An Oscar for Elia

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    It seems particularly cruel when the cineast weighs Kazan's accomplishments in the balance. Here one must begin by observing that it was he, more than anyone else, who finally completed the Stanislavskian revolution, establishing those now unquestioned standards of behavioral and psychological authenticity by which critics, the knowing public and actors themselves evaluate their art. Quite literally, he and the players he discovered or mentored, like Marlon Brando and James Dean, altered the very nature of performance onstage and onscreen.

    Just as important, Kazan's most significant work constituted the most consistent critique in popular culture between 1945 and 1961 of the only politics that counted for most of us coming of age at that time, the politics of the family. The failures, betrayals and corruptions of patriarchal figures (Death of a Salesman and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, On the Waterfront, East of Eden on film) was a particular obsession. But he saw too how women were pushed toward madness, and sometimes beyond, by a crass and repressive society (A Streetcar Named Desire, most notably). And he saw how lost and yearning young people of both sexes fell into inchoate rebelliousness (Splendor in the Grass). And this is to say nothing about more conventionally political pieces like A Face in the Crowd, that prescient examination of the interaction of celebrity and media power, or the neglected Wild River, about the human costs of social progress.

    These were great and lasting gifts, gifts that shaped the consciences and the sensibilities of a generation far more powerfully than any purely political act or ideological expression ever could. By acknowledging this fact, the Motion Picture Academy--urged on by Karl Malden, its former president and Kazan's most loyal friend--has never, in a newer friend's estimation, more faithfully fulfilled its obligation to honor the great artists of the medium.

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