TV Listings | On the waterfront and witness stand: the pariah who was peerless

Pick of the week: A letter to Elia (DRK, Fri 00:25)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival on US shores of the son of a Greek rug merchant who would go on to walk red carpets the world over as the leading film director of 1950s cinema – and one of the most controversial ever.

Few alive today have good reason to still hate Elia Kazan, the genius who gave the world On the Waterfront and East of Eden, for outing eight of his industry colleagues as communists to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. But back then, it was on a par with Chris Brown duffing up Rihanna every night for a whole year. 

Had Kazan stayed silent on the stand, there would have been no “I could have been a contender” and James Dean would have stayed plain old Jimmy. Method acting might have stalled before it started – who else would have put up with the psychological realism of Marlon Brando’s mumbling – certainly not John Ford. It was as if Kazan knew the ‘grass’ was greener on the other side. 

De Niro and Pacino, The Godfather and Mean Streets – would they have come to fruition in a Hollywood without Kazan? One of his greatest fans, Martin Scorsese, is convinced they wouldn’t, and in his 60-minute documentary, A Letter to Elia, he reveals how the director was the single biggest influence on his career.

Tackling issues like anti-Semitism (1947), racism (1949) and the pitfalls of celebrity (1957) long before others, Kazan was ahead of his time. He wasn’t afraid to draw on personal experience and to make films that mirrored real-life.

The founding father of method acting (along with Lee Strasberg), he started the Actors’ Studio in 1947 and made Brando a star, overseeing the greatest moment of the slim-Elvis part of his career in On the Waterfront.

Scorsese and Robert De Niro were fittingly there to hand him his honorary Oscar (he had already won two) in 1999. Half the room refused to join the applause. His acceptance speech was as unapologetic as the single-mindedness that defined his career.

– Ben Hamilton

Also new:
JFK, blown away, 50 years to this very day (next Friday), and most of the networks are marking the Dallassassination with shotumentaries galore.

Two surefire winners – Nixon and Hoover if you like – and both from 2013, are four-part series JFK (DRK, Mon-Thu 19:00) and JFK: One PM Central Standard Time, which is narrated by George Clooney. Taking a cheap shot (cue Lee Harvey Oswald), meanwhile, is the smutty JKF’s women: the scandals revealed (DRK, Wed 20:00).

DR2, Mon 23:30 Google and the World Brain

Elsewhere, there’s another chance to watch episode one of drama series Vikings (DR3, Sat 21:25 or Tue 21:15); DR2 are showing a whole evening dedicated to pigs (Sat 20:00); Google and the World Brain asks what’s next for the world’s favourite website; and this week’s a good one to start watching the absorbing The Story of Film (DRK, Thu 23:10) now Mark Cousins has moved onto the 1970s. (BH)

Coming soon:
Dr Who is helping criminals escape, but not with the Tardis (probably because it’s not a US show). 

David Tennant, the tenth reincarnation of the good doctor, plays a charming and intelligent junior barrister who has never lost a case in the BBC miniseries The Escape Artist. But when he helps a criminal escape, it comes back to haunt him.


The plot twists that follow after are so jaw-dropping that The Guardian describe them as “writer David Wolstencroft attacking his own plot with a monkey wrench”.


This Dexter meets ‘every lawyer TV show ever’ plot sounds like it was built to fail. The key difference is that unlike far-fetched US lawyer shows, where everything is possible, this is captivating without being exaggerated. Simply because it’s on a different continent than most shows this autumn, it’s interesting. Plus, Brits do everything with a little more class and higher standards. (ROV)


Sport of the week

Probably a rights issue, but K6 is sticking with its strategy to follow England’s friendlies (Chile on Friday and Germany on Tuesday) instead of any of the four European WC play-off double-headers. Fotunately Portugal vs Sweden was the pick anyway – for the rest, you’ll have to make do with the highlights on Eurosport. Elsewhere, DR3 kicks off its new NBA live rights deal, but Andre Ward fans will have to make do with delayed coverage of his latest fight (TV3 Sport 1, Mon 23:15). (BH)


Film of the week

Surely it can’t be this hard sourcing or indeed scheduling good movies? Why DR3 are showing Attack the Block at this unearthly hour is anybody’s guess, although most of the action – on a London council estate as an alien invasion unfolds – does occur in the early hours. Critics were divided: the Americans hate it, the Brits love it. Elsewhere, The Switch and The Code (DR3, Tue 23:20) have names that suggest greatness beyond their 5-6 ratings on IMDB. Not much better, Book of Eli has a twist you can guess from the poster. (BH)


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