On The Waterfront won eight Oscars including Best Actor, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Directing, Best Film Editing, and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay. It was also nominated for four more: Best Supporting Actor (three actors) and Best Music Score.
No one can argue, then, that it is a great film. It has even been preserved in the Library of Congress as “Culturally Significant.” And who hasn’t heard the famous lines:
“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”
But there have been a great many well-decorated films. I chose this film not only because of its excellence, but because of its background. In many ways, this film is like Raft of the Medusa, or Guernica. The more you know about it, the more fascinating it becomes.
On The Waterfront Discussion
- Did you like the movie?
- Why? Or Why not?
- Did you notice the contrast in acting styles?
- What did you notice about the opening and closing shots?
- Why so many shots of fences, bricks, ladders, alleys?
- The producer originally wanted it done in vivid color (Cinemascope). How would this have affected the feel of the movie?
- Why put a newspaper over Joey’s face?
- What is Terry wearing at the beginning of the film?
- What does “Charley the Gent” Wear? Why?
- Who’s in charge in the first scene in the poolroom (Friendly’s Bar)? How about in the second scene?
- What color is Edie wearing when Terry breaks into her apartment?
- Did you like the glove scene? Get the symbolism? (Brando’s invention)
- What does the boy Tommy represent?
- What do the pigeons represent? (There are hawks everywhere in this city).
- Why see the one armed bum at the beginning and the end?
- The “first beer” scene is very important. What do we learn? Why have them get stopped by a wedding party? Why have him interrupted by Johnny Friendly before he can kiss her?
- Why is the taxicab scene so famous?
- Why did Tommy kill the pigeons?
- What does Joey’s jacket symbolize? How is the pattern different from Terry’s original jacket?
- What is different about the sound in this picture?
- Why does Terry change his mind and decide to go after Johnny Friendly? Is it just revenge?
- Why does he decide to go down to the docks after testifying?
- Why don’t the men support him?
- What makes them change their minds?
- Why would Elia Kazan want to make this movie?
- Do you think the protest against him at the 1999 Academy Awards was merited?
- Can you analyze On the Waterfront using tools from the first section of our class? (Formal, Iconographic and Contextual Analysis)
- Could you also break it down like Aristotle? (Hint: Listen closely to that kind of analysis during Class Cab)
- How about being able to analyze it using our “Checklist?”
- Will you ever look at movies the same way again?