Christian Siason – On The Waterfront

On The Waterfront is considered by many to be one of the greatest films in American history. It contained superb acting from the likes of Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, and Eva Marie Saint, but something that may be overlooked by viewers is the great job the director, Elia Kazan, did.

Kazan employed different types of camera shots and editing joins in the movie. When Terry went to tell Edie that he’d been the one that turned Joey over to be killed, Kazan first used a dolly shot, following Father Barry as Terry ran down to meet Edie. Then there were multiple cuts between the faces of the three characters, as well as the boat that was in the distance. Kazan used the boat’s horn to drown out the conversation between Terry and Edie, forcing the two to use facial expressions to convey what was going on—a true measure of acting ability, in my opinion. It also forced the audience to use their imagination, something that I find engaging. The music in the movie was also used interestingly. In the scene where Terry and Edie were in the park, we could hear a little bit of low, lighthearted music in the background. However, it was somewhat overshadowed by the sounds from all around the neighborhood, like car horns and the wind blowing. It was like Terry felt at ease with Edie, and yet he couldn’t be totally carefree with her because there were other things hanging over him. Later on, though, it seemed that that dynamic changed. In the scene leading up to the kiss between Terry and Edie, the music was frantic as she was adamantly demanding him to leave her alone, but then when they kissed, all the sound totally disappeared. It showed that when Terry was actually with Edie, everything else ceased to matter. I thought that the music was utilized very effectively, helping show some development in the story.

Since the movie was made in 1954, slang that is no longer common now was used.  Some of it had to do with ethnicity, such as “potato-eater”—a term for an Irish person. A lot of it, however, had to do with snitches. “Cheese-eater,” “pigeon,” and “canary,” were all used to imply that someone was a rat—that they’d sell the gangsters out to the police. Pigeons, however, seemed to have a real significance in the movie. A pigeon was someone who was a snitch, and Terry did eventually snitch on the gang, but Terry had a real relationship with pigeons. They seemed to be his biggest getaway—it seemed like the pigeon coop on the rooftops was his home. In such a religious movie, where once can take Terry to be an embodiment of Jesus, it’s arguable that pigeons symbolized Terry’s spirit. They lived up on the rooftops and they had the ability to fly high, but were trained not to. Terry was a talented boxer back in his youth, but was forced to take a dive and basically never reach his full potential, much like these pigeons.

The scene in the car between Terry and Charlie was iconic. The director kept the camera close up on the two, showing their every interaction. The acting was brilliant; both characters showed true emotion. Charlie was trying to coerce Terry into taking a job and leaving. He pulled a gun on him, but it was obvious that he didn’t want to shoot his brother. Terry, meanwhile, pointed out that Charlie cost him his shot at becoming a big-name fighter—that Charlie owed him. The dialogue and acting were done perfectly, showing the conflict both men felt, giving us a truly emotional scene.

Alcohol was one of the focuses of the movie. Whiskey was a favorite of the working class people, namely K.O., while Terry and Father Barry liked to drink beer.  However, Father Barry also enjoyed whiskey. This was likely a reference to the stereotype of Irishmen being fond of drinking any type of alcohol. The main difference between the whiskey drinkers and the beer drinkers seemed to be one of class, but it also seemed to highlight a difference in spirituality. Terry carried the burden of the workers—he was the Jesus-figure in this movie. The fact that he shared a beer with Father Barry, then, seems very fitting. Jesus himself drank wine, so beer was probably the substitute for that in this movie.

This movie is a staple in American cinematic history, and rightfully so. The overall story was great, as the movie was filled with deeper meanings and it was punctuated with excellent acting and directorial editing.

11/28/12 – Christian Siason

On Wednesday, we sat through a cinema lecture from Professor Diaz. I actually found it really interesting, though I expected to be bored out of my mind. I wouldn’t say that I watch a whole lot of movies, but when I do watch movies, I usually end up amazed at how they’re filmed. After Professor Diaz’s lecture, I have an even better understanding of the filming process.

We learned that cameras record movement at 24 frames per second – that is, cameras take 24 separate pictures in one second. Later we learned about different types of camera movement, like panorama (when the camera rotates from side to side), tilt (when the camera moves up and down), the dolly or tracking shot (when the camera moves along the ground, following the subject), and the crane shot (when the camera views the scene from behind). I’ve always found different points of view interesting when watching movies, and the way the camera moves is very important to making these points of view possible.

