In the awarding winning American classic On the Waterfront, Elia Kazan gave viewers a glimpse into the painstaking life that existed for longshoremen on the docks of the Hoboken waterfront. Each day, they struggled to free themselves from the mobsters that controlled their livelihood. Following the longshoremen through their journey against hardship, corruption and scandal, Kazan demonstrated directorial brilliance in the mise-en-scène he employed.
The opening extreme long shot introduced both the mobster union delegates and the vast waterfront, as Leonard Bernstein’s ominous musical score played in the background. This musical piece became indicative of impending conflict in future scenes. The camera shots throughout the film were basic, consisting mostly of mid-range close-ups of two character conversations and wide shots to include the background and multiple characters. The lighting appeared to be natural, without the addition of artificial sources. The dimly lit cargo “hole”, bar, apartments and alleyways represented the dark dismal places they actually were to the characters.
The movie was filmed in black-and-white in keeping with the time period and tone of the storyline. Color would have been too vibrant, cheerful and distracting. In addition, it was filmed on location, not a set, for authenticity. The characters wore the same costumes throughout the film, making them easily identifiable. The only significant costume change was the passing of Doyle’s jacket to Dugan, and then to Terry in the final scene. Wearing the jacket symbolized Terry’s willingness to finally stand up for his principles.
Dialogue in the film included an excessive use of slang. Slang was used to identify the longshoremen as their own sub-culture, with a particular vocabulary they used amongst their peers. “Potato-eater” was a negative ethnic reference to an Irishman, which many of the dock workers were. “Cheese-eater,” “canary,” and “rat” all signified someone who would become an informant against their own group. “Pigeons,” however, had multiple meanings. Terry found his escape caring for the pigeons on the rooftop. They symbolized the life of a longshoreman: sleep, eat, fly like crazy, stay loyal until death, but remain caged under someone else’s control (the mob). He identified with them. According to Terry, pigeons would always fall victim to the hawks that swoop down from overhead. Pigeon was also a negative reference to a “stool pigeon,” another slang term for an informant. Ironically, Terry used a pigeon to lure Doyle to the roof, and to his death.
Alcohol, especially whiskey and beer, played a significant role throughout the film. The powerful mobsters worked out of the back room of a bar. Whenever they held a meeting, a bottle was visible on the table. Dugan, an Irishman, wished for a shipment of good whiskey to unload, and finally received his wish. He happily stole and stashed a bottle in his jacket. Ultimately, the Irish whiskey killed him, as the boxes “accidentally” crashed down on him. Beer was the drink of the commoners. On at least two occasions, Father Barry drank with the longshoremen. This signified that the priest, although religious, was one of them. In addition, Edie drank for the first time on a “date” with Terry. In this case, drinking symbolized her loss of innocence from her good Catholic upbringing.
The famous car scene between Terry and Charlie Malloy was filmed to cinematic perfection. The two men sat close together in the cramped back seat. For most of the scene, both men were visible, with the over-the-shoulder camera angle shifting to capture facial reactions. Close-up shots of the individual characters were used at points when each character showed their vulnerability and accepted their fate. Charlie played nervously with his glove, leaving his right hand the only part of him uncovered and exposed. Their conversation was simple and emotional. Both men sat calmly, without making any aggressive physical moves toward the other. The bright lights of the passing car headlights highlighted the emotion and uneasiness on their faces, fading in and out of the darkness. All of these elements combined made this scene perfection.
The mise-en-scène Elia Kazan employed in On the Waterfront was film-making at its best. His choice of set location, camera shots, lighting, editing, acting and score were brilliant. It is no wonder that this film is regarded as one of the great ones of American cinema.
On Wednesday, Professor Kahan invited Professor Diaz into our seminar class to give us a brief background on cinematography, and to analyze the Woody Allen film Manhattan. Professor Diaz started off discussing Mise-en-scène, and the different aspects that go into creating the great illusions on screen that we call a movie. When you think about it, a movie is really all smoke and mirrors. After all is said is done, it is only two people on a set having a conversation. If you take that scene, add some music, an awesome backdrop, cool camera angles, and the proper lighting, you have yourself a movie!
