1963, Movies

America, America (1963, Elia Kazan)

This film – which is about the journey of Kazan’s uncle from Anatolia to the US – is the kind of film which is quite common now but which was quite rare back then, even in the early ‘60s, pre-Renaissance. I honestly don’t know how many other (American) films like this existed at the time. And for that, it should be celebrated.

Of course, the film is problematic: everyone speaks English – even when speaking to people who ostensibly speak other languages – and the American actors all attempt bad accents or don’t even try. (I am firmly on the side of consistency here: though I would prefer no one put on a “Greek” or “Turkish” or “Armenian” accent in an English language film about Turkey, if you’re going to do it, go all in.) The film rests on the performance of its star, an unknown, but whose English is not impeccable. Beyond that accent, he’s shockingly good, given this is his first leading role and given that the script sometimes fails him.

Kazan’s opening narration doesn’t help things, as it feels like he’s explaining stuff to us that we should know ourselves – though I am absolutely writing about this in an era when I can look up anything and Kazan’s audience could not – and it sort of compounds the phoniness brought on by the regular appearance of American actors struggling with their accents.

But, it’s shot on location much of the time, it’s remarkably streamlined for such a long movie – I can conceive of the existence of an even longer cut, to be frank – and it seeks to tell a story that would have been entirely unusual to American audiences. (We can also read into it anything we’d like about Kazan and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.)

I have to say I admire it, even if I don’t think it’s really deserving of the “Lost Masterpiece” title.


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