On The Waterfront

3518 Words15 Pages
‘Back to the waterfront; a close reading of On the Waterfront’ Gary Simmons In the previous edition of Screen Education #56, I wrote the first of two articles on On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954). In that article, ‘Conscience, Confessions and Context in On the Waterfront’, there was a clear focus on the range of ideas that underpinned the film. In the original article there were a few tentative allusions to the ways in which Elia Kazan established mood, tone and character. In this subsequent analysis I want to look at the ways in which the grammar and syntax of the film validates the ideas in a series of close readings of several key sequences. In doing so I will extrapolate on the ideas of the initial article and reveal the ways in which Kazan uses the formal qualities of the film to reinforce the ideas. Given the three-act narrative structure of On the Waterfront, I want to look closely at a number of sequences from each act. From the opening sequence in which Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is complicit with the corrupt (Act 1), to his emerging understanding of the corruption characterised by his growing ambivalence (Act 2), to the fight for ‘rights’ (Act 3), the film is rich in its imagery, dialogue and design. There is a careful fusion of all these cinematic elements in the ways that the narrative of conscience, confession and catharsis is played out. For example, throughout the film a strong sense of place is evoked. The lens of Boris Kaufman’s (Cinematographer) camera distils a cityscape which is menacing, insular, if not, claustrophobic. Throughout the film, there are constricted spaces such as the dark, cavernous hold of the ship, the pigeon cages, the bar room, the narrow, dingy alleyways filmed with tight angles to register the sense of entrapment, alienation and suffocation. Even the diffused light of day is shrouded in a blanket of fog and mist.

More about On The Waterfront

Open Document