Category: On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront and how it constructs meaning

As you are all aware by now, you must consider the constructed nature of the film when writing your essay.

Here are some links that might provide a last minute surge of inpiration. – This blog has pages on characters, themes, metalanguage and setting. – Roger Stitson explores the way Kazan uses the costumes and images of the characters to convey his ideas. – This is the introduction and first paragraph of an essay for sale. I think it provides some nice clues on how to write about the film. I’m not suggesting you buy it.

OTW+film+techs – A powerpoint presentation that explores some film techniques and examples. – Something more sophisticated for those looking for that little bit more that you know you know, but just can’t put your finger on it.


Essay writing tips for ‘On the Waterfront’

Whenever you approach an essay topic you need to work out how you can answer it and show that you’ve got an individual interpretation of the film. So, what does this actually mean? Can you answer this question: what is the film On the Waterfront about? Standing up for one’s rights? Making good in an environment that offers no hope? Little guy against big guy? Good versus evil? Loyalty? Looking after oneself in order to survive? Ultimately, you can only answer this question if you know the film, and if you are willing to think about the message(s) it’s trying to convey.

Next, have you done any extra reading to help establish what the film might be trying to do/achieve? On one of the page tabs above I have a list of extra reading (not that I ever expected you to read it all – but some might help). Here is the link:

Third, keep in mind that you’re writing about a film. You can’t just write about characters and themes and events and actions. You must write about how the film is constructed – you must show that you understand how the characters, themes, events, and actions are constructed by the director and why. In this way, analysing a film can be like analysing an opinion piece for the Language Analysis essay. It can be useful to remember the What, How, Why? of language analysis when writing about On the Waterfront. What does Kazan do? How does he do it? And why does he do it?

Fourth, practise taking apart essay topics – really consider the ins and outs of what you’re being asked to write about. And above all else, have something to say. Not what you think we want you say, but what you truly believe about the topic and the film. If you feel you can’t do this, then I would suggest you don’t know the film well enough.

Quotes. Go through the script (here it is: and highlight key quotes. What are key quotes? Those that are good enough to be used over a number of different essay topics. They are generally about themes, characters, ideologies, symbols, etc. This means that in order to be able to pick out key quotes you need to establish what the themes, ideologies and symbols of the film are. I would aim to get a list of about 25-30 quotes. Yes, really.

And practise. I’ve been told that one Old Haileyburian wrote an essay a day in the lead up to the exam. That would certainly make a difference!

“On the Waterfront” Script

As you go about writing your Waterfront essays, it might be helpful to have access to the script. Click on the link below and it will open as a word document. You should be able to search for key words in order to find the lines you’re after. It’s also broken into scenes that match the VATE scene breakdown (the one we used in class). This will  make it much easier to find what you’re looking for.

“On the Waterfront” script

I suggest that you go through the script and highlight the lines you think are relevant. Use different colours for different characters and themes. Write comments beside relevant quotes that explain their significance. Try to catergorise the quotes so that are useful to you.

Here’s how to write an essay

I lifted this from the blog The Fraudulent Teacher  – a blog for teachers. If you are interested in the goings on inside a head very much the same as mine, go ahead and have a look.

My hope is that you’ll read this essay and realise that you are indeed not limited to the 5-paragraph essay. Although, of course, we often advocate the 5-paragraph essay because it is so structured, and leaves little room for you to get tied up in knots.

In terms of writing essays, you have to know what works for you and work to your strengths. You will  never be able to do this if you don’t experiment and find the style that allows you to write relevant, detailed and fluent essays.

Pay close attention to the opening of the essay – it clearly addresses the topic without relying on a staid, uninspiring formula.

Let me know what you think.

How important is family loyalty in the film?