We also learned about continuity editing. A movie seeks to present a story and continuity editing, as the name would imply, ensures continuity in the story. It allows space, time, and action to flow over a series of shots and it condenses the action. If films weren’t edited for continuity, they would go on for ages, and would likely lose the audience’s attention. Films today are usually one and a half to two hours long, and I think that that’s the perfect length. It’s not too short that someone wouldn’t want to spend their money to go see it, and yet it’s not too long to bore them to death. Of course, some movies like The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers go way beyond that mark, but in cases such as those, the sheer amount of action is enough to keep the audience enthralled throughout.

I really appreciated learning about these things in class on Wednesday, and I think I want to take a cinema class at some point in the future now.

11/26/12 – Christian Siason

During class on Monday, we began to discuss Catcher in the Rye. I had never read the book in high school, though I’d heard it was a great book, and was excited to finally get to do so. Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint. It certainly lived up to its reputation of being a quality coming-of-age story.

The word “archetype” was brought up in class. Archetypes are like categories of characters that are commonly seen throughout literature, like the dumb blonde or the nerdy kid. However, Holden Caulfield, the main character of Catcher in the Rye, didn’t fit into any archetypes at the time of the book’s publication. J.D. Salinger effectively created a new archetype – the antihero. Holden was the book’s protagonist, but he wasn’t exactly a hero. He dropped out of schools left and right, stayed up late drinking and going to nightclubs while trying to act more mature than his age, and making himself look stupid at times. And yet his goal was to be “the catcher in the rye.” He wanted to stop children from losing their innocence. He did things that sometimes made him hard to root for, but at the same time it was also hard to root against him.

I think that this type of character is very interesting. One antihero that I can think of off the top of my head is Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series. He constantly antagonizes Harry throughout the series, but then we find out at the end that he had been secretly on his side, watching over him, albeit for his own selfish reason – he had been in love with Harry’s mother – rather than out of love for Harry. The fact that he loved Harry’s mother throughout the years made it so hard for many fans to hate him, even after all the abuse he put Harry through.

Before it was brought up in class, I’d seen antiheroes in literature before, but didn’t necessarily know what to classify them as. Now that I know the actual term for this archetype, I’m going to want to keep an eye out for more as I read more books in the future, because I really do like these antiheroes. They aren’t a straightforward fan favorite, and yet when it comes down to it, it’s really hard to root against them.

11/21/12 Christian Siason

On Wednesday, we watched Woody Allen’s film, Manhattan. I’d heard of Woody Allen before, and I thought that I’d maybe seen one of his films before and just didn’t know that it was by him. However, it turns out, that this was the first film of his that I’ve ever seen. I found it to be very amusing while dealing with some rather dramatic situations. For homework, we were asked to analyze the movie, and I thought it was a very interesting film to analyze.

1. The camera seemed to be focused mainly on Isaac, the main character. Of course, it focused on the other characters as well, but Isaac was the main focal point of the camera for the majority of the film.

2. Many times, I found that Allen chose to frame the scenes to make the people seem like part of a bigger picture. The camera would be focused on the characters, and yet it would also be zoomed out enough to show what was going on behind them; I think Allen wanted to show that despite whatever issues the characters in the film were dealing with, they were all relatively small compared to the rest of the city of Manhattan.

3. This film was shot in black and white and while I think that in general, shooting in color allows the filmmaker to fully portray the picture that they’re trying to paint, I think that a big advantage of filming in black and white is that it forces the audience to use their imagination to fill in the colors that they can’t really see. I think it can possibly engage the audience even more than a colorful scene can.

4. The clips lasted for a few minutes each before moving into the next scene.

5. The dialogue was very varied in this movie. At times, the characters would engage in intelligent conversation while at others, they would speak rather crudely. It was fitting, I thought, because if you were to take a stroll in Manhattan and listen in on random conversations as you pass by groups of people, I’m sure you’d hear such variety.

6. The costumes seemed like the normal attire you’d see people wearing in New York City. The film was a portrayal of the city of Manhattan, and I think that what the characters wore helped execute that portrayal.

