What if film directors Elia Kazan and George Miller had stayed in Turkey?
We are all holding our breath, waiting to see Christopher Nolan's latest film “Tenet” in movie theatres.
As COVID-19 coronavirus measures delayed the reopening of cinemas, Hollywood studios have been selling off their summer blockbusters to Netflix for virtually no profit, like the corner store that ordered too much from the wholesaler.
But Nolan resists - he is one of the few directors who makes films for the silver screen. We shall wait since we have nothing else to do.
As we were waiting, Nolan has already gotten himself involved with a minor scandal. Anne Hathaway, who worked with Nolan in the 2014 hit “Interstellar”, recently revealed that he did not have any chairs on set, and all hell broke loose.
One wonders then how Nolan directs films with no director's chair? Anybody will tell you that theirs is a demanding profession, and directors are no exception. They say directing is the hardest thing in the world, and thus a young man's game. Like who?
Like Elia Kazan, who should be familiar to Turkish audiences. Kazan himself was born in a ghetto in Istanbul but his Anatolian Greek parents, George and Athena Kazancıoğlu, were born and lived in a poor village in Turkey's Kayseri province.
In 1917, when Kazan was nine, the family immigrated to the United States. Kazan washed dishes and waited tables at his father's diner in New York City while he studied theatre at Yale School of Drama - second only to Julliard in terms of prestige in the performing arts.
Later he founded Actor's Studio with Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford in 1947, and introduced Stanislavsky's method acting to the United States, discovered James Dean and Marlon Brando, and directed Tennessee Williams plays for Broadway for the first time.
He moved on to direct some 20 films, including masterpieces like “East of Eden”, “On the Waterfront”, “America America”, and “Viva Zapata”.
Kazan's book “On Directing” includes a passage where he says he had no energy to shoot “Beyond the Aegean”, a film he envisioned as a sequel to “America America” that tells the story of his family's escape from Turkey to the United States.
His son Chris had written the script for the film, and they decided against actually making it because they could not secure funding at the last minute. Nevertheless, Kazan worked hard to make it a reality, despite being well over 80 years old at the time. The following are his own words from the chapter, “A Director and His Energy”, from the book:
"I don't look forward now to going to Turkey and shooting the continuation of America America. I'm a little afraid. When I do, I wish I could live in the luxury and ease and comfort of the Istanbul Hilton with my wife while I am shooting.
In the old days, I searched for locations with something of the primitive about them. It was an artistic tenet of mine that to be uncomfortable was necessary; if we were comfortable, the film would stink. I used to like to shoot in the rain. Now I protect myself. I appreciate comfort. I'm fragile.
Or am I? The fact is that I am planning to go to Turkey and Lesvos, an island without a halfway decent hotel, and shoot the toughest picture of my life. An impossible film in an impossible location, with armies tossed between victory and defeat, and a city destroyed by flames."
The great master George Miller, an auteur himself, is also the child of an Anatolian Greek family who emigrated from Anatolia, but to Australia rather than the United States. But that is as far as the resemblance with Kazan goes. Because as Miller pushes 80, like in the “Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, his films get younger and more energetic.
Cinephiles will remember Miller as the creator and director of “Mad Max”. The latest instalment in the series, 2015's “Mad Max: Fury Road”, is considered to be one of the best action films ever.
How action-packed “Mad Max: Fury Road”, as a constant chase from one end of the desert to the other, could be the brainchild of a septuagenarian director is a mystery to many, including Steve Soderbergh, a great director himself, who marvelled "how hundreds of people did not die during the shoot".
According to Kyle Buchanan, writing in the New York Times, the making of “Mad Max: Fury Road” was “utter madness”. Its stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron hated each other. Tom Hardy made Miller regret the day he was born a few times over.
The production ran out of money and was cancelled three times. Warner Bros, who funded the film, had its executives changed. The middle section went into post-production before the beginning and end were filmed. After securing more funding, the crew transported hundreds of cars to Australia from Africa and went back under the endless desert heat, cold, and sand storms. Any average person would suffer a heart attack or get cancer a few times during this whole ordeal.
Maybe him being a good doctor as well has something to do with it, but George Miller not only finished this seemingly impossible film, but he also conquered the hearts of critics and audiences alike. He also won a few Oscars in technical categories.
Anybody else would stop working and enjoy retirement at that point. Or if they couldn't live without directing, they would make easy films about, say, a man torn between selling off or looking after the vineyards his father left him along with a chateau in France.
Miller, on the other hand, announced that he would make another Mad Max film, this time focusing on the younger years of the protagonist Imperator Furiosa. Oh George, may you live much longer and make many more films.
I keep thinking what would have happened if the Kazans and Millers did not immigrate to the United States or Australia and instead remained in Anatolia.
When I imagine Elia Kazan changing his name to İlyas to avoid being called an infidel, then searching far and wide for a friend in high places so he could secure a measly $10,000 grant from the Culture Ministry, or George Miller dealing with producers who insist they could film the whole thing in front of a green screen, I can't help but smile.
I wish somebody would make a film titled George and Elia in Anatolia so we can laugh at our tragic misfortune.