First, we started off discussing the different aspect ratios. Older films had an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which is what most square TV and computer monitors use. (That is why you see those messages in the beginning of movies saying, “This film has been formatted to fit your screen.”) In modern years, we moved into the widescreen ratio of 1.85:1, which is the common US widescreen cinema standard. However, Manhattan was not filmed in either of those aspects. It was filmed in 2.39:1, which gave an even wider picture, and enabled you to fit more into the frame. Allen wanted to give this wider view of Manhattan, and he just couldn’t do that with 1.85:1.
Next, we moved onto angles. There are several different types of angles, including an extreme long (most of the scenes in Manhattan were filmed using this angle,) long shots to display the entire body, medium or conversational, and finally close up and extreme close up. Most TV stations use wide shots to display the two anchors sitting at the news desk, and then cut to a close up when either one of them are discussing a specific story. One of the things that I found very interesting is the “180 degree rule.” This rule states that when filming, the camera must stay on the one side of this imaginary line called the “axis of action.”
Think about this scenario. Two people are sitting across from each other at a table. When we look at the face of character 1, we look over the left shoulder of character 2. When we move to look at character 2, you have to look over character 1’s right shoulder now. Why? If you don’t follow this rule, you will confuse the viewers in terms of their orientation to the characters. Now all of a sudden, it seems that the characters are inverted. When I got home last night, I was watching a re-run of a TNT show called “Leverage.” As two characters were having a conversation at a bar, the camera angles always stayed the same in terms of their placement, except for a wide shot. It is something that seems so logical to do, yet, it is actually a camera rule. Get that.
Finally, Professor Diaz started her analysis of Manhattan. She began with the opening scene. She explained that Isaac’s (Woody Allen) monologue over the scenes of Manhattan set up the rest of the movie in terms of its themes and plot. Two major themes are the decay of morals (40 year old man dating a 17 year old, adultery, etc.) and the upper class people losing their morality.
As I was listening to Professor Diaz and replaying the movie over in my head, a great analysis came to my mind. Allen’s purpose of Manhattan was to create a tribute to 1930’s culture in Manhattan, using the old music, the black and white film, etc. Yet, he wrote in characters that are foils to this whole concept. We have Yale cheating on his wife with Mary, Isaac dating a 17 year old and later Mary at the same time, and the list goes on. One of the things that I still don’t understand is why Allen created the juxtaposing of these two time period and morals.
We started Monday’s seminar with an analysis of the music in Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Throughout most of the film, there was little music, making it quite interesting to discuss. Around 1920-1930, George Gershwin composed the opening song, “Rhapsody in Blue.” One of the things Allen wanted to do in Manhattan was pay tribute to the time period of 1930’s Manhattan, featuring classiness and morality. As I discussed in my past blog post, music was used sparingly in the movie. It was used in the opening and closing, when he is running through the city with his son, and in one or two other scenes. Leading up to the ending, as we watch Allen running to catch his love before she leaves, we hear a piece called “Sound up The Band.” As he gets closer, however, the tune changes to a slower, sadder piece, giving a strong emotional subtext. I agree with Allen’s choice to do this. It gives the audience a little bit of a heads up that maybe things might not work out in the end. In addition, that slow final piece also puts emphasis on the final line, “Everyone gets corrupted.” On Wednesday, Professor Diaz is coming into class to give a further analysis of the film.
And now, on to Catcher in the Rye. Everyone had read this book previously in his or her high school career. It is one of my favorites, second to To Kill a Mockingbird. Catcher in the Rye is a novel written from the point of view of Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old teenager who has just been expelled from yet another boarding school. Caulfield comes from a very wealthy family. His father is a lawyer and his mother is a doctor. The story is set during a time when everyone strived for “The American Dream” of a family, a house with a white picket fence and a family dog– very cliché. Family life was very much promoted in the media and on television, where, at the end of the show, everyone’s problems were magically resolved. When this book came onto the market, it broke that whole allusion. Even today, people are still fighting to have the book banned due to its content.
The book almost reads like a journal, detailing Caulfield’s every move, what he sees, who he encounters and the conversations that he has with other characters. One of the most notable things about this novel is Caulfield’s excessive use of the word “phony.” Everyone manages to be a “phony” in his eyes, whether it is because of their actions, their opinions, etc. At one point, he even calls his own parent’s “phonies.” Holden chooses to take his teenage uneasiness in this literary form. It is very apparent that Caulfield has no respect for the money or the privilege that he has been afforded– his parents keep sending him from school to school, trying to get him educated so that he can make a successful impact on the world.
