Jaynes Your Way

Here are my thoughts about films, life, and what not. If you don't like them I'll give your money back.

#7 Am I on my feet?

07 September, 2008

On the Waterfront 1954

“On The Waterfront” is one of those movies that, for some reason or other, is always mentioned during any film discussion. Someone might mention Elia Kazan, the director, or the stars Marlon Brando and Eva Maria Saint. Many reasons could bring this film up in conversation, and rightly so. Pauline Kael, the cantankerous film critic, i.e. bitch--I’m really a huge fan-- said, “it’s a near-great film,” which is a pretty strong endorsement, from her.

Kazan takes the camera on location to the waterfront jungles of New Jersey for a gritty independent film feel. This is the world of the pre-Godfather mob, union run rackets, which are worse because they don’t protect their own but feed of the misery of the workers. At least Don Corleone helped his amici when they came to him.

Terry Malloy(Brando) is muscle for hire. He is an ex-prize fighter whose brother is the right hand man of the union president of the dock workers 347, Johnny Friendly. Every time a ship comes docks the men show up for a slim chance to do back breaking work. Mostly they aren’t picked because Johnny Friendly says who is picked and who isn’t. Terry is comfortable and protected which makes staying a hired man a high priority, but he is jolted into self reflection when he sets a guy who might talk up to be pushed off a building. The sister, Edie Doyle (Saint) runs around the dock yard trying to figure out the culprit, but runs into the D&D syndrome that plagues tight knit neighborhoods. D&D is Deaf and Dumb, which is the union fee that is required of all workers.

“On The Waterfront” is a easily accessible film because of the stellar acting, but there are many subtle meanings. Ultimately this film is about cages. Pigeons may just seem like a neighborhood hobby, but they are reflective of the dock workers under control of the union. Terry shows off his prize pigeon to Edie telling her that no other birds mess with him because he fights them off. He is kind of the roost. The pigeon becomes symbolic of Terry who will fight against the caging effect of the union. The movie is shoot in a very cagey effect so we fill what Terry is filling. Characters are always framed by vertical objects similar to noir stylistic. Even outside the characters have no where to go. The camera’s freedom mocks the audience and characters as it gazes on Terry, or any of the dock workers in the claustrophobic situation.

Johnny Friendly stoles keep in him power because they will rough up any trouble makers, but if the masses join together the few and Friendly and his stoles would be out of power. Everyone is scared for their safety. Apparently, people value their heads with out bash marks.

This film lives up to its reputation, and I understand why it won 8 Oscars. I can’t wait to bring it up in my next film conversation.


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