Bill, Martha and their little child Hal are spending a quiet winter Sunday in their cosy house when they get an unexpected visit from Mike Nickerson and Tony Rodriguez. Mike and Tony are ... See full summary »
Elia Kazan, ethnic Greek but Turkish by birth, tells the story of the struggles of his uncle - in this account named Stavros Topouzoglou - in emigrating to America. In the 1890's, the young, kind-hearted but naive Stavros lived in Anatolia, where the Greek and Armenian minorities were repressed by the majority Turks, this repression which often led to violence. Even Stavros being friends with an Armenian was frowned upon. As such, Stavros dreamed of a better life - specifically in America - where, as a result, he could make his parents proud by his grand accomplishments. Instead, his parents, with most of their money, sent Stavros to Constantinople to help fund the carpet shop owned by his first cousin once removed. What Stavros encountered on his journey, made on foot with a small donkey, made him question life in Anatolia even further. Once in Constantinople, his resolve to earn the 110 Turkish pound third class fare to the United States became stronger than ever. But try after try,... Written by
[On his knees to Stavros without sincerity and finishing on a note of menace]
I beg your forgiveness. I cannot live without your forgiveness. Before all this company I beg your forgiveness. Brother, don't leave me on my knees like this. Don't insult my soul. Brother, I have never been on my knees to a Greek. Brother, I'm warning you, with a Turk there can be brotherliness or its opposite. I'm warning you, brother... brother... brother... Too bad... oh... Too bad.
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Director Elia Kazan narrates the main portion of the closing credits, reading the words as they appear on the screen, using complete sentences such as "The cinematography was by Haskell Wexler." See more »
Kazan's reputation seems to have been diminishing for some time, a process, ironically, that his 'Lifetime Achievement' Oscar seems to have accelerated. Yeah, he did betray his fellows and himself in the 1950s. Again, ironically, it's the films he made later in his career, which show the scars of his loss of self-esteem, which are the most fascinating - WILD RIVER, SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, THE ARRANGEMENT - and most powerful of them all, AMERICA AMERICA.
I too am surprised that this monument to Americanism and monument of American cinema, seems not very widely known in America itself. It has all the values of classic American cinema - a strong, simple narrative, a limpid visual style which eschews any directorial histrionics to concentrate purely on the characters. It is the story of young men driven from their homeland and making the long voyage to America - the huddled masses yearning to be free. The journey is long and terribly hard, and even as the shore of American comes into view, sacrifices still have to be made. The end of the film is enormously powerful, one of the most moving I have ever seen - the effect is still with me now, 30 years after seeing it.
It is the story of Kazan's father and uncle - the character who makes an appearance, played by Richard Boone, in Kazan's more heavily fictionalised subsequent film THE ARRANGEMENT. It is a personal story, and the simplicity of the telling seems like the end of a process of endless re-telling around smokey fireplaces, and before children go to sleep, a family saga which has almost attained the status of myth. The savagery of the film's first hour, and the dream-like quality of the last act make AMERICA AMERICA a genuine and powerful part of American mythology.
So don't torture yourself about whether Kazan was morally and politically wrong in betraying his colleagues - see AMERICA AMERICA, and you'll see why he could never have acted any differently. Yes, he was a radical, and a leftist, and a deeply intelligent and passionate man; but he was also an immigrant - and his horror of disenfranchisement and ejection overcame his moral and political views. Kazan may criticise aspects of its culture and politics, but he loves and respects and is grateful to America above all. So he made his choice. He could have made no other.
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