Near the exposition of On The Waterfront, Edie Doyle, kneeling at the side of her dead brother, cries “I want to know who killed my brother!” Her family loyalty, her relentless quest for the truth about corruption on the waterfront, initiates Terry’s moral dilemma and his eventual transformation to ‘contender’. Furthermore, Terry’s relationship with his brother, Charley, is central. On The Waterfront is also very concerned with unionism; longshoremen paying a corrupt union that they unfortunately rely on for their survival. The union could be considered a family, of sorts, albeit one subjugated by a tyrannical leader who dispenses ‘largesse’ according to his own ends. The longshoremen must remain loyal to this union to ensure their survival, or so they think.
On the Hoboken wharf, the union could be considered a family upon which the longshoremen depend for survival. Betraying this collective, as Joey Doyle (and Andy before him – ‘that’s like when they called out my Andy’) discovered, is punishable by death. The ironically named Friendly, lurking in his low-shot union quarters, with his well-dressed adherents, rules this family. The longshoremen seem entangled in his system, their tenements seemingly trapped behind a matrix of fire-escape stairs. They are dependent on his dispensing work to them each day, desperately scrabbling for work tokens on the dock. They pay their extortionate dues; accept loans from J.P. Morgan, Friendly’s loan shark. They know they are powerless against Friendly’s corrupt rule. Their loyalty to this union is unwilling, born out of fear and survival needs. This is seen in Pop Doyle’s return to work immediately after his son’s death – ‘I gotta work to pay for the funeral’. With no work token he is forced to borrow from Morgan. Pop Doyle detests the union but pays his dues nonetheless. After thirty years on the wharf he sees no other way.
Perhaps though, it is the loyalty between members of these Hoboken families that is so compelling in this film. Edie Doyle, often filmed in pure, clear light, is almost an avenging angel, defying the constraints of her gender in her pursuit of the truth about her brother’s murder. She galvanises Father Barry to take up the cause – “What kind of a saint hides in a church?” – prompting him to see the longshore as his parish and fight for justice. Further, her burgeoning friendship with Terry which stems from this loyalty to her brother, triggers Terry’s moral development. This is revealed in the cafe as Terry wrestles to understand Edie’s sorrow. “Whatsa matter with you?” he asks, struggling to fathom why she can’t leave the subject alone. Her words, “You would [help] if you could” and her touch, deeply trouble Terry, forcing him to grapple with his conscience. [Brando’s acting is sublime at this point., I think!!] Edie’s loyalty to her brother and her subsequent relationship with Terry is thus a catalyst in his moral transformation.
Moreover, Edie challenges Father Barry to involve himself in the waterfront fight; to care for his people. In this way he connects with Terry, initially when Terry is ‘stool pigeon’ for the union at the meeting at the church. Later, after K.O.’s death, when Father Barry delivers an impassioned sermon from the hold, his words prompt Terry to take a stand, punching Tullio for his interjections and drawing the ire of Friendly, watching from above. Father Barry becomes a paternal guide for Terry, hearing his confession – “I swear I thought they was just going to talk to him” – urging him to confess to Edie and later testify to the Crime Commission. Perhaps, like a father, Father Barry is able to rebuke Terry, knock him to the ground, when Terry tells him to go to hell. Furthermore, he is able to quell Terry’s anger – “I’m gonna take it out on their skulls” – leading him to fight Friendly in court, rather than “like a hoodlum on the docks”. (Ironic, as it turns out.) After Charley’s death, Terry’s respect for Father Barry greatly assists in Terry’s redemption.
Ultimately, though, Terry’s relationship with his brother, Charley, is central to the film. Charley is supposedly Friendly’s ‘brain’, trusted with the financial dealings of the union. He is one of Friendly’s acolytes and has pledged allegiance to the union boss. Initially, he seems to have an easy relationship with Friendly. He was instrumental in ensuring Terry ‘took a dive’ to win a bet for Friendly, “for the short end money” for Terry sadly, when he “coulda been a contender.” Thus he has facilitated Terry’s lesser existence, on the rooftop, hanging out with children in their Golden Warriors jackets. So often Terry is filmed behind chicken wire, highlighting his sense of restriction and entrapment. He is caged like the homing pigeons. He envies them their freedom to feed and fly around, albeit at the mercy of the hawks, hanging around on rooftops ready to pounce. Terry is at first portrayed as an errand boy, a follower, a dupe. This is revealed in the mise-en-scene as he follows Friendly and his men out of their lair on the docks prior to calling Joey out and inadvertently luring him to his death. Yet at this stage Charley has shown some loyalty to Terry, ensuring he gets easy work on the docks as long as he remains ‘D and D’.
One of the most memorable scenes in On The Waterfront is that shot in the back of a car involving Charley and Terry. In this scene, where Charley has been asked to hand Terry over to Jerry G if he threatens to ‘go canary’, we begin to see Charley’s real love for his brother. Charley is charged with taking Terry for a ride to buy his silence. We see Charley’s turmoil as he pulls a gun on his brother. This is emphasised by the disturbing lighting heightening the sense of confused loyalties that Charley faces. As Charley reconciles himself to the ‘bum’ deal he has bequeathed his brother, the soaring legato score underlines his love and emotional pain as Terry reminds him “It was you…you should have taken care of me a little more.” Charley knows he cannot give up his brother to the mob. Charley’s allegiance to Terry and his own consequent sacrifice is pivotal in Terry’s later stance. Indeed it could be said that until he lifts his brother from the hook, almost in an embrace, he does not fully comprehend the magnitude of Edie’s loss.
These family loyalties are central to, and drive the narrative of, this film. Kazan seems to suggest that such relationships override mob rule; that grappling with one’s conscience and seeking moral truth is imperative. Perhaps this aligns with the choices Kazan made: his vindication of ratting out his friends to the HUAC.

On the Waterfront

You should be working your way through the bundle of information I gave you. Try to read an article every few days. This will ensure that you have a wide understanding of the context of the film and encourage you to develop a strong, personal interpretation.

I’ve updated the Tasks page, and added a Reading List for on the Waterfront. Please have a look.