On the Waterfront is one of the most powerful films of the 20th century. Elia Kazan, the director of the movie, perfects every aspect that can be put into the mise-en-scene to make this movie as moving as it is. The actors and actresses put their heart and soul into every single line to make us feel every struggle and pain the characters feel. All of this comes together to create one of the greatest films of all time.
The mise-en-scene in On the Waterfront comes together flawlessly to make the movie very realistic and emotive. The setting of the movie is extremely important to the overall effect of the movie; rather than use a set and create a fake shipyard, for example, Kazan makes use of a genuine shipyard in Hoboken, New Jersey, and uses normal clothes as costumes. Dark, dimly lit scenes, such as the scene where Terry and Edie are running down the alleyway while being chased by a truck, are made especially powerful by their lighting. By making the scene have a low key light, Kazan creates a high contrast with lots of shadows that heightens the ominous mood. The focus is placed on the headlights from the car chasing them, creating a lot of suspense for the audience, until the car passes and the focus is immediately shifted onto Terry’s brother Charlie, hanging on the wall. All of these emotions are enhanced throughout the film by the dramatic musical score by Leonard Bernstein, which establishes feelings of suspense, to feelings of achievement at the end of the film. Kazan creates the perfect atmosphere to literally “set the stage” for the film.
The dialogue in this film also adds to the true emotions and realism of the film. The phrases chosen in the script are period accurate; the characters use normal slang and language rather than specialized fancy dialogue. Soon after Joey is introduced to the audience by Terry saying that he had one of his birds, Joey gets thrown off the roof. He gets called a canary, which means that he testified and “sang like a canary” against the corrupt bosses. He told on them, but “…he couldn’t fly.” In the next scene, Mr. Friendly (who has a very ironic name, but there’s no room to go into that right now,) calls the late Joey a “cheese-eater,” implying that he was a rat. This kind of intimidation and exploitation of anyone who followed their conscience and did the right thing was the reason why so many workers kept “D&D,” and acted like there was nothing wrong with what was going on.
Pigeons were especially important and symbolic in the movie. They were used to symbolize the workers who informed the juries on the corrupt actions of the bosses. These workers were called stool pigeons, who stooled on their “friends.” Before the church meeting, Charlie explains, “Stooling is when you rat on your friends. Johnny wants a favor, don’t think about it, just do it.” The workers were trained to keep deaf and dumb when it came to the bosses’ actions; since it didn’t directly affect them, they were trained not to say a word so nothing would happen to them. The pigeons also have another symbolic value. They are waiting to fly and know that they are meant to fly away, but they are kept up in a cage and trained not to do what they are meant to do, just as the workers know what is right, but are trained not to rat on anyone.
The scene in the car with Terry and Charlie is one of the most famous movie scenes of the 20th century. The close up camera angles capture Terry and Charlie’s expressions, while the sad music adds to the heart wrenching emotion of the scene. Charlie insists for Terry to take the job and keep quiet to make decent money. Meanwhile, Terry knows it is the right thing to do to tell the jury about the corrupt actions of Friendly. Charlie urges his brother to just take the job and ignore what is right to keep a steady life for himself, but when the camera uses a close up shot to just place Terry’s face into it, we see Terry’s emotions as the light strings play a minor arrangement and we hear his story about how he could’ve been something if his brother had encouraged him to fight for himself, literally and symbolically.
Whiskey and beer have important significance in the film. When workers died for doing what they believed was right, they were acting as martyrs. Jesus died so that we could be saved from our sins, and shed his blood to give us freedom and eternal life. The drinks symbolize freedom and communion. When Charlie is found dead, Terry and the priest share a beer, symbolizing drinking the blood of Jesus, and symbolizing the freedom that Charlie died for. K.O. says that all he wants is some whiskey in the beginning of the film, and is later crushed by cases of it, ironically, as if he is being crushed by the freedom he craved and went after.
The music, cinematography, dialogue, and emotion that come into play in the film all join together to create a masterpiece that became one of the most iconic films of the 20th century.
In Wednesday’s seminar class, we had a guest professor speak to us about everything there is to know about cinema. We had already learned what miss-en-scene was in a previous class, and I was eager to follow up on learning all about what goes into producing a movie. Honestly, before the lecture, I couldn’t think of much more that went into making a movie besides the actors and the storyline. The most important aspects of the film can go largely unnoticed if you don’t pay attention to them, but if they weren’t there, the movie wouldn’t be the same.
