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Oscar Who? | The Nation

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Oscar Who?

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And now, speaking of betrayal, let's talk about Elia Kazan.

About the Author

Stuart Klawans
The Nation's film critic Stuart Klawans is author of the books Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order (a finalist for...

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Ordinarily, an honorary Oscar goes to someone who has enjoyed a highly successful career but has been overlooked by the academy's voters. That's not the case with Kazan, who won Oscars for best director for Gentleman's Agreement and On the Waterfront. So the award in this case rights a wrong that never happened. Or, rather, it responds to a slight that was committed outside the academy. Kazan's honorary Oscar makes up for a missing American Film Institute lifetime achievement award, which he was denied by Hollywood people with long memories of his role in perpetuating the blacklist.

To belabor the obvious: Arguments about the blacklist (and the Rosenbergs, and Hiss) are not about the events of the forties and fifties. They're about America today, and about how we judge our country's role in the world. To seek an award for Kazan is in effect to propose that America exerts force against the citizens of other nations only when provoked to do so and brings down violence on its own citizens only when they are disloyal. It's a very comforting proposition for those who are in a position to take comfort. It's also as accurate a picture of present-day America as you will get from Elizabeth.

But I'll let other writers fill in the bloody details of this argument. My job, like the academy's, is merely to improve the artistic quality of motion pictures. So I will close with an assessment of the lifetime achievement of Elia Kazan. His reputation ultimately rests on five films: Gentleman's Agreement, A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata!, On the Waterfront and East of Eden. That's not a bad record. Then again, Jules Dassin managed to make at least as many memorable pictures--The Naked City, Night and the City, Rififi, He Who Must Die and Topkapi--despite being forced out of the United States by the blacklist. I look forward keenly to the news that he, too, has been recognized by the academy.

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