7. There wasn’t much music in the movie, as far as I can remember. When it was there, however, it highlighted the scenes that it accompanied. The one that stood out to me was when Isaac was with his son. The music drowned out the rest of the sound and we just got to see Isaac interact with him, and we got to imagine what was being said instead of actually hearing it. Again, I find it a bit more engaging when the audience has to use their imagination instead of having everything given to them.

8. The set in this movie is, quite fittingly, New York City. The film is meant to portray Manhattan, and what better way is there to portray Manhattan than to shoot the movie in the city itself?

I honestly thought that this was a fun movie to watch, and because of it, I might try to watch some other Woody Allen films in my free time.

11/14/12 – Christian Siason

In class on Wednesday, we continued poetry presentations. I particularly enjoyed James’ and Rob’s performances. When James performed Ing-grish by John Yau, he seemed to have prepared perfectly for it. His timing was impeccable, and he executed it very well. He emphasized all the right parts and gave the poem a breezy feel, which I felt was very appropriate, as it was a rather humorous poem. This isn’t to say, however, that his poem was just a joke. If you really look into it, the poem is about the struggle to learn the English language in a bilingual home. English is a very complicated language, and growing up in a home where the mother tried to get Yau to learn Chinese compounded the issue. He never really did learn Chinese, as he humorously alluded to at the end of the poem, but that didn’t change the fact that English has many odd quirks to it. It must have been a true struggle for him, but the way he wrote his poem shows that he was able to take it all in stride. I think that is truly admirable. He was able to constructively pour his feelings out into a poem and keep it light-hearted at the same time.

Rob did The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes. At first, it wasn’t the greatest presentation, but then Professor Kahan accompanied him with some background music. The music accented the poem very well, allowing Rob to really let the words flow out almost like he was performing a song. He then redid it, without the background music, and yet I was almost able to hear the music as he was speaking. That’s how musical his performance was. I really enjoyed it and found it very interesting how poetry can be so musical, even if there is no music actually playing.

11/7/12 – Christian Siason

On Wednesday, November 7th, I performed The Cabdriver’s Smile by Denise Levertov. When I first read the poem to myself, I found it to be pretty straightforward; I thought that Levertov was alluding to the fact that even though we might not really consider it, people like cab drivers might have a very interesting life story. We only view them as people who provide services for us, but we don’t really know about their lives.

As straightforward as I found the poem to be, there was one part that didn’t really register with me until we discussed it in class: “Something like spun steel floats invisible, until questions strike it, all round him, the way light gleams webs among grass in fall.” The spun steel was the wall the cab driver put up between himself and the passenger. He was a “tough guy,” as Levertov stated when opening the poem, and he likely didn’t care much for interacting with passengers, and thus, he put up an emotional barrier between himself and his passengers. It wasn’t really noticeable, though, until the passenger asked him questions. I really liked this analogy, for some reason. I just really appreciated Levertov’s creativity in describing the interaction between driver and passenger.

The thing that surprised me most about performing this poem was the fact that I really wasn’t nervous at all. I don’t know if I seemed like I was, but I know I didn’t feel any nerves at all. Normally I’m not very good at public speaking. I tend to clam up, and my nerves get the best of me. This time, however, I felt completely at home. I was expecting to get nervous as I usually do, but I didn’t, and I was pretty happy about that.

“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” Christian Siason

In his poem, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, Walt Whitman describes the world he sees around him, utilizing imagery masterfully, painting  a picture for us readers to see clearly. He talks of watching seagulls flying around and of looking at “the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged with violet,” among other image-provoking statements.

He also talks about how he related to the people on the ferry and the generations of people to come. He said that he too “walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,” among other things all these people have done and will continue to do. This whole message really stuck with me. I’ve taken the Staten Island Ferry countless times, and I see all the other passengers. However, I’ve never really thought of them in the way that Whitman considers his fellow passengers in the poem.

Every time I take the ferry, there are hundreds of other people on the boat. Many of these people take the ferry each and every day, and have done so for years. It’s mind-boggling to think that for decades before I was even born, the same amount of people were likely making the daily trip to and from Staten Island and Manhattan. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken the ferry, and for decades to come, hundreds of thousands of people will continue to take the ferry. People will sit where I’ve sat, and I’ve sat where other people have sat. This whole thought makes me truly realize just how small we are in this world.