First, we spoke about aspect ratio, which is basically the size of the shot. Woody Allen chose to film in a wide (cinema) aspect ratio to emphasize long panoramic shots, such as the opening scene where Isaac is giving his monologue while we get a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline that sets the scene for the rest of the movie. Different sized shots are used for different purposes. For example, a long shot would be used to place accent on someone’s entire body, or rather to not place specific accent on anything. Conversely, a close up shot would place very specific attention to a person’s facial expression.
Lighting is also a big part of making a movie, as it sets what I call the “silent mood” of the film. This is how we feel when we watch the movie, whether it be anxious, comfortable, or even sad. This is not set by dialogue, but by the lighting of the shot. If a horror movie had soft lighting and no contrast, it wouldn’t make us feel anxious at all; we could be watching a romantic comedy for all we knew. What distinguishes something like a horror movie from something else is the fact that we feel anxious and scared, even when a character is just walking down a hallway. High contrast and lots of shadows puts focus on the main character, or the demon/killer, while shadows let our imagination run wild.
Music also greatly affects the feeling of a film a way in which dialogue can’t. Picture the cliché scene in a horror movie where the character is walking towards the door to see what lies on the other side. Now, usually when we walk towards any door in our house, our heart is not beating with anticipation and suspense. Ominous, non-diegetic music in the film, that rises in volume as the person gets closer, makes us feel suspense and fear, while diegetic screams in the distance, or an out of tune piano being played, complete the feeling.
There are countless other things we spoke about on Wednesday, and I was really impressed by how much I didn’t realize went in to making a film.
In Monday’s seminar class, we began to speak about Catcher in the Rye. When I first read this in High School, it immediately became one of my favorite books. In class, we spoke about archetypes, which are basically stock characters. Everyone knows these basic characters that are in almost every show: the dumb blonde, the bully, and the righteous hero. After being exposed to these characters for what seems like endlessly, they start to lose their appeal to us. There’s only so many times a dumb blonde type in a TV show will make us really laugh before we get sick of the same type of humor. However, Salinger challenged these stereotypical characters by presenting us with Holden.
Holden is an anti archetype. He is definitely not the normal perfect hero. A hero would usually be on a quest throughout the novel to be a better person and to do good deeds. However, Holden does not start out doing good deeds; he hires a prostitute and punches a kid in the face. He is his own type of character, not a type that has been repeated for centuries. When he speaks to his sister, he says that his dream was to be the “catcher in the rye,” saving kids from being corrupted. He is sort’ve a neo-tragic hero, with a personality far different from the stock characters we are all so used to.
In Wednesday’s seminar class, we watched the movie, Manhattan, directed by and starring Woody Allen, one of the most iconic actors of the 20th century. His acting and directing style are definitely unique to say the least, and his witty and quirky personality is reflected in every role he plays. After watching Manhattan, I noticed the little parts of the movie we discussed as the miss-en-scene:
1 & 2) The camera angles in Manhattan are not very direct and ordinary. In some scenes, such as the beginning of the art museum scene, or when Woody Allen interrupts his friend’s class and talks to him in the classroom, I noticed that the camera puts the characters in the side of the frame, or in the background, rather than right smack in your face. This has the effect of making all those watching feel like they really are present in the movie and just eavesdropping on everything that is going on,;rather than having the characters perform for you, you are just watching what is taking place in their lives. The camera isn’t perfectly steady, but this all adds to the onlooker feel.
3) The black and white camera adds a simplistic and minimalistic feel to the film. At times, the frame is very dark and soft, to portray a romantic or very emotive feeling.
4) The scenes are generally quick and to the point. They don’t carry on too long to lose your attention.
5) The dialogue in Manhattan is typical to Woody Allen, but not very ordinary when compared to other movies. Woody Allen has a famous dry sense of humor that is inserted well into the dialogue. He has the ability to get the point of the scene across and almost remain serious while adding his witty and quirky sense of humor into the dialogue.
6) The costumes in the film aren’t elaborate and colorful like the ones in Turandot; rather, they are typical streetwear of people in 1979. This enhances the intimacy of the film and makes it seem casual, rather than feeling like the characters are performing written material in front of an audience.
7) The music creates dramatic effect. When Woody Allen is frantically walking down the hallway to his friend’s classroom, a whimsical yet frantic tune plays with fast horns and drums rising in pitch as he gets closer to the camera. The music is not too frantic to seem like he is about to murder someone, but it is whimsical and frantic enough to let us know that he has something on his mind he is determined to speak about.
8) The set of the movie is realistic and simplistic. It is set in Manhattan, obviously. The intro scene is a vivid view of Manhattan to set the scene in, well, Manhattan. The scenes are crafted and chosen to realistically simulate being at a social gathering, a museum, or a classroom.