Wednesday was our first movie-screening day in seminar. The first movie we viewed was Manhattan, staring Woody Allen. The movie is a romantic comedy in which Isaac Davis, played by Woody Allen, falls in love with his best friend Yale’s mistress, Mary, while currently in a relationship with a 17 year old. I am unsure as to what I personally thought of the movie, since I spent the first half hour or so paying more attention to how the film was produced, rather than the actual story line. By the end, however, I was able to piece all of the characters together.
In terms of the film’s production, there are several pieces to be examined. First, the camera was always positioned to keep the main character, Isaac, in the shot at all times, regardless of who was speaking. For instance, if Isaac and his ex wife were having a discussion, the camera would be focused more on him, rather than her moving around the room. In my opinion, I felt that this kept reminding you to focus on his reactions and remarks, rather than those from the other actors and characters. In addition, there were many of scenes where the main characters were walking down the street having a discussion. The camera remained tight on those people, yet allowed some scenery in, giving the ambiance of walking down a New York City street talking with friends. Also, it seemed as if the camera wasn’t always in the actor’s faces. There were many shots in which there were people or cars interrupting the frame.
The choice of the director to shoot in black and white or color is a very important one. There are certain advantages and disadvantages of each way. For this movie, I thought that shooting in black and white was a good choice. The black and white film gives the movie an old fashioned romantic feel to it, making certain scenes, such as the one looking at the Brooklyn Bridge, that much more magical. The only downside to using black and white film is that you need to be very careful and intentional with your lighting. For example, in the scene where Isaac and Mary are inside the space exhibition, you could barely make out their faces or bodies. Another great example is when Isaac shows everyone the brown water in his apartment. Everything has to be exaggerated 10 x to have it appear on camera properly. One thing that bothered me throughout the film was there were no transitions in between the scenes. The cuts were very quick and hard.
In the movie, there was very little music, except for the points where Isaac was with his son, or when he was with Mary. This can be analyzed from several points of view, but I feel that the director’s choice to put music only in these parts was to show the differences in Isaac’s moods. The music was present when Isaac was really happy and enjoying himself, rather than living his dreary, emotionally confused life.
Today was the last day of poetry presentations. Last but not least, Stephanie presented The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus. This poem did a great job of summing up all of the poetry from the past 6 classes. The New Colossus is a poem detailing The Statue of Liberty and what she stands for. This glorious statue was the first thing that immigrants saw coming into to the harbor. It represents what America and the people living here are all about; freedom, liberty and justice for all.
Now that we are done with poetry, we will be starting a cinematic portion of the course. When people watch a movie or a television show, they generally pay attention to the plot, the actors and maybe the scenery. Most people don’t realize the time and effort that goes into producing a simple 10 minute telecast, let alone a multimillion dollar movie. Since my freshman year at Farrell, I was involved in their television studio. I worked my way up the ranks, from a low level video editor to studio manager my senior year. As studio manager, I was in charge of working with the on air personalities to produce a well-executed telecast, lasting anywhere between 10 to 90 minutes. My job also included coordinating lighting, camera shots, various sets, video graphics and audio.
Professor Kahan showed us a clip of the 1950 film “All About Eve” starring Betty Davis. Since the film was filmed in the ‘50s, the filmmakers did not have the privileges that modern day producers and directors have. Editing did not involve hitting two keys on a keyboard and clicking save, but instead required manually splicing pieces of film together on a reel. Therefore, they had to rely on a technique we call today “shoot to edit.” This technique involved filming each scene relatively perfectly, only breaking scene at the end. In addition, only one camera was used to shoot. Very rarely did the angle change. The camera followed the main character throughout the scene.
Fast forward about 60 years to 2007. In 2007, the “Bourne Ultimatum,” the last film I consider in the Bourne Trilogy, made its debut. In one particular scene, Matt Damon has a physical altercation with another agent, and there is a rapid change in camera angles and shots. This is all done on purpose. The rapid change in camera angles is used to keep the audience on edge. In addition to giving multiple views and vantage points of the same action scene, the fast pace makes the audience feel like they are actually there witnessing the event at full speed. In contrast, there was little change in angle or real movement of the camera period in “All About Eve,” giving it this quiet, formal, somewhat serious setting.