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry may seem, at first glance, to be a simple poem about what a man sees on the ferry while going home from work, but I found a much deeper meaning to it. It’s really a rather thought-provoking piece, and I’m glad I read it, as it has opened up a whole new perspective to me.

10/17/12 Christian Siason

On Wednesday, October 17th, we went to see The Heiress on Broadway, starring Jessica Chastain as Catherine Sloper, David Strathairn as Dr. Austin Sloper, Dan Stevens as Morris Townsend, and Judith Ivey as Lavinia Penniman.

I thoroughly enjoyed Strathairn and Ivey’s performances as Austin and Lavinia; they really embodied the characters from the book, in my opinion. However, I didn’t really like Stevens’ work as Morris. He seemed far too sincere throughout the play and I actually felt bad for him, unlike in the book. I also disliked Chastain’s portrayal of Catherine – until the end, at least. I know that Catherine was a dull and simple girl in the novel, Washington Square, but I just found her to be mind-numbingly boring in the play. Her voice was monotone pretty much all the way through, and I just found it annoying after a certain point.

The end of the play was different from the ending in the story, and in my opinion, it was much more dramatic and entertaining. As boring as I found Catherine to be for the majority of the play, I definitely thought that she made up for it in the end. In the book, Catherine simply asked Morris to leave. In the play, she led him on. She promised, once again, to marry him, and he ran off to pack his bags. When he came back, she had closed the curtains and turned off the lights and had gone upstairs to her room, totally ignoring him. As I said earlier, I actually felt bad for Morris because in the play he seemed so sincere, but if this had been the ending in the book, I would have really enjoyed it and supported Catherine’s decision. I honestly think it would have been the perfect ending in the book.

Being able to watch this play was a fulfilling experience for me. Reading the book, I couldn’t see everything unfolding in front of me, though I was able to visualize scenes in my head. Going to Broadway to watch The Heiress allowed me to see these scenes acted out in front of me, and it really added to my appreciation of the story.

Seminar 10/15 Christian Siason

In class on Monday, October 15th, we discussed the novel, Washington Square. Henry James wrote the book in 1880, but it was set in the 1850’s. The reasoning behind this, we learned, was that the 1850’s were a much more calm and prosperous period in American history. The economy was stable and the country was at peace. If he had set the story in the 1860’s or 1870’s, James would have had to incorporate the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. In order to save himself the trouble, he rolled back the clock a few decades to a better time in the country’s history, allowing him to focus solely on the relationships between the characters in the book.

Later on in class, we compared the two films based off of the novel: The Heiress and Washington Square. In some ways, The Heiress seemed that it was more true to the novel than the more recent film, Washington Square. In The Heiress, Dr. Sloper used more direct quotes from the book than in Washington Square. I also thought that Morris Townsend’s character in The Heiress was more like the character in the novel than in the newer film. He seemed much more outgoing and at times even arrogant. He was more subdued and awkward in the new movie. Catherine was also portrayed differently in the two films. In the older one, she was seen as a very quiet and dull girl, much like she was in the story. But in the newer one, she was more of a tomboy – a romp, which was how she was described at one point in the novel.

I just found it rather interesting how two films could be based off of the same book and have the characters played totally differently, due to the different actors and actresses and the different directors. One person’s take on a role can be totally different from another’s, and the results can be clearly seen by the viewers.

Seminar October 10, 2012

In class on Wednesday, October 10th, we talked about intervals, via a demonstration from Professor Kahan. We learned that an interval is the distance between notes. Seconds are dissonant, while thirds are used for harmonies. We also learned that fourths are used a lot in Chinese music, which was implemented in Turandot. In the opera, Puccini wrote two different styles of music. For Calaf’s parts, he wrote more Italian style music. However, for Liu’s parts, he implemented those fourths to create what he believed was a Chinese sound. I found it interesting learning about that after having seen such a good example of it live at the opera.

Later in the class, Professor Michael Sirotta came in to speak to us. One interesting thing he mentioned was his first musical memory. He told us about the first song he remembered hearing, and it got me thinking about what my first musical memory was. Honestly, though, I haven’t been able to remember it, but I found it fascinating that he was able to remember his. He then discussed his composition, Fantasia Pripetshok, and let us hear a short preview of it. I was truly impressed with his composition skills because of the fact that he was able to hear all of that in his head and transfer it onto paper as a musical score.