Sunday, July 3, 2011

Elia Kazan's America America (1963)

Obscurity factor: 7

In honor of the birthday of our nation tomorrow, I thought I'd feature a film about it. This film by Elia Kazan is about the drive to come to America by the persecuted classes of Europe at the turn of the century. It follows Stavros as he struggles to get out of Turkish controlled Armenia in the late 1800's. The incredible hardships he endures on his journey are documented in intricate detail, as is his ultimate triumph.

Elia Kazan is a complicated figure, from his oscar winning films to his naming of names to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, he's a man people feel strongly about. In the 1960's, he embarked on a series of highly biographical films based on his books with mixed results. This is one of those films. It largely succeeds. It's an extremely effective fictionalization of his uncle's experiences in getting to America, and though the action occasionally gets bogged down in detail or secondary story lines, it's much more palatable than the solipsistic The Arrangement (1969). Part of what makes this film interesting is the lack of a star. It's entirely cast with good, solid, lesser known actors, most notably Stathis Giallelis in the lead, who turn in subtle and nuanced performances.

This film is recently available on DVD. I think it's obscurity is owed to the fact that it's not a star vehicle and it's a slightly uneven presentation of a very serious subject. It's worth seeing for the sheer scope of it, however. Above is the last scene in the film depicting Stavros' arrival at Ellis Island and his assimilation into the America of the turn of the last century. It was uploaded to YouTube by EllinikiKardia.

Obscurity factor: 7 (on DVD, known to film buffs, otherwise not well known)


  1. It's hugely obscure and yet it was nominated for Best Picture in that year's Oscars. I saw it a long long time ago and found it very effective. I'm glad to learn to that its on DVD now - maybe its time to see it again.

  2. It's ironic you mention this movie, as tomorrow the 4th of July none other than Turner Classic Movies will be showing it at 5 PM Eastern time. So, it was the perfect time to bring it up.

    By the way, it was just a few days ago that I stumbled upon this site, and it's something up my alley. As someone who has seen some very obscure films (usually via "less than ethical" means; I kid you not when I say I've seen the infamous might as well be lost film The Phynx, along with the likes of The Super Cops and the Tom Skerritt-starring Fighting Back, to list but a few examples) in the past, this is a site I should enjoy reading as I go through the archives.

  3. Welcome aboard Blair! Thanks for the heads up about the 4th of July airing of America America on TCM. Those films are obscure, indeed. I'll have to look for them...

  4. This looks good. I'll have to add it to the list of films I need to buy :)