Manos Hadjidakis as remembered by Elia Kazan
[From Elia Kazan's "A LIFE" (Knopf, 1988), pp. 658-659]
is now my favorite of the films I've made,
but early in 1963, when I was editing it with Dede Allen,
I had doubts about its worth. Then, when I needed luck,
I got it. Manos Hadjidakis came my way from Athens and
bolstered me, first by his help in finishing the film
--the last five percent of the work on a movie is often
the difference between success and failure--but even more
by his confidence in the worth of what I showed him. Manos
was a king that year; he was also a man perhaps excessively
devoted to his mother, who'd lost his four front teeth and
never bothered to replace them. He was plump--I don't mean
gross--and when the occasion called for it, given to releases
of a terrible temper during which his whole bulk shook.
He was also a genius.
Most composers who work on films, when a director doesn't like
what they propose, become contentious and, one way or another,
hold on to what they have already put forward. Some will sulk.
If I didn't like a tune Manos offered me, he'd make a quick
gesture of dismissal with his plump hand, discarding what
he'd suggested. If we were conferring in a bar, he'd ask me
what kind of thing I wanted, spread out a paper napkin, draw
five quick parallel lines, and scribble a melody. Quickly
he'd have a solution for me, so I became bolder about making
my contrary wishes known. Manos believed that it was the
treatment, not the melody, that mattered. At his orchestra
rehearsals, sitting at a piano, he'd sketch the basic melody
for the musicians he'd brought together, then walk from one
to another, telling each instrument where to come in with
what, and in a short time, standing on his feet, he made his
arrangement. This method of work has its advantages; it allows
the composer and his instrumentalists to exchange reactions
and make suggestions. It is built on one talent's faith in
another. As a director, I understood. I called it improvisation.
Manos was not only a composer, he was a dramatist, and his sense
of where the drama was, how to reinforce it, how to join various
episodes so they'd have the most effect, surpassed my own.
He also had the most overwhelming joy in working and in his work;
it was easy for him, and once he started, he was like all the
other geniuses I've known, a compulsive hard worker. He'd earned
his success the hard way. The old saying that genius is ten
percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration underestimates
the importance of relentless effort. But work doesn't describe
what these men do. There is a blacking out of everything else
in their lives; it's all secondary--love, greed, pleasure, family.
The work experience is what they want from life. They don't know
how to "unwind," nor do they want to.
Necessarily there is an intense selfishness and arrogance about
the men called geniuses, and there was about Manos. I've been
called arrogant and selfish and self-centered, and I'm not,
by any stretch of the imagination, a genius, but I've borne
the accusation--if that's what it is--and my answer is: "Why
not?" What's more important, who's worth more among us? Let
the common man put up and suffer. A person of talent who can
function with that talent is the finest thing on earth and
the only answer to the old question: Who is man and why is man
and what is man supposed to be? Manos did not tolerate any
interference with how he wanted what he'd composed to sound.
His musicians were terrified of him, and again, why not?
So were Toscanini's. It helped the end result.
Men called geniuses have been the joy of my existence--but
I didn't know them as geniuses. All those I've known and
worked with--Aaron Copland, Clifford Odets, Tennessee Williams,
Harold Clurman, Orson Welles, Marlon Brando--have a joyous
intensity in work and have passed it on to me. They are blessed.
Along with all the other sparks, they all have great laughs.
Laughing comes easy for them because life is what they want
it to be; they are what they want to be, doing what they want
to do. They don't question their worth. They no longer respond
to disapproval. Manos never, not once, showed any hesitation
about what he wanted or what I'd think of it. He did wonderful
things for my film at a time when the film most needed that
All the above is skipping over the essential question: Are
these people born with the divine gift or do they acquire it?
Granted they work harder than others, granted that their lives
have usually been richer and, therefore, better soil for growth,
granted that there is some special eagerness about them and
usually an especially strong energy--granted all this, how does
the phenomenon called a genius come to be?
I don't know. But this I have noticed about people with
mysterious gifts: In many cases, a wound has been inflicted
early in life, which impels the person to strive harder or
makes him or her extrasensitive. The talent, the genius,
is the scab on the wound, there to protect a weak place,
an opening to death; that's how it came to be. These are
our heroes, those who have overcome what the rest of the race
yields to with self-pity and many excuses. When I've worked
with men and women who came successfully out of misfortune,
I've found that they have strength that is extraordinary,
and their strength is a gift to me. So it's been, not only
with Manos, but with other talented composers and with
the actors and particularly the actresses I've worked with.
Their precious gifts, for which they paid in pain, have
made me successful when I was successful. I've relied on
their talent; it's the essence of what I've needed most
from the rest of the race.
Back to the "garden"