Finally, you can’t forget the importance of background music. If there is no music, there is no movie. In “All about Eve,” there was little background music until the climax of the scene, when party music started building. The same holds true in the Bourne movie. As we approach an action scene, the music becomes more dramatic and faster, subconsciously signaling the audience of the impending action. I really look forward to seeing the movies that Professor Kahan has in store for us, exploring a little bit deeper into the world of cinematography.
On Wednesday in Seminar, we continued with the reading of our poems. Brendon was first, discussing his poems Check Mate by Lucio Mariani and Birthplace by Michael Cirelli. The first poem is written from the point of view of a victim of 9-11. It tells the story of how he played chess with his father every night, and his father told him “to always watch out for those treacherous towers.” This sentence, like most of the poem, has a double meaning. In chess terms, “towers” would be the rooks, while in NYC, the “towers” would refer to the World Trade Center towers. The poem also speaks of how “it was special to grow up behind a hedge,” meaning that he had some grass or plant life at his house, instead of just concrete sidewalks of the city. Throughout the poem, however, it seems like he is still celebrating the times that he has spent with his father, even though he is deceased.
Next, James presented his poem Ing Grish, by John Yau. While this poem was by far the most comical, it carried one of the strongest messages. The poem begins with pairs of random and unrelated words such as dung and dungaree, and humdrum and humdinger. While the word pairs are unrelated to an English speaking person, a person who does not speak English would think that these words were related based on their prefixes. Dung refers to animal droppings, while dungarees are pants. They are two totally unrelated items that share the same prefix. The same goes for humdrum, which means dull and monotone and humdinger, which is a remarkable person or thing. They are complete and utter opposites, but still manage to share that same common prefix. In addition to poking fun at the construction of English words, Yau is making fun of English phonetics. For example, “Chinee, Chanel, and Cheyenne” all start with a ch- prefix, but have two different pronunciations. Chinee is pronounced with a hard Ch, while Chanel and Cheyenne are pronounced with a soft c- sounding like “shh.” As with everything else, in order to make fun of something at this level, you must understand it extremely well. Yau never learned Chinese, despite the hard pressure from his parents.
Finally, Penina read New York at Night by Amy Knoll. The poem was written in 1912 when the modern city was still developing. Before this time, major cities shut down at night and there wasn’t always a hustle and bustle. Now, we are starting to see that movement in the city never stops and that people are always moving. The structure of the poem can be compared to the city. The rhythm is uneven, dropping mid sentence and creating chaos. The poet also believes that the city itself is ugly. In addition to the structure being almost non-existent, the words she chooses to use are very violent and sharp sounding, due to the heavy use of consonants. At the end of the poem, questions are asked of why the people in the city never stop and rest. It all goes back to the fact that New Yorkers can do it all and it’s what New Yorkers are known for.
In seminar on Monday, Professor Richard Powers came in to discuss the architecture in New York City. Professor Powers described architecture as “the context for the life and business that will be conducted in and around the building.” This is also known as the “ethnos.” His first example really brought this point to life. The Parthenon is an iconic building of Eastern Civilization dedicated to Athena, the Greek goddess of reason. The building is supposed to symbolize the power of intellect and it’s “rising up and towering over nature.” However, if you take that same building and reconstruct it in another place, such as Nashville, Tennessee, its meaning and focus will change.
Another building example that I found interesting is Cass Gilbert’s Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. I have passed this building many of times in Manhattan, but I never took the time to actually stop and examine what I was rushing past. The Customs House was built in Beaux-arts style and is both an engineering and architectural marvel. In 1979, the building was marked to be demolished, but with the help of a US senator, the building was cleaned out and its interiors were redesigned, making it a national landmark. Today, this building is the home of the Museum of the Native American Indian, as well as a valuable office real estate.
While it isn’t an actual building per say, Central Park is the greatest architectural and engineering marvel in all of Manhattan, in my opinion. The park was designed and built in 1858 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in Beaux-arts style, even though it is largely romantic. The park contains approximately 843 acres and includes several bodies of water, many running trails and so much more. The most awesome thing about this construction is that everything is man made! Back in the time that the park was built, most commoners did not have time to enjoy its lavishness. It was mainly an attraction for wealthy New Yorkers who wanted to have a return to nature and take a break from the big city.
Finally, in the 1930’s, skyscrapers crept their way into the NYC skyline. The first of these building to be constructed was the Chrysler Building. It was constructed and designed by William Van Allen in Art Deco style, with streamlined shapes inspired by our boats, cars and planes. It was also a gentle shift from the historic revivals that inspired most other architects of the time. It was completely original. No one was really ready for what these buildings could or would look like.