In Monday’s Seminar class, we finished up our poetry presentations. The final poem, The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, was recited by Stephanie. It was an excellent end to the poetry recitations, as it ignites patriotism and pride in being an American. The poem signifies a new beginning for anyone coming to America and looking to start a free life for themselves. The poem describes the Statue of Liberty as welcoming the foreigners with open arms, unlike the conquering giant of Greek fame. She is opposed to the ancient lands and ways of thinking that are not free; rather, she says, “give me your tired, your poor.” She accepts everyone with open arms and does not try to oppress them, but helps them escape from their oppression.
After the poetry recitations were over, we spent the remainder of class speaking about movies, and everything that goes into making a film. Mise-en-scene, or putting on stage, is every aspect of the film. Set design can make us believe the actors are in a specific place, even a different country. Lighting affects how we see everything on the screen. For example, in Washington Square, even though we were indoors, we were made to believe that the time of day was changing periodically. The costume design, such as in Turandot, can be very colorful and vibrant to keep your eyes on the characters the entire time. I am excited to go further into talking about movies.
In Wednesday’s class, we continued our poetry readings. At last, I got up in front of the class and read my poem, “The Weary Blues,” by Langston Hughes. When I first encountered the poem and read it to myself, I really was able to experience the emotions of the poem. I could picture the musician playing his weary blues, playing his piano with incredible passion behind every note. I was able to understand how the pianist felt, and I could even get a mental image of how he looked and acted while playing. “The Old Guitarist” by Picasso immediately came to my mind when thinking about this. I pictured the pianist draped over his piano, making tired, weary swaying motions.
Professor Kahan helped me read the poem how it was meant to be read. Since the poem has 3 different voices that are portrayed, it must be read in 3 separate tones. Langston Hughes speaks his own thoughts as he observes the musician, then also sings lines like “Sweet Blues” and “Oh Blues” to make the poem flow like a blues song. When the musician sings, Hughes inserts the lyrics so that the song is contained in the poem, and the entire poem flows like the song that is being heard by Hughes.
In Monday’s Seminar class, we listened to a lecture from Professor Powers about architecture. I never knew that something such as a building that I perceived to be so simple could have so much meaning behind it. He prefaced his discussion by explaining that Architecture represents the Ethnos, which is the whole culture of society. In the Neoclassical period, buildings usually represented order and reason. The Parthenon towered over every other building around it, representing reason rising up above all, just as the Monticello stood on a mountain above all other buildings. The Massachusetts State House gave the idea that the founding fathers were imposing order and reason to all around them. The Federal Hall was the Greek side of the Neoclassical period, and it was rational and powerful.
Romance and emotion were represented by the buildings that emerged during the Gothic Revival Period in the 1850’s. The famous Gothic Arch symbolized religious and romantic ideas, as the towering arch reached to the heavens. In Central Park, almost everything is man-made, symbolizing creativity and romanticism. The famous Woolworth building was made to look like an extremely tall Gothic Church. Rockefeller Center was made with no frills to put priority on maximizing profit. There is a lot more that goes into making a building than I ever realized.
In today’s seminar, we continued our poetry readings. Once again, everyone did an excellent job of putting their all heart and emotion into their recitations. Everyone’s poems were different; however, everyone spoke in a very convincing and heartfelt tone that conveyed the message of each poem perfectly.
Christian’s poem was about what was behind a cab driver’s smile, and what his life was like beyond his seemingly emotionless job as a cab driver. This made me think, because we really never stop to think about what people’s lives are like beyond what we see. If we really could see into everyone we meet’s personal lives, we really would be astonished that they weren’t these robotic people that only existed at the place and time we saw them. Andrew’s original poem gave me the chills, as it was about something i could relate to easily. He used perfect diction as he chose the words of his poem, and they flowed like a song. He read it with such conviction behind every word that it took me back to places that the poem reminded me of.
Today in seminar, we started our anticipated poetry readings in front of the class. This was a very interesting event for our class. Usually, we would go see performances of professionals displaying what they have practiced for a long time, but this time, the roles were reversed. We were the performers in front of our entire class, reciting our poems and reactions. Being a performer, I do not have a big problem with stage fright , but I was anxious to see how everyone else would go about their performances. And honestly, everyone did an excellent job.
Amber was the talk of the class as she dominated the classroom with the sassy attitude she conveyed as she read the poem. I always knew how much of an emotional impact songs could have as they were heard in concert, but I could never imagine how the words of a poem could have that much of an impact until now. With every word our classmates read, whether the poem was about something cheerful or dismal, you could feel the emotion behind every word, just as much as a great song or opera can affect you. Great job, guys.