On The Waterfront

Jaclyn Trotta                      HON 121 Seminar: Arts in New York         December 5, 2012

On The Waterfront

On The Waterfront is a drama film directed by Elia Kazan in 1954.  It is considered one of America’s most valued films. The mise-en-scène, the language, the symbolism, and the directing of scenes were all incorporated together to make the movie a great form of entertainment.

Mise-en-scène is the arrangement of scenery and properties to represent the place where a movie is enacted. It was used in this movie to give a certain appeal or emotion to the audience. It also helps to foreshadow certain scenes and give information to the audience as well.  On The Waterfront was filmed in black in white as opposed to color, which can help the audience determine the time frame in which the movie was set.  The lighting in this film is also very important. There is a lot of dark lighting used in this film, which produces many shadows to represent the eeriness and the corruption occurring in the plot of the movie. However, Edie is always shown in lighter lighting to represent the goodness and morality in the movie. This difference in lighting is a way for the directors to represent the difference between good and evil in the film.  The costumes, just like the color of the film, also help determine the time period in which the movie was set. Since it took place in the 1950s, many women wore cotton dresses and had their hair in waves while the men wore trench coats and fedoras.

Since the movie was set in the 1950s, the use of language is very different from what would be used in a movie today in 2012.  When they used the word cheese-eater it often referred to someone who rats out what other people are doing. Johnny friendly used this term to describe Joey Doyle who got Friendly in trouble with the crimes commission.  The word potato-eater is used to describe someone who is of Irish descent. For example, Father Barry referred to himself as a potato-eater. The word canary is used to describe a person who is against and talks about the corrupt ways of the union. This word was used to describe Joey Doyle who was going against the corruption of Jonny Friendly.  The word pigeon was brought up many times in this film. In this movie it described someone who is faithful. Terry is often described as a pigeon due to his faithfulness to Johnny Friendly throughout the movie. Pigeons are a loyal bird and just like pigeons, Terry and the other union workers were loyal to Johnny Friendly. There was also the use of the word “stool pigeon” which has a negative meaning. Unlike a pigeon that is loyal, a stool pigeon is described as a tattletale or someone who goes against someone else.  At the end of the film, Terry is described as a stool pigeon because he finally went up against Johnny Friendly.

The most famous scene is when Terry and his brother Charley are in the taxi towards the end the movie. This scene is probably one of the most well known scenes in all American movies due to the great combination of dialogue, acting, and the use of the camera. The dialogue in this scene is somewhat tense. Terry disagrees with Charley’s involvement in the corruption of the union while Charley is trying to get his brother to think otherwise. They both want the best for each other, however, through different means. The acting in this scene involves a lot of body language, high-toned voices, and facial expressions filled with disgust. Since the scene was depicting a rivalry between two brothers, their tones were filled with resentment. They often got very close to each other ‘s faces and bodies while they were speaking to emphasize their anger with each other, especially when Charley held a gun to Terry.  The camera was used in this scene to focus the attention on the interaction between Terry and Charley. When body language was important in the scene, the director would place the camera where the whole body was shown. If the facial expression was important, then the director would zoom onto one or both of their faces. The camera would also not only show the actor when he was speaking, but would also show the reaction of the other actor while he was being spoken to.

Throughout the film, there is a lot of consumption of alcohol. The significance of the alcohol in this film is to symbolize the immorality and corruption that is occurring. One way in which this is shown is in the scene where Terry takes Edie out. When he buys her a shot of whiskey, it symbolizes the bad corrupting the good. Another example of how alcohol represents corruption and immorality is when Father Barry goes against his chastity obligations and drinks alcohol.  This also shows the corruption of religion and the church during that time as well.  In the film, they also describe the whiskey as Irish whiskey. Therefore, this can also represent the value of alcohol in Irish culture.

On The Waterfront is one of America’s greatest movies of all time.  The film won many awards during its time all thanks to the intricate use of mise-se-scène and the ideas of Elia Kazan. The mix of incredible acting and well thought directing created a masterpiece that will be viewed for many years to come.