Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Letter to Elia: From the Siren's First Column at Nomad Wide Screen

East of Eden, however – that one is a bit surprising, for a minute or two. A literary adaptation of a flawed John Steinbeck novel set in rural California, a Biblical allegory writ so large and plain even the character's names ring a cathedral bell for Cain and Abel--what big link is there to the man who made Taxi Driver and Goodfellas? And yet, it isn't surprising at all. East of Eden is crippling in its level of emotional violence, James Dean's need for his father's love so raw it's like a third-degree burn. Scorsese makes several references to his own relationship with his older brother, never spelling out particulars. Eden spends a lot of time with the Bible-reading scene, where Dean's father, played by Raymond Massey, tries to force a confession as to why Dean had pushed blocks of valuable ice down a ramp. Richard Davalos as the brother watches Dean's agony with a bit of sympathy, but mostly relief that he's the good one. Even without the cagey tidbits about his own brother, it's clear Scorsese admires the film's ruthless eye for the way men simultaneously seek connection and cut themselves off from it.

That is the Siren writing about the excellent A Letter to Elia, the documentary about the art of Elia Kazan from Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones. It’s from her first column for Nomad Wide Screen, and for now it is available here. The column, scheduled to appear bimonthly, is called Retro Fit and will deal with, well, what you’d probably expect the Siren to deal with, only in first person. She'll still be here in third person. Nomad Wide Screen is an online magazine that forms part of Nomad Media. You can check out the first issue here and read about the contributors, who include my esteemed pals Vadim Rizov and Simon Abrams. The editor of Wide Screen is the great Glenn Kenny.

The magazine will be subscription-based, and the Nomad Media founders explain the philosophy thus:

Nomad Editions represents a new business model for digital media. We believe that readers will pay a fair price for high-quality, original and exclusive content, delivered in a superior format, to mobile devices.

Nomad Editions also wants the creators of that content — writers, photographers, illustrators, and editors — to be well rewarded for success. Nomad Editions shares a substantial percentage of our revenue with the contributors and editors, so that everyone who's part of Nomad Editions has a direct and substantial stake in the success of the business.

The Siren hopes her patient readers will check it out, and sign up. Free trials are available here.

(The screen cap is from a brief but wonderfully heartening post at 24 Frames Per Second, about the reaction of college students to Dean's performance in East of Eden: "He's still got it.")


David Stafford said...

Can I leave a small love footnote to Julie Harris here? There was something about her portrayal that just made my heart ache to know her. I had never seen a girl played that way onscreen before (and maybe not since). Fresh, vivid, spontaneous, feminine. I fall in love with her each time I see it.

Arthur S. said...

I second Julie Harris, Elia Kazan himself said that he felt it was her who made the film. But Raymond Massey is pretty good too. The whole cast is great.

EAST OF EDEN was a pretty powerful film for me, and it made a bigger personal impact on me than other Kazans. It's just really beautiful. Kazan's use of colour is very fascinating, it gives a period flavour that Terence Malick tapped into when he made DAYS OF HEAVEN, which is set in the same period.

What really strikes me is that Kazan created a reputation for psychological realism, here he moves into the baroque(and I'd say there's a lot more of the baroque in him, he's more Tennessee Williams than Arthur Miller at the end of the day) with those scenes at the start with the ice pile than the fair, that hair-raising pan that traces the train leaving from left-to-right until we see Cal seeing his father seeing the train as they cross the screen.

EAST OF EDEN might not have a lot to do with the auteur of "Taxi Driver" and "Goodfellas" but it has a great deal to do with the director of ''The Age of Innocence'', ''Raging Bull'', ''New York New York''. According to the ongoing overview book of his career, Scorsese screened both East of Eden and Wild River to Kazan during the pre-production of AGE OF INNOCENCE, the first time Kazan saw both films since he made them.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Frank Mazzola who played one of the gang members in Rebel Without a Cause (and was cast because he HEADED a gang that operated out of Hollywood High) told me he went to a preview screening of East of Eden with Dean. Coming out opf it Dean was totally panicked and told Frank "Hide me! Hide me!" He knew he was now a star and was terrified by the prospect.

Haven't seen Letter to Elia as yet. Interesting that East of Eden resonates for Marty in terms of his own brother who neither he nor anyone else wanted to talk about when I wrote my book on him. Marty's brother "went over to the dark side,"as it were. He alluded to him in this regard in speaking to be about Force of Evil and its borthers (who of course are rather different from those in East of Eden but in conflict nonetheless.)

Kazan is indeed baroque, Arthur. Caught the end of Spendor in the Grass on TCM last night. There's nothing "realistic" about it in dramatic terms. Only the feelings are real.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The best book about James Dean is Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making "Rebel Without A Cuase" by Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Congratulations on your new gig. Splendid.