight members of the Communist Party to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. While Hollywood scorned him, he was proud of the more “personal” films he made afterwards, writing, “The only genuinely good and original films I’ve made, I made after my testimony.”
Kazan did not disavow his actions, saying late in life that he selected “only the more tolerable of two alternatives that were either way painful and wrong.” When actress Zoe Kazan was asked about her grandfather, she did not simply condemn him, rather, she remarked that she thinks of what “it meant for my grandfather as an immigrant to this country to have his Americanness tested and the choice that he made from that.” If his Americanness was tested in the 50s, ex-Communist Elia Kazan thought he passed such a test, and the films that followed were reflections of it.
To adopt Kazan’s description, one of his “genuinely good” films is 1957’s A Face in the Crowd. It revolves around an entertainer who curries favor with the public but whose character does not merit such esteem. The movie provides a useful parallel to Kazan’s naming names of Communists whom he viewed as a threat to America, reflecting the personal nature he says was present in his post-1952 movies.
There have been a few opinion pieces describing this film as predicting the rise of Donald Trump due to its blending of an entertainment personality with political demagoguery. However, A Face in the Crowd is not simply a warning about the dangers of populism, nor is its protagonist simply “Trump before Trump.” Kazan’s understanding of the American character is revealed not merely through the shifty entertainer but also the people who fueled his rise.
The film begins with Marcia Jeffries, a journalist for a small-town Arkansas radio station, reporting from inside the local jail. She exclaims that “people are fascinating wherever you find them.” That is certainly the case when she meets Larry Rhodes, whom she gives the nickname “Lonesome.” This character, the film’s protagonist, is played brilliantly by Andy Griffith in his film debut.
Lonesome is immediately appealing to both the fictional radio audience and to the film viewer due to his undeniable charisma. He plays the guitar, sings folk songs, and seems to be a genuine person. Americans enjoy the elevation of a likable man from humble origins, so the audience is drawn to him. He gets his own local radio show, and he earns the goodwill of an ever-expanding audience of ordinary folks. He leaves the small town for the opportunities …read more
Via:: American Conservative
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