Today’s announcement of the death of Elia Kazan Elia Kazan, Influential Director, Is Dead at 94, makes the recent PBS American Masters documentary Miller, Kazan, and the Blacklast: None Without Sin ‘must see’ viewing. Michael Epstein’s electrifying study illuminates the rewarding 1940s and 1950s creative partnership and ultimate bitter breakup between Elia Kazan and Arthur Miller after the former ‘named names’ in his HUAC testimony.
The show describes the extraorindarily fecund Miller-Kazan collaboration on plays such as All My Sons and Death of a Salesman which led to their final work together (before the HUAC testimony) on a screenplay (which Miller wrote and Kazan was to direct) about the Brooklyn waterfront, The Hook. After completing their work together to prepare it for the screen, they submitted it to the studio for final approval. Unaccountably, the studio head sent the script to the FBI to ask whether they thought it was worthy of production. Needless to say, the FBI found the script wanting and suggested that the mob bosses who run the waterfront should be turned into Communists(!).
After Kazan named the names of his fellow Group Theater Communist Party cell members (all the names were already known by the Committee), Miller broke off all contact with the man he viewed as a betrayer of their former mutually held values. Each man then proceeded to create an artistic masterpiece which attempted to justify their actions in the face of HUAC. Interestingly, Kazan’s On the Waterfront is lifted almost entirely from their previous work, The Hook. Though Miller wrote the screenplay and had every reason to complain about Kazan’s usurpation, he did not. One wonders why.
Miller, in turn, created The Crucible as a meditation on social evil and how the good man should respond to it. While most critics correctly note that the play is an allegorical response to the McCarthy era; more importantly, and more specifically, it is Miller’s rejoinder to Kazan and Waterfront. In response to Kazan’s morally pure, black and white view of evil in Waterfront (note that Marlon Brando’s character emerges bloodied but triumphant in the film’s climactic scene), Miller posits a society and its individuals who have a much more tenuous hold on moral certainty in the face of evil.
What is truly extraordinary about None Without Sin is that while one comes away with a sense of Kazan as the more morally flawed of the two figures, one understands as Miller did Kazan was only partially the captain of his own fate during the HUAC period. Miller understood (though vehemently disagreed with) Kazan’s motivation in testifying (to save a brilliant artristic career which had been up to that time, and would always be devoted to promoting the social good and tackling traumatic social, moral and political issues).
You may also hear online interviews with the documentary’s creator, Michael Epstein .
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