Scorsese film defends anti-communist informer Kazan

Sat Sep 4, 2010 8:28am EDT
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By Silvia Aloisi

VENICE (Reuters) - Martin Scorsese's latest film pays a personal tribute to Elia Kazan, one of Hollywood's and Broadway's most influential directors but also a controversial figure who turned anti-communist informant in the McCarthy era.

In "A Letter to Elia," an hour-long documentary screening at the Venice film festival, Scorsese credits Kazan and his emotionally-charged, raw and realistic style as the inspiration for his becoming a filmmaker.

He recalls in particular the huge impact that two of Kazan's best-known films, "On the Waterfront" with Marlon Brando (1954) and "East of Eden" with James Dean (1955), had on him as a teenager.

"It's almost impossible to say how deeply I was affected by Kazan's films," Scorsese wrote shortly after Kazan's death in 2003 at 94.

Scorsese discovered Kazan as a young boy going to the movies on his own in New York and was at his side with Robert De Niro when Kazan, whose films won 20 Academy Awards, received a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1999.

That special award was hotly disputed because in 1952 Kazan had handed over to the House Un-American Activities Committee the names of eight members of the Communist Party who had worked at the Group Theater where he had started as an actor.

Naming names cost Kazan, himself a member of the party between 1934 and 1936 before resigning in protest, many friends in Hollywood and among U.S. intellectuals.

His reasons for doing so after previously refusing to testify is still debated.   Continued...