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Elia Kazan: A Director's Journey

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Film critics and historians have long held a fiercely political debate on where to place the legacy of controversial filmmaker Elia Kazan. Few would deny that Kazan was often a searing American dramatist, responsible for bringing Hollywood melodrama to new heights of realism and galvanizing the stardom of Marlon Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire, On The Waterfront, Viva Zapata!) and James Dean (East Of Eden). But many will remember him as the most notorious stoolie in the blacklist era, a leftist and former Communist Party member who ratted out eight of his friends in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee in April 1952. With his engaging but shallow documentary, Elia Kazan: A Director's Journey, Time critic and prolific biographer Richard Schickel tiptoes around this incident, which he clearly wants to go down as a footnote, not the whole story. Rather than exploring the fascinating contradictions of Kazan's career, Schickel provides a simple cut-and-paste introduction to his major works, limiting the commentary to his own scattered insights (voiced by Eli Wallach) and those of his aging subject. Too slack in its scholarship to work as a documentary, Elia Kazan: A Director's Journey is more useful as a video-rental guide. Any of Kazan's films would provide more insight into his political mind: There's Panic In The Streets, an anti-Communist parable posing as a gritty crime drama; A Face In The Crowd, a cautionary tale about television's capacity for fascism; and America, America, a deeply personal immigration epic that lays out the ideals of a country Kazan felt he was defending.