On the Waterfront Shows the Dockworker's Poverty Through Cinematography

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Elia Kazan’s ‘On the Waterfront’ is a genuine part drama part gangster film, regarding problems of trade unionism, corruption and racketeering on the confining waterfront docks of New Jersey. The cinematography employed by Boris Kaufman plays a major role in the 1954 production, emphasizing the dock worker’s struggle for employment and self respect whilst being helpless to the power of the cruel mob-run unions. On the Waterfront also focuses on the strict code of “D and D… deaf and dumb” where the residents of Hoboken choose to spare their lives by keeping quiet, rather than “ratting out” or testifying against bullying union boss Johnny Friendly and his callous goons. The mise en scene, or physical location in which On the Waterfront takes place, is not a set. The film gains it’s authenticity from the 36 days of on location filming in Hoboken, where no amount of meticulous art direction in a studio could have compared. This realist style of filming achieved an insightful scrutiny into gritty backdrops of the ships cargo holds, the cramped, dank spaces in which the union workers live, and the seedy, smoky bars of the locale. Adding to this was Kazan’s choice of longshoremen for the film who were actual workers from the docks of New Jersey, heightening the reality and depth of the characters emotions on screen. Kazan filmed outside on the docks in what happened to be one of the coldest winters New York had been subjected to in years. Breaths are visible from this, steaming up the bone-cold air and suggesting the brutal treatment these dock workers face daily; not only from the corrupt union officials, but from the elements themselves. These cinematographic techniques not only propose the longshoremen’s economic poverty, but their numbness and lacking of spirit. The Hudson River separates New Jersey from New York City. Theoretically this does not bear a large distance but for the dock workers of Hoboken, Manhattan might as well be a thousand miles away,...
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