There was a lot of passionate talk on Facebook yesterday about Elia Kazan. It was partly inspired by a 35 year-old Jonathan Rosenbaum piece about Kazan that he re-posted a day or two ago. So much feeling, so many different currents and moods and conflicts…it was as if Kazan were still alive and kicking.
It all gradually led to a rewinding and a re-visiting of the most emotional journey into Kazan and his films that I’ve ever known — Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones‘ A Letter To Elia (’10).
“A Letter to Elia is a delicate and beautiful little poem,” I wrote that year. “It’s a personal tribute to a director who made four films — On The Waterfront, East of Eden, Wild River and America America — that went right into Scorsese’s young bloodstream and swirled around inside for decades after. Scorcese came to regard Kazan as a father figure, he says in the doc. And after watching you understand why.
“Letter is a deeply touching film because it’s so close to the emotional bone. The sections that take you through the extra-affecting portions of Waterfront and Eden got me and held me like a great sermon. It’s like a church service, this film. It’s pure religion.
“More than a few Kazan-haters (i.e., those who couldn’t forgive the director for confirming names to HUAC in 1952) were scratching their heads when Scorsese decided to present Kazan’s special lifetime achievement Oscar in 1999. Letter to Elia full explains why, and what Scorsese has felt about the legendary Kazan for the last 55, going-on-60 years.”