The line between theatre and film is blurred in the work of Elia Kazan. The nature of theatre allows for a direct and immediate relationship with the audience. In a film, this relationship is much harder to achieve, even with the use of close ups and unique camera angles. Throughout his filmmaking career, Kazan’s character development and filmmaking technique created strong stories with intimate performances that directly allowed his films to connect with the viewer in a way usually reserved for live plays. With Panic in the Streets, Kazan broke free of his theatrical background and created a new way of merging film and theatre to tell stories.
“Until Panic in the Streets, I’d directed actors moving them in and out of dramatic arrangements just as I might have done on stage, with the camera photographing them mostly in a medium shot. My stage experience, which I’d thought of as an asset, I now regarded as a handicap. I had to learn a new art.” - Elia Kazan (pg. 259 - Kazan on Directing)
From Panic in the Streets (1950) to On the Waterfront (1954), all the way through to The Last Tycoon (1976), Kazan consistently created pieces that crossed the line between theatre and film, walking back and forth at will. In The Last Tycoon’s final scene, Robert De Niro directly faces the camera and addresses the film’s audience, repeating a speech he gave earlier in the film to a screenwriter in which he explains the difference between writing and making pictures. Kazan uses the last minutes of his last film to reach out from the screen and directly connect to his audience.