American auteur Stanley Kubrick is considered by many to be one of the greatest directorial geniuses to have ever existed. With masterpieces like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon under his belt, it is almost impossible for anyone to dispute that claim with the notable exception of another filmmaking giant – Andrei Tarkovsky, who once referred to Kubrick’s work as “phoney“.
Although Kubrick had never received a formal education in film theory, he developed the obsession of a true cinephile while working as a photographer in the 1940s. Kubrick considered the education system to be a massive failure and did not believe that it had the ability to provide meaningful education to anyone: “I never learned anything at all in school and didn’t read a book for pleasure until I was 19 years old,” he said.
As he was discovering the magical world of cinema for the first time, Kubrick came across the works of masters like Sergei Eisenstein and Max Ophüls. There was one particular filmmaker who caught Kubrick’s attention whose talent urged Kubrick to refer to him as the greatest director in the history of cinema. That man was none other than Elia Kazan, a celebrated figure who had a seminal influence on the theatre as well as cinema.
Kazan is now remembered for his masterful works like A Streetcar Named Desire and A Face in the Crowd, which have been deemed as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress. Kubrick was so impressed by Kazan’s brilliance that he claimed: “Without question, the best director we have in America, [and] capable of performing miracles with the actors he uses.”
Indeed, Kazan’s ability to utilise the full potential of his actors forms a significant part of his legacy. Nicholas Ray famously said that Kazan was “the best actor’s director the United States has ever produced.” Kazan’s work influenced other filmmakers as well, including Martin Scorsese, who made a documentary titled A Letter to Elia, which won a Peabody Award.
Kazan’s illustrious career not only earned him international recognition but also several prestigious accolades, including multiple Academy Awards, coveted Tony Awards as well as Golden Globes, among many others. However, his greatest achievement is the sense of hope and inspiration that he inculcated in future generations. Dustin Hoffman insisted that neither he nor Robert De Niro and Al Pacino would have been able to become successful actors without Kazan’s influence.
While discussing the future of media consumption, Kazan once said: “The thing with films is that you have to make something that will get people out of their houses, away from the TV set. You must touch people, say something. Otherwise, they’ll stay at home. The NFL is a great show, the most exciting, best-directed thing on television. Sports news is good, too. That’s very, very funny. TV has made us get down to the nub and new films will begin to live up to what the medium can be.”