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ON THE WATERFRONT Overview: Context, Structure, Style, Symbolism 1.

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Presentation on theme: "ON THE WATERFRONT Overview: Context, Structure, Style, Symbolism 1."— Presentation transcript:

1 ON THE WATERFRONT Overview: Context, Structure, Style, Symbolism 1

2 Background Produced at the time of America’s “red scare” of the 1950’s Set on New York’s Docklands Longshoreman – dock worker who loaded / unloaded ships’ cargoes. Documentary style approach Black-and-white photography gives a stark presentation of the dirty tenements and the treacherous docks 2

3 The film is based on a series of Pulitzer Prize–winning news articles by Malcolm Johnson, published in the New York Sun in 1949. The articles exposed the murder, extortion and stand-over tactics infesting the docks, which were controlled by the corrupt Longshoremen’s Union. A Congressional inquiry, like the one in the film, was set up to hear evidence from the dockworkers in an attempt to clean up the waterfront. The movie reflects an aspect of American life at that time. 3


5 Elia Kazan, the film’s director had his own reasons for wanting to tell the story of a courageous whistleblower who risks life and reputation to follow his conscience and give testimony. Kazan, a Communist Party member in his youth, had testified in 1952 to the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Commission) against his peers in the film industry and had been subjected to much contempt and rejection. 5

6 HUAC subpoenaed many actors, screenwriters, and directors to coerce them into informing on their colleagues making public which of their friends now had, or formerly had, any associations with the Communist Party. HUAC subpoenaed Kazan once, and at his initial hearing he refused to divulge details. At a second hearing in 1952, however, Kazan chose to give the names of seven former colleagues from his Group Theatre days. 6

7 The choice Terry makes to inform on the union officials echoes the choice Elia Kazan made to inform before HUAC on former communists, but Terry achieves results that are far less morally ambiguous than the results Kazan achieved. Kazan effectively blacklisted for decades many of his creative, intelligent, and politically active peers. The only loser from Terry’s decision is Johnny Friendly, a merciless bully who clearly deserves what he gets. Kazan’s life time achievement award - video 7

8 Kazan’s testimony allowed him to pursue a directing career undisturbed. However, many of his subsequent films deal with themes similar to those in On the Waterfront. The recurring themes also suggest that Kazan felt a need to continually assert the right of the individual’s conscience over that of a mob or governmental authority. At the end of On the Waterfront, Terry is surrounded with people who admire and respect him. His informing has elevated him in the longshoremen’s eyes, and he has no reason to doubt his decision. Kazan, though he built a successful career, was never fully embraced by Hollywood, and his own decision to inform stranded him in morally ambiguous territory. 8

9 Kazan’s justifications, however, met with much criticism, particularly from his good friend Arthur Miller, who believed naming names was a betrayal of fellow artists. On the Waterfront celebrates as a hero a man who informed on mob leaders, and many people believe that Kazan made the film as a response to Miller, and other critics. Miller’s play The Crucible, whose hero dies rather than accuse people of being witches, of course represents the opposing view. 9

10 Elia Kazan - Director Movie 10


12 Structure and style Kazan wanted his directing in On the Waterfront to be invisible so that the actors’ performances could be the focus of the film. Conveys the sense of a community: exhausted, paralysed and rendered fearful by corrupting forces within its midst that have wrested democracy from the grasp of the common people. “It ain’t part of America”. 12

13 Cinematography: black-and-white film.  Shadowy tenement buildings and laneways seem to close in around the characters, who are trapped in their narrow lives, and  the sharp vertical lines of cranes and staircases hint at the dangers that await them. Contrasting with this darkness is the expansive rooftop, open to the sky, Terry’s place of refuge. 13

14 Two entwined narratives. 1. The love story: Edie goes down to the docks to find out about Joey’s death 2. Terry’s redemption begins when he is first attracted to the beautiful, angry girl. How are they entwined: It takes Edie’s moral strength to draw Terry away from his allegiance to corruption and it takes the sexual attraction between them to draw Edie out of her convent-bred conservatism. The two main characters are: the flawed young man and the angelic young woman who helps him overcome his doubts and failings to become a hero. 14

15 The actors’ faces and gestures help the viewer to understand the character.  Terry’s stretching of the woollen glove onto his workman’s hand as he walks with Edie in the park teases her but shows his fascination with her;  Terry’s gentle turning aside of the gun Charley pulls on him in the taxi says everything that is needed about the love between the brothers  the confusion and misery on Terry’s face as he talks to Edie in the pub reveal the internal struggle of this inarticulate character. 15

16 Kazan makes use of symbolism S ymbols are objects, characters, figures, or colours used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. Clothes symbolise their wearers. a. The windbreaker that is passed from Joey to KO to Terry connects its wearer to the struggle for justice. b. The fine, warm overcoats of the Union bosses show their swaggering prosperity, c. while the workers’ poverty is apparent as they shiver in shabby jackets. 16

17 Kazan makes use of symbolism The prize fight that Terry has lost, and that still rankles him, foreshadows his taking on the Union, with even higher stakes and a second chance to ‘be somebody’. Empire state building. Across the Hudson, the Empire State Building looms like the Emerald City from the Wizard of Oz, distant and strange. It represents dreams and a different life, yet it’s always glimpsed through a fog. Its sleek jutting frame contrasts dramatically with the ramshackle rooftops of Hoboken, with their discolored patches and mismatched roof levels. The Hudson River - separates Hoboken, New Jersey, from New York City. Manhattan may as well be a thousand miles away, since the Manhattan life the longshoremen imagine is so different from daily life on the waterfront. The river is a border, an edge that the longshoremen will never be able to cross. 17

18 Symbolism: Pigeons The pigeons are cooped up in a cage. They’re fragile. Their natural impulse is to fly, but they’ve been trained not to. They perfectly symbolize Terry Malloy. Though he’s a tough former boxer, his excessive care for these birds indicates a special affinity between them. The imagery of him actually inside the cage himself, evident when he tends the birds, suggests this affinity as well. Malloy is a dreamer, a delicate and sensitive man, and much of the conversation that he has with Edie about hawks and pigeons can be translated into words about each other. In many ways, Malloy essentially is a pigeon—that is, he lives on the rooftops. We never once see him in his apartment. His home is the roof. The pigeons also have a negative connotation: stool pigeon, a slang term used to describe informers. A pigeon is a sucker. Every time a character uses the term stool pigeon or its abbreviation, stoolie, Terry Malloy’s conflict boils to the surface. 18

19 Symbolism: Hooks The sharp metallic hooks that the longshoremen use to help them load and empty pallets hang over their shoulders menacingly. These hooks represent the forces that literally hang over them in the form of Johnny Friendly’s goons. Over the course of the film, Terry, Dugan, Luke, and many other longshoremen have the hawk-like talon of the hook pressing against their chests. 19

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