Looking In On An Outsider

John Lahr traces the life and career of director Elia Kazan:

“I’ve lived my life on the edge of a crumbling cliff, alert to detect the first rattle of pebbles announcing the avalanche,” [Kazan] wrote, adding, “You American-borns expect the good times to continue, but they won’t; take it from an Anatolian. Disaster hurts less when you expect it.”

In the aftermath of his [HUAC] testimony, Kazan was thrown back on his roots in a way that was defining. He took up permanent residence behind his Anatolian smilea masquerade of equanimityand, for the rest of his life, he let the power of his films and plays face down the personal animosity that was directed at him. “I am happy when a number of people are angry at me,” he said, in “Kazan on Kazan,” a series of interviews with the French critic Michel Ciment. “And happier when they are angry but still, in spite of themselves, a little admiring. That means I have touched them under the skin, at the place I was aiming.” Before his HUAC testimony, Kazan (who wrote his first original screenplay in 1963, at the age of fifty-three) had been an incredible collaborator. “I was many men, but none of them was me,” he said. In the decade following the hearing, he became his own man, his own artist.