Monday, November 10, 2008

I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody...

Every once in a while, a classic movie just seems to live up to the hype. You hear about it over and over and you wonder if it's going to be as great as everyone makes it out to be. High expectations have ruined films for me, which in essence might be my own fault. I should just watch something objectively, but it's hard when hype is high for something to be awesome. On The Waterfront, which I first saw at La Salle University's short-lived Film Club. It was freshman year, I was fully soaking in lots of classics to get my mind in the right direction for my dream of making films and writing scripts and this particular classic stood out. Beyond this, the film may not be the most biographical shaping of my life, but its more of a litmus test for my love of the art of cinema in every aspect. The acting, writing and directing are superb and that is what made On the Waterfront stand out to me throughout my film watching experience.

On the acting:

Everyone knows that some of Marlon Brando's most famous moments lie in the character of Terry Malloy. From the famous line this post is named for to the scene where Brando lashes out in a burst of rage smashing a glass against a wall, it's some of Brando's best. The film boasts more than just Brando doing his thing. Karl Malden as Father Barry is pure intensity. Seeing a priest want to rise up for the common working man and with such fervor is quite the show. Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle is a very understated performance, but ultimately a good catalyst to Terry's final move to be a witness in the trial. It also happens to be her screen debut which is impressive. Lee Cobb and Rod Steiger fill out the supporting cast with Cobb playing the not so friendly Johnny Friendly as the rough mob boss and Steiger playing the weak brother of Terry. Fantastic. The chemistry between Steiger and Brando still rings true, especially in the most famous scene of the film.

On the writing & directing:

Based on true events on New York docks and with a very autobiographical corollary in Elia Kazan's own "ratting out" in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the film drips of realism. A lot of that comes from the genuine dialogue that Leonard Bernstein wrote. The dialogue is authentic, especially that of Terry's. His usage of the language of the working class and the simple rough and ready attitude is perfect. Kazan, who also directed other amazing classics that tackled major subjects like Gentleman's Agreement, A Streetcar Named Desire and East of Eden. He commands his actors and lets them take the story where it needs to go. No other classic directors of that time period were as great as this man. It was this kind of quality and attention to detail, along with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Sidney Lumet, that really showed me what a film could do. It has the power to move you and tell a great story that also is much deeper. It's the kind of quality anyone would want to emulate but few will ever come close to acheiving.

1. Cinema Paradiso (1988) dr. Giuseppe Tornatore
2. Rushmore (1998) dr. Wes Anderson
3. Jurassic Park (1993) dr. Steven Speilberg
4. It's A Wonderful Life (1946) dr. Frank Capra
5. Trust (1990) dr. Hal Hartley
6. Donnie Darko (2001) dr. Richard Kelly
7. On The Waterfront (1954) dr. Elia Kazan

Up Next: Monty Python & The Holy Grail (1975) dr. Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam

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