As people came to like this business-esque Art Deco style, more and more buildings were built following it. For example, The Empire State Building, designed by William Lamb, applied this same style. Once again, there were black and white trimmings around the windows and dark granite marble- like interiors. It was supposed to symbolize modern life– fast and unsentimental. In addition, it embraced capitalism, showing people what capitalism can do for such a great city, such as Manhattan Island.
On Wednesday, we continued our poetry recitals. The first up to read her poem was Jackie. The name of her poem was Harbor Dawn, by Hart Crane. Jackie’s poem described a person living on the harbor in New York City and the sounds that he heard while he was dreaming. He speaks of the horns of the boats coming into his dreams. This has happened to me on several occasions when the music I set as an alarm became integrated into my dreams and did not wake me up. If we go a little deeper though, we can see that he is trying to make a connection between all of the people who have lived and slept in the same spot over the past 400 years that Manhattan has been inhabited. Something unusual about the poem was that there were notations in the margins that weren’t just definitions, but a separate piece of the poem criticizing and commenting about the piece. It is almost as if Crane is being his own critic.
Another poem that got my attention was Christian’s reading of The Cab Drivers Smile by Denise Levertov. The poem described the driving of a cab from three different points of views– the cabbie, the rider and an outside observer on the street. We have all ridden in a cab at one time or another as New Yorkers. Most of the time, people get in the cab, tell the driver where they need to go, and don’t speak to him again until they have arrived at their destination. In this poem, however, there is something that draws the poet to cabbie. They exchange friendly conversation, but the author describes a “spun steel” wall that the cabbie has developed to keep him from making connections with the patrons and risk getting ripped off.
Finally, Naomi did an incredible job of reading the three poems Resume, Observation, and Love Song, by Dorothy Parker. From the text of the poems, you can tell that the author had some anger issues. Observation has to be the simplest, yet most powerful of all three poems. It essentially states all of the things that she should do in life, such as getting a good night sleep and abstaining from “fun” to be a “good woman”. The author ends the poem with the lines, “But I shall stay the way I am, / Because I do not give a damn.” These poems were written when women had a set role in society and were forced to stay within those confines. The final two lines show how she rebels to stay true to herself.
On Monday in Seminar, we started our poetry recitations. We each had to give the class a brief background on the poet, read our poem, and share our own interpretation and thoughts. I volunteered to go first. While I have previous experience in public speaking, the one thing that always gets me is speaking in front of my peers and friends.
The name of my poem was To Brooklyn Bridge by Hart Crane. The poem, in brief, detailed the various aspects of Manhattan near the Brooklyn Bridge. This included the mobs of people on the ferry, the businessmen on the streets, the exchange down on Wall Street, and finally the Brooklyn Bridge itself. Crane was a big Walt Whitman fan and, from the text and imagery that he uses, it can be discerned that he was trying to pay tribute to Whitman’s style.
Of all of the readings on Monday, the poem that stood out the most to me was Amber’s interpretation of February Evening in New York. Amber went up to the front of the room with her Mac and played a track of street sounds in New York City from YouTube. This greatly contributed to her recital’s ambiance. Her reading was absolutely fantastic!! The attitude and emotion that Amber added to the piece made the words jump off the page. Since Amber is so soft spoken, to hear her perform like that was amazing! Great job Amber!
The final poem and probably, by far, the most controversial of the day was Ariana’s reading of Love and Marilyn Monroe (after Spillane) by Delmore Schwartz. The poem describes Marilyn Monroe and her supposed “promiscuity” and “sexuality.” As Professor Kahan explained, Monroe’s public reputation was attributed to Zeitgeist, the culture of the time period. Back in the time when Monroe was an actress, women were not allowed to be open about sexuality. They were expected to be “family” oriented. If a lady was open to discussing these taboo topics, she was automatically labeled a “slut” or “promiscuous.” Today, however, that stereotype has faded away. A perfect example is the big stink that was made several months ago over the Fifty Shades of Grey series. In Monroe’s time, the author of the series would have most definitely been labeled a “whore” for her writing, regardless of her actual behavior. After doing some personal background reading on Monroe, there is no evidence to suggest that she was “promiscuous” or anything of the sort. Instead, she was open about her sexuality.