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February 26, 2008

The Arrangement

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Elia Kazan - 1969
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

It may sound morbid, but one of my favorite parts of watching the Academy Awards has been the in memoriam tribute to the deceased actors and crafts people of the past year. What never fails to happen is that I will see a clip from some film and wonder why I'm not watching a good, if not great, classic film, instead of complaining about the seemingly endless boredom of the Oscar show. Not having cable, or even on-air television at this time may have proven to be a good thing for me. I had my own in memoriam tribute by watching a film starring Deborah Kerr.

I didn't see The Arrangement when it was originally released. At the time I was put off by the generally negative reviews, plus Andrew Sarris' designation of Elia Kazan in "Less than meets the Eye" in his "American Cinema". In retrospect, at least for myself, it was better to see The Arrangement after having greater familiarity with Kazan's career, and seeing most of his films. Some to the stylization of The Arrangement makes the film visually unlike Kazan's other work, although there are also moments that are echos of his work on stage. There are elements of autobiography in the film which was based on Kazan's novel. I haven't read the novel, or Kazan's massive autobiography, but the film The Arrangement is the work of someone who felt the deep need to prove themselves still relevant at a time when a new generation of filmmakers were making themselves known.

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Kirk Douglas portrays Kazan's alter-ego, Eddie Anderson, an advertising executive who wants to chuck all of the trappings of an affluent lifestyle in favor of his original goal of being a writer. Following a failed suicide attempt, Anderson attempts to face his past and figure out his future. Kerr is the seemingly perfect wife, Florence, whose life is wrapped up in her husband living a life of material success. Faye Dunaway is the girl friend, Gwen, who may not always want to be with Anderson, but encourages him to confront truths about himself. Parts of the film are flashbacks of Anderson remembering parts of his past life. One very theatrical device is shots of Douglas seen with his younger self and his parents, something that may remind some of Wild Strawberries, but also recalls Kazan's stage work with Arthur Miller. There are also scenes of Anderson past and present, in conversation. The advertising executive Anderson is easily recognizable by his mustache which makes Douglas resemble a cheerier version of his similar appearance as a gangster boss in The Brotherhood, released the previous year.

The Arrangement seems to have anticipated Kazan's own filmmaking career. Just as his character of Eddie Anderson leaves behind his "successful" life, Kazan's next film was also his first to be made outside of the Hollywood mainstream, the low budget The Visitors. While trying to stretch himself as an artist is a worthy goal, some of the stylization of The Arrangement should have been resisted, especially a scene with Douglas imagining himself in a fight with another of Dunaway's suitor, punctuated with the kind of comic book title cards better associated with the "Batman" television series that had already fallen out of favor. More effective is when Anderson talks about his uncle and we briefly see a clip from Kazan's most personal film, America, America (still overdue a DVD release). The Arrangement offers an interesting little time capsule of when major stars took advantage of the new ratings system with on-screen nudity for Douglas, Dunaway and, yes, Miss Kerr. In his own autobiography, Douglas stated, "I enjoyed doing the picture . . Kazan was trying to do something different, bold, go inside the head of my character in all his confusion over his career, his women, his father, his life. Screening of the picture drew mixed reactions. In the editing, Kazan changed the ending. I felt that he hadn't made the movie that was based on his book, the movie that he had shot." What may be the most troubling aspect of The Arrangement is this indication that Kazan himself compromised his own story about authenticity and integrity, neither trusting his audience nor himself.

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Posted by peter at February 26, 2008 01:46 PM


This blog is amazing. This film looks amazing, I'm totally going to go rent it, because of this.

Posted by: sarah at March 21, 2008 07